A heavy object usually made of metal attached to a narrowboat by a rope or chain. It is cast overboard to hold the narro boat in place either by its weight or the pair of curved, barbed flukes at one end which grip the canal or river bed

An anchor on a narrowboat can be used for mooring securely
A narrowboat anchor is usually attached by rope or chain to the narrow boat
An anchor is attached to the narrowboat either with rope, chain or both

Anchor… Why Do We Need One?

An narrow boat anchor can be used for two main purposes.

Firstly, it can provide a way of securely mooring a narrowboat when conventional moorings are hard to come by. It is quite unlikely that most of us who travel the inland waterways will ever need to use an anchor to moor. However, if you are accustomed to exploring the rivers it is a useful skill to be able to use as “you never know”! Certainly the crossing of some tidal estuaries will require knowledge and skill in this area.

The second, and most likely use, is as a vital piece of emergency equipment that can be used to potentially save lives. We would recommend that any narrow boat that has to use rivers to connect between canals has an anchor on board.

For example, if you are travelling the length of the Trent and Mersey canal, you enter via the River Trent at Shardlow and then have to further negotiate the river for a short section at Wychnor. Anyone who knows this canal well will have stories of how the water at Derwent Mouth boils as the Trent and Derwent mix. The flood levels in November 2012 made the river a highly dangerous place and prevented passage for many boaters.

At the other end of the navigation, no trip would be complete without a ride down the Anderton Boat Lift, but you wouldn’t want to venture out onto the River Weaver without safety equipment. Even the beautiful River Soar north of Leicester has a dramatic reputation in times of flood. There are some pretty big weirs along the navigable sections or our rivers and some fairly dramatic pictures of boats stranded when rivers are in flood can be viewed on the internet.

You have to wonder what may happen if you loose power on a fast flowing river near a large weir.

Anchor… Different Types

So that’s why we should all carry an anchor, but what type?

The traditional anchor we are all familiar with on the pub signs in seaside resorts is known as the Admiralty Pattern or Fisherman. Way too large, outdated and requiring specialist equipment these anchors are totally unsuitable for modern day inland waterway narrowboats.

Another type we may see is the Grapnel Pattern. Initially attractive due to the folding of the tangs against the main shaft or shank, they are really only suitable for lightweight pleasure craft. There is some debate about whether rope and chain may become fouled in the tangs, and also whether or not it would deploy in a heavy clay bottom. Good for recovering shopping trolleys but perhaps no so good at anchoring a 20 tonne narrow boat.

We need an anchor that will deploy successfully into the clay or silt bottoms of our rivers and canals and therefore we have two designs available to us that are commonly used. They are the Danforth, or fluke-style anchor, and the CQR, or Secure Plough Anchor. These anchor designs are of the burying type and once set they can resist fairly strong forces.

On the fluke-style anchor, once it is deployed, the flukes pivot at the crown to bury themselves into the ground. It is important the the shank, or main shaft of the anchor, is parallel to the bottom, so therefore a length of chain is used to weigh down the shank and head. The chain also provides some resistance to any underwater obstacles that may cause rope to fail. A rope is then attached to the chain to increase the usable length of the anchor system.

The CQR is shaped like a plough and also buries into the bottom, it recommended that this is also attached to chain and then rope. Some designs pivot at the crown, but they do not fold as flat for stowage as the fluke-style.

Anchor… Terminology

Components of the actual anchor are as follows:

  • The main shaft is known as the shank.
  • The chain attaches to the shank at the head.
  • The bits that dig into the river bed are the flukes.
  • Where the flukes attach to the shank is the crown.

The sum of the parts of an anchor system is known as ground tackle. This includes the anchor, chain, rope and any shackles used for attachment.

The system of attaching the anchor to the narrowboat, in our case a combination of chain and rope, is known as the rode.

How much of the rope you let out when moored by anchor is known as the scope.

Anchor… How Big Do We Go?

Practically the advice for anchors used on the inland waterways is to pick the heaviest you can deploy. If you attach 10 to 15 feet of chain to the anchor, you will need to be able to lift not only the anchor, but the first few feet of chain that is attached to it.

Most experienced narrow boaters will carry an anchor of 20 to 25kg plus a length of 10 to 15 feet of appropriately heavy chain. Remember the chain is an integral part of the tackle and the time to realise you should have got the next size up is not in an emergency!

There are figures, aimed at sea going vessels, that suggest the amount of rope to attach to the chain. These figures are related to worse case scenarios of mooring in adverse weather conditions, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. The rule of thumb is 5 to 8 times the depth of the water plus the vertical distance from the surface of the water to where the rope hangs over the boat. In a 6ft deep river on a standard narrowboat, that would be around 40 feet of scope.

To be on the safe side, a 20kg anchor should be attached to 5m of chain attached to 50ft of rope and would be ideal for an average 56′ narrowboat.

Splice loops into rope for attaching shackles. A knot in a rope is a potential failure point and splices spread the load. Use good quality shackles rated for the breaking strain of the rode.

Recovery is another matter. On a widebeam canal boat there may be space for an electric or hand operated windlass. For many narrow-boaters that is not an option considering the amount of space we have available. The practicality is that if you had to deploy the anchor in an emergency, the last thing you’d be concerned with is the recovery of the equipment that was designed to arrest your progress over a weir.

Oh, and once you’ve installed your nice shiney tackle on the bow of the boat, remember to shackle it to a secure mounting point!


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crick boat show 2024

(Saturday 25 to Monday 27 May 2024)


Britain's biggest inland waterways show.

Advance tickets can be ordered by phone and online until 12midday on Friday 17 May 2024. If you are planning to purchase advance tickets, we recommend that you do so well before this deadline to allow time for postal delivery.
Children 16 and under – free entry Saturday, Sunday, Monday

Trade & Preview Day – Friday 24 May 2024
Get ahead and visit The Fit Out Pontoon before everyone else on Preview Day!
Preview Day tickets are strictly limited to a maximum of 1,000 pre-booked visitors and give entry to the Show from 10am – 6pm on Friday 24 May.