Anchoring in a current.....

I’m seeking some of your collective paddling wisdom. If this topic has been covered previously, please point me to the relative thread.

Those of us who have attempted to anchor a canoe in a river’s current have found that it is not quite as simple as it sounds. There are quite a few factors to consider.

-Depth of water

-Strength of current

-Type of watercraft

-Composition of river bottom

-Length of anchor-line

-Type of anchor

-Attachment point on canoe/kayak

-Retrieval of anchor


To me, these factors depend mostly on the first two—depth of water and strength of current. In shallow water in a very mild current one can drop nearly anything heavier than water overboard and attach it at nearly any point on one’s boat with a light line. However, as the water gets deeper and the current gets stronger, the dynamics of the situation change.

I’ve done some experimenting over the past few years in a 15ft and a 17ft canoe. Usually I can plant my boat wherever I want to be. [When you find an area where the smallmouth and/or walleye are biting it’s good to be able to keep your boat right there—right?] But when the river runs higher things change. The water gets deeper. The current gets stronger. The hydrodynamics change.

What are the limits? What theories on anchoring in a current have gotten good results for you?


A good rule of thumb for the length of your anchor line (it is called scope in boating) is seven fett of line for every foot of water depth. Shorter scope tends to put an upwrd pull on your anchor line and dislodge it. And in a current I would never drean of attaching the line anywhere but bow or stern, as anchoring broadsise to a current is an invitaion for swamping. With a little ingenuity you can rig a system with a trip line so you do not actually have to go to the tie down point to retrieve the line.

And Have A Knife Handy

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to get the line
directly to bow or stern, lock at this:

easy to copy for a DIY guy…

Without full flotation…
JMHO, but I think it’s a always a bad idea to anchor a canoe or kayak in moving water. Period.

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right. But we talking fishermen here-that’s a special breed anyway…

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I’ve done more “planning” than “doing”

– Last Updated: Dec-06-06 10:11 PM EST –

but here are a couple thoughts and ideas that "should" work.

First, an anchor with good grippers makes a big difference. I've got a couple of dandies for a larger boat, which I made from pieces cut from the rims of old iron farm-wagon wheels (the grippers form the shape of a curved cross, and a separate post at the center provides a high tie-off point insuring that it turns on its side and grabs the bottom), and I've got plans for something more compact, but what do you do when such a grippy anchor gets snagged "for keeps"?. How about using TWO anchor lines, one "normal" line and one that attaches to the bottom of the anchor. Tie-off your boat with the normal line, and if the anchor won't come up when it's time to leave, pull the other line instead, because pulling from the "wrong" end pull the grippers backward off of whatever they are stuck on (that's how it "should" work). I haven't tried this yet, but after a few times struggling with a stuck anchor from a small boat in current, I figured "there's gotta be a better way". The secondary line could be a lot shorter and equipped with a float (it need not be long enough to reach the boat until you are ready to pull the anchor straight up, so tangling won't be a serious problem).

Also, nothing beats plain old WEIGHT. A buddy of mine uses an anchor made from a cylinder of concrete, 12 inches high and 6 inches across. It has four small cast-in-place grippers on the bottom edge which appear nearly useless, yet this anchor holds his 16-foot aluminum fishing boat on the sandy Wisconsin River (fairly brisk to quite fast current) with amazingly little line paid out. It weighs about 20 pounds. That's a lot of weight, but if it lets you use a shorter line (giving you convenience and good location control), it may be worth it.

Also, tying a bit off-center of the bow or stern will reduce how much your boat sways back and forth. I'm partial to plain old cleats (tie-off with a couple figure-eights instead of a knot), but haven't actually installed any on my canoes or rowboats so far. I didn't see that anchoring aid via the link provided by another poster above, but a painter line with a metal ring at the end for attaching your anchor line, works nicely, and saves you from reaching over the bow to fiddle with knots. You can even get away with just threading the anchor line through that ring and using no knot at that point, and tie-off the anchor line near the bow, and the boat will turn slightly diagonal to the current. If you tie the anchor line to that ring, you can tie the loose end anywhere on the boat, with just enough tension to turn the boat slightly diagonal.

Been There Done That
Be very careful anchoring in canoes. I’ve done it a lot in shallow rivers with slow current. I’ve done it once – very briefly – in a moderate current. I miss that anchor. If its swift enough to need to anchor from bow or stern it is too swift for me.

I Agree With Mike Sawyer
I don’t think its a good idea to anchor any of my fishing yaks or canoes and usually don’t. Most of the smallie streams I fish in the Appalachians and foothills have just too much current to do it safely.

However, having said that, there are a few streams where I occasionally use an anchor. My setup is to use a milk jug filled with sand obtained from the first sandbar near the put-in. After the float I empty it, avoiding carrying the weight off the river. Should it hang up, I pull on the anchor rope until the jug tears, releasing the sand back to the river while I retrieve the plastic. On streams where this is likely to occur, I carry 2-3 jugs with me.

They don’t hold as well as a “claw” type anchor, but if the current is heavy enough to keep dragging the jug along the bottom, then its probably to fast to safely anchor in anyway.

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If you’re above a surface level dam,
whether fishing or tripping, it’s best to have a working anchor. Another if, and that is, if you were to lose a paddle, or had some mishap, you would be better off being able to anchor instead of going over the dam with the current. River type anchors usually work, but any anchor should be tested where it would be used. Happy Paddling!

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Now that’s wacky.

– Last Updated: Dec-08-06 7:27 PM EST –

In over 35 years of paddling, I've never even heard of an instance where throwing an anchor would even be thought of as a safety measure.

If it's that tall of a dam, you're not going to have that much anchor line anyway.

Anchors + moving water = danger for canoes and kayaks.

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anchoring tip
I use a folding style anchor, which can get hung up on the bottom, here is a way to help get it loose:

I use 5’ of light chain (think porch swing chain), and attach it to the BOTTOM of the anchor, then zip tie it to the top.

This way, the chain helps the anchor to lay on its side (which is the point of anchor chain), chines dug in, with proper scope.

Upon retrieval, if the anchor hangs up, paddle directly over the top of it and give it a strong jerk, breaking the zip tie, now your pulling the anchor from the BOTTOM.

Of course, I’ve never done that in a current, that may be a different kettle of fish all together.

Surface level dam -
When I referred to a surface level dam, I meant a dam that has its top at a level just under the surface of the river level. This type of dam can be mostly invisible when you are upriver of it. They can be across wide rivers that are usually shallow, and the visible dam height from downriver of it is usually only a few feet. The currents under it are torrid and dangerous.

If a craft is upriver of this type of dam, and loses power, it is better to anchor rather than drift over the dam into the undertows and currrents. Sorry for any confusion.