How to Anchor a Pontoon Boat in Any Condition


Pontoon boats consistently gain popularity due to their shallow draft and large deck size which can fit water slides and cabins. They are easy to operate for novice boaters and families and can be anchored in shallow sandy areas which makes for a day of maximum fun. Fishermen love to use pontoon boats because they can chase fish into weedy, shallow water without worrying as much about dragging the bottom.

However, anchoring a pontoon boat is a different consideration. The process of anchoring the boat can be frustrating for every pontoon boater. This is because the shallow draft and large deck as well as Bimini canopies act like large sails. The large surface area picks up the wind and drifts quickly and easily, especially on water with moderate to strong currents. Read on to learn how to properly anchor a pontoon boat.

The key to properly anchoring you pontoon boat in any condition is:

  • Anchoring a place free of hazards
  • Choosing the correct rode length
  • Positioning your boat facing the wind or current
  • Dropping the anchor slowly
  • Setting the anchor properly
  • Making adjustments based on environmental factors

6 Steps for Anchoring Your Pontoon Boat

While there are special considerations for anchoring a pontoon boat in different conditions, it is important to always follow these five steps when dropping anchor. 

1. Pick Your Position

There are several considerations to make when choosing where to anchor your pontoon boat.

  • Make sure that you are clear of any potential hazards or obstructions. This includes other boats. 
  • Consider the underwaters conditions. More specifically make sure there are no underwater hazards and consider whether you are anchoring in a rocky, muddy or sandy area. 
  • Anchor with your boat facing the current or wind

The biggest thing is that you don’t want your anchor consistently fighting against adverse conditions. 

2. Choose the Correct Rode Length

For those of you who are new to boating a rode is the anchor cable, or the line that connects the anchor and your boat. 

As a general rule-of-thumb you should have a long enough rode to cover 5 to 7 times the length of the depth of the water where you are anchoring. You should also add the distance between the water and your boat, but this distance does not need to be accounted for when multiplying. 

3. Position Your Boat

You should position the bow (the front) of your boat ahead of where you would like to anchor. This allows for movement of the boat while you are anchoring. 

4. Drop the Anchor

Before dropping your anchor, make sure to check that the anchor is tightly secured to the boat. An anchor is of little use at the bottom of the water when it’s not attached to your boat.

It is very important to slowly lower your anchor and not simply just throw your anchor into the water like you see in the movies. A thrown anchor can foul the line (cause the rode to twist around the anchor) or even tip your boat if you anchor is particularly heavy. 

5. Set the Anchor

After dropping the anchor you want to make sure that the anchor has set (caught on the bottom of the water). In order to do this you can allow your boat to simply drift backwards (another reason to position your boat facing the current) or if the current is weak, gently reverse your boat. 

You can tell that your anchor is set when there is moderate tension on your anchor line. You want to maintain moderate tension to keep your line straight. 

6. Ensure the Anchor has Dug In

After you have set the anchor, you want to make sure that your anchor has dug in to the bottom of the water and test its holding power. You can do this a few ways:

  • Pull on the rode to test the tension. It should be tight enough that the boat won’t move with light power from the motor.
  • Test the hold by slowly putting the motor in reverse if you did not reverse the boat when setting the anchor. You need to make sure that the anchor has set before doing this and only slowly reverse as dragging the anchor can damage the boat. 
  • While anchored, check your position intermittently to make sure that you aren’t drifting. 

Now that we’ve covered the basic steps for anchoring a pontoon boat in any conditions, we will look at choosing the right anchor for any conditions. 

Where to Tie an Anchor on a Pontoon Boat

Pontoon boats should always be anchored with the bow facing into the wind. This means that the pontoon anchor will be hanging off of the bow, and secured to a deck cleat off of the bow. In very calm, shallow water this may be all the anchor that is needed. However, calm, shallow water is very rarely the normal conditions on the water when boaters are out in the pontoon boat.

A second pontoon anchor is usually dropped from the stern, and also tied to a deck cleat. When two anchors are deployed, the bow should still be facing into the wind. The rear anchor will help to keep the boat aligned and in place. This adds greater stability for both fishing and play. 

Pontoon boats are sometimes fitted with anchor ledges that have an anchor and anchor winch attached. The anchor winch is also called a windlass. This is a great upgrade for several reasons.

  • Firstly, the anchor is deployed by the winch, saving the hands and back of the person who usually hoists the anchor. This puts the work on the boat battery and winch motor. Boats with a windlass should always have a spare anchor and rode aboard in case of windlass failure.
  • Secondly, the winch can move the anchor in and out of the water smoothly, avoiding tangles in the rode. This makes a big safety increase as well because the rode is not deploying from the deck. Instead, it is deploying over the water in a fixed space that is a few inches away from the boat.
  • Thirdly, the anchor stays attached to the winch unless a different anchor is needed due to the underwater conditions. It is not very difficult to swap anchors. It is a matter of either tying a different anchor shackle or possibly swapping a section of the rope that has a different anchor on the end.

Some pontoon boaters recommend that if a single winch is used, it should be mounted near the motor to avoid long runs of wire. Follow the mounting directions given with the winch, or have it professionally installed at a boat mechanic shop.

For those who can afford the added expense of an anchor ledge and winch, this is a nice back-saving upgrade that also decreases the time spent in dropping and pulling up the anchor. That means a corresponding increase in the amount of time spent fishing, swimming, and having fun with family and friends.

Choose the Right Pontoon Boat Anchor

There are many kinds of pontoon boat anchors, and expert boaters recommend using different kinds depending on the type of materials found under the water. There are three main things to take into consideration when choosing which pontoons anchor or two to take on a boating trip. 

First is the holding power. Anchors are rated by their holding power, which is the amount of force that it takes pulling against the anchor to make it move. Longer boats that are floated on windy water or areas with a strong current will need much more holding power than shorter boats that float in small, sheltered coves.

The second is the weight of the pontoon anchor. Many people choose anchors that are too small because they are easy to use and store out of the way. However, when anchors are used that are too light for the size of the boat, then the boat is prone to drift. Drifting is dangerous because the boat can run aground, hit underwater obstacles, or collide with other boats or the dock. 

The third consideration when choosing an anchor is the style of anchor. There are many different styles of anchors that are designed to hold in different underwater conditions. For those who plan to use the pontoon boat on a specific body of water, it will pay off to find out the underwater soil type and weed conditions and then choose the right anchor for that body of water. 

Types of Pontoon Boat Anchors

There are various styles of boat anchors for different conditions found under the water. The primary anchor should be ideal for the conditions that will be found during boating. A second anchor should be chosen that is more of an all-around anchor that can be used in a variety of conditions.

Box anchors are made to grip firmly in mud and sand. When the box anchor is lowered into the water and dragged along the bottom, mud and sand build up inside the empty box area, creating enough weight and drag to stop the boat. This is a nice generic anchor to have aboard as a second anchor or alternate anchor. 

Extreme Max 3006.6652 BoatTector Zinc-Plated Cube Anchor (Box Style) - 19 lbs.

Mushroom anchors work on the same principle as box anchors. As they become filled with mud and sand, the cup of the inverted mushroom gets heavier and sinks in making a firm hold. Keep in mind that it can only gain about twice its weight, so do not choose a mushroom anchor that is too small. 

Attwood 9941B1 Cast Iron Mushroom Anchor, 8-Pounds, Aluminum-Plated Silver Finish,Black

A fluke anchor has two large flukes that drag along the bottom and get a firm grip, especially on rocky bottoms. These flukes will wedge in between rocks and give a firm hold. The holding power is much greater relative to its weight making it very popular with pontoon boaters. This is also a great winch anchor.

SEACHOICE Utility Anchor 7E 41610,Steel

A plow anchor uses weeds and lake bottom debris as a benefit. It plows across the bottom and digs into grasses and weeds, gaining a firm hold. This type of anchor is harder to retrieve and heavy for its size. It is a good fixed anchor selection.

Seachoice 41540 Plow Anchor – Hot Dipped Galvanized Steel – for Boats 24 to 31 Feet – 14 Pounds

A claw anchor is good for most types of bottom conditions. It is especially good for getting a grip on rocks. This anchor has an inverted claw that scrapes along the bottom until it catches a good grip. It is preferred by pontoon boaters for its good grip that is combined with ease of retrieval and lighter weight.

Mxeol Boat Galvanized Bruce Style Claw Anchor (Silver, 4.4lb w/Chain)

Grapnel anchors are popular with pontoon boaters who like to anchor at sandy bars and along shorelines. These have three or four radiating hooks that spin around until they get a good grip on firm soil. They are made specifically for very shallow anchoring. Some grapnel anchors fold up for easy storage.

SEACHOICE Folding Grapnel Anchor 1-1/2 lbs. 41050

The type of anchor is determined by the type of soil that is found under the water, including rocks and heavy weeds. It is also determined by the general weather conditions that are typical at the boating site as well as the overall length of the pontoon boat. A heavier boat that is typically used in deep water will always need a heavier than average anchor to keep from drifting. 

A second anchor should always be on board, even if it is not always used to stabilize the boat at anchor. This is because sometimes an anchor can not be retrieved. If an anchor is cut loose, the boat can not anchor anywhere else. Sometimes the boat breaks loose of an anchor or the boater discovers that a single anchor is not keeping them from drifting. A second all-around anchor such as a box or claw should be aboard for safety.

Calculate the Length of the Rope

The next important thing to prepare before leaving on a boating trip is the anchor rope. This is a combination of rope and chain that is used to affix the pontoon boat to the anchor. 

When preparing the anchor before the boating trip, every boater should estimate the water depth that they expect to encounter on the trip. For safety, they should have at least seven times the deepest depth of water in rode length aboard the vessel before leaving. This will allow the pontoon boat to be anchored anywhere in the water in an emergency situation.

  1. Choose a place to anchor that is away from obstacles such as docks, other boats, logs, and rocks. Determine where the boat may drift in the wind if it drags the anchor and make sure there are no logs or rocks that may damage the pontoons if it drifts while at anchor.
  2. If there is a risk of the boat drifting into a damaging obstacle, then move the boat before attempting to anchor. Always assume that the boat will drift even when it is on anchors. This is the best way to mitigate possible safety issues.
  3. After finding a safe place to anchor, maneuver the boat so that the bow is facing into the wind. This placement ensures that prevailing winds will keep the tension on the anchor, helping it to dig in and hold the boat secure. If the wind changes, be aware that the anchor may lose hold causing the boat to drift. 
  4. Bring the boat forward of where the boat will be anchored and cut the engine.
  5. Double-check that the anchor is attached to a cleat on the bow. The best anchor knots can be learned here at anchoring.com. The knots include ideal knots for the anchor shackle as well as the best way to secure a rope to a deck cleat.
  6. Lower the anchor slowly. Never throw the anchor overboard. This can result in personal entanglement in the rode.
  7. Tossing the anchor almost always results in a tangled rode which can cause the anchoring process to go awry. The rope can suddenly untangle causing the boat to drift, or the anchor may not be able to touch the bottom because of the tangles in the rode.
  8. Continue letting out the rode line until it is clear that the anchor has touched the bottom. It may take a little drift dragging before the anchor finds a firm hold. This is why the boat was placed forward of the anchoring location. Tie the anchor line securely to a deck cleat or other anchor point.
  • Use a depth finder to know how deep the water is before lowering the anchor.
  • To calculate exactly how much rode is needed, use this simple calculation. Measure how deep the water is, then add to that the distance from the surface of the water to the point where the rope attaches to the boat. 
  • Take this total amount and multiply it by either five or seven. Use five if there is not much room for anchoring. Multiplying by seven gives more rope and a better horizontal grip for the anchor. The horizontal pull is firmer and less prone to breaking away.
  • For easy math, an example would be water that is five feet deep plus an additional four feet up to the anchor point would be a total of nine feet. Nine feet multiplied by seven for a firm hold equals 63 feet of rode line to hold the pontoon boat securely. 

Once the rope is prepared and measured for the depth of water, the anchor can be lowered away.

5 Extra Tips for Anchoring a Pontoon Boat

Anchoring a pontoon boat is tricky because this style of boat has a very shallow draft and is prone to drifting with very little persuasion. Anchoring a pontoon boat will take some practice. It usually takes more than one try, even for experienced pontoon boaters. 

With these steps, you can successfully anchor a pontoon boat, even if it takes a few tries. When anchoring your pontoon boat, keep in mind that the conditions of the water will also play a role. Choppy waters and strong wind can overtake and submerge a pontoon boat. Be sure you are anchoring in calm waters.

Double-Check the Hold

Never assume that the anchor has a firm hold. Give the rope a few firm tugs to see if it is holding firm. Many boaters also gently put the boat into reverse and pull against the line to see if it is holding firm.

  • Choose a landmark such as a large boulder, dock, home, or tree that can be used to determine if the boat is drifting.
  • A landmark can be measured against something on the boat such as an upright on the Bimini canopy to measure approximate drift. 
  • If the anchor is too small or lightweight then the boat may still drift. If a second anchor is onboard, like it should be, then the second anchor can be dropped, securing the boat.

For those anchoring in very shallow and calm water, a single anchor will likely be enough to keep the boat secure. Pontoon boats are very light and easy to float, so they naturally will want to float away on the current. Any type of wind will increase the inclination of the boat to drift. In most cases, the pontoon boat will need a second anchor to remain steady for safety.

Drop a Second Anchor

A second pontoon anchor can be dropped from the stern and attached to a deck cleat. The same steps apply to anchoring from the stern except the boat will not be moved before dropping the second anchor. 

The method of anchoring from both bow and stern ensures that the boat will not have a wide swing in a circle as it pivots off of the bow anchor. If the boat is allowed to swing in a wide circle around a single anchor, the odds that it will drag the anchor go up significantly.

Anchoring from both bow and stern keeps the boat floating more or less in a straight line. It will travel forward and back a little between the two anchors and it will float from side to side, but it will not travel in any meaningful way. This gives the most safety for swimmers and other boaters in the area.

Retrieve the Anchors

When it is time to leave, then it is time to haul up the anchors. This is where anchor winches, or windlasses, come in handy. There are just a couple of key things to remember when pulling the anchors back in.

  • Start with the rear anchor. Pull it up carefully and slowly, keeping the rope tidy on deck to avoid tripping and possible entanglement injuries. The rear anchor is very likely close to the stern, so it should not be very difficult to pull up. Occasionally boat drift will have entangled the rear anchor, making it a bit more tricky.
  • Pull the anchor up as far away from the side of the boat and pontoons as possible. Many anchors have a size and shape that can easily dent or puncture a pontoon, so utmost care is needed when pulling anchors. Lift the anchor out and over the stern so it does not make dents.
  • Pull the front anchor second. Begin by easing the line aboard and drifting the boat toward the anchor. The anchor should let loose when the boat is directly above the anchoring site.
  • It may take a little tugging and maneuvering to get the anchor to let loose. Plow and fluke anchors can be quite entangled in weeds or caught on rocks and they may need a little extra patience to get them loose.

Stow anchors before maneuvering the boat away from the anchoring site unless there is an immediate danger from drifting. In this case, have someone on board begin stowing them immediately. This helps to avoid injuries from these heavy anchors moving around on board. Smaller pontoon boats can be operated by a single person, but most need a crew of two.

Anchors will likely be very dirty and may become tangled with weeds. If time and space permit, they can be cleaned on the spot before stowing. Otherwise, it is good to remember to clean them well before long-term storage. This will keep them smelling fresh and encourage longevity of the metal and coating materials on the anchor.

A Second Method for Double Anchoring

If the boat is meant to be nearly run ashore, for instance in a very calm bay where people want to play in the water off the stern and also play on a sandbar or island, the method of anchoring can be easily reversed. This needs a two-person crew, three if possible.

  • Boat toward the area on the beach where the pontoon boat will be nearly run aground for play. 
  • Have a crew member drop the stern anchor in the water while the boat keeps slowly motoring or drifting toward the beach. Let the anchor grip, and then keep letting out line, keeping it tight. This crew member has to watch the line carefully to keep it from fouling the prop.
  • When the beach is approached, have a second crew member drop the bow anchor. A grapple-style anchor can be run up onto the beach to keep the boat very close. 
  • Take in excess stern anchor line and secure it to a deck cleat.
  • Take in excess bow anchor line and secure it to a deck cleat.

This method will cause the boat to run aground or hit obstacles, so it should only be used in very sandy areas. However, this is a great way to take advantage of the shallow draft and large decking that makes the pontoon boat a party favorite.

Taking in the anchors will be done in reverse. Again, the crew member who takes in the stern anchor must be attentive to not let the anchor line get caught in the prop. The boat will be maneuvering toward the stern anchor in reverse, so this is a serious risk. Some boaters choose to paddle the boat backward or let it drift backward if the current is favorable, to avoid putting the prop at risk.

Pole, Pin, and Stick Anchors

Another type of anchor that can be considered for small pontoon boating in very shallow water is a pin or stick style anchor. There are various brands that can accommodate different size boats in varying depths of water, even up to eight feet deep. These should never be the sole anchor aboard, but they can be used alone when conditions are favorable.

These are long sticks of varying types, thicknesses, and materials that are stuck in the bottom of the lake, bay, or stream. The boat is then tied to the stick with a lanyard or similar rope and allowed to drift around the position of the anchor stick. Stick anchors can also be used in tandem.

A pole-style anchor is mounted to the boat. This is nice for those who plan to exclusively use the pontoon boat in a shallow bay or near a sandy bar where the water levels are predictable. The boat is maneuvered into position, the anchor pole is dropped, and drives itself into the lake bottom. It should hold the boat securely if used properly.

The only real negative to a pole-style anchor is that it is fixed to the boat, so it has less play in it for fluctuating water levels. This can be tough on the setup in areas with a lot of wake or waves. 

The great thing about a pole anchor is that it can be used in moorage to keep the boat steady for on and offboarding and to keep it from tapping the dock. Here is the pole anchor system we recommend.

Where Can Pontoon Boats Be Anchored?

Pontoon boats can technically be anchored anywhere, but not without sinking. A pontoon boat must be anchored in a safe haven area where the weather is calm, there are very small waves, and the current is slow to nonexistent. This is because of the way that pontoon boats are made. The only exception to this is a catamaran which is shaped to cut through heavy surf and waves. It also has to counterbalance to keep it afloat.

A pontoon boat is a flat-bottomed boat with two pontoons to keep it afloat. These pontoons can be as blunt as two barrel shapes or they may have a little of an airfoil shape to them. Either way, they buoy the boat and allow it to skim across the surface of the water with very little draft, down to eight inches. 

This design makes the pontoon boat popular for families, anglers, houseboaters, and those who want a boat with a party deck. The decking and other accessories can be much wider than a regular hulled boat that cuts through the water with a deep draft. However, these pontoons also make it unsteady in the water when they encounter large waves or heavy winds. The boat feels more steady, but it is actually more prone to tip.

The entire boat acts like a big sail. In heavy winds, the wind may catch a cabin-style pontoon boat and flip it over. Pontoon boaters who anchor a cabin-style pontoon boat in heavy winds imperil the lives of themselves and their passengers. These cabin-style pontoon boats have also been known to flip over when attempting turning maneuvers in heavy winds. It is important that pontoon boaters respect weather warnings to stay safe.

The pontoon boat is also easily submarined. This is a term used to describe the effect when the pontoon boat takes on water causing the bow to dip underwater. This can happen quite easily from passing boat wake, even medium-sized waves, or choppy water. 

A deep V-hulled boat will cut through waves and wake, where the pontoon boat does not. Pontoon boats should be anchored in calm areas where the water is not liable to swamp the boat due to choppiness or passing wake.

Different Conditions and How They Affect Pontoon Anchoring

While we have covered how to anchor your boat in normal conditions and which type of anchor too choose, there are some additional considerations to take based on environmental factors. 

Deep Water

Pontoon boats are typically made for shallow conditions. Therefore, when anchoring in deep water you need to make the following considerations:

  • Account for the extra rope you will need to cover the extra depth
  • You may need to use a heavier anchor or one with a stronger hold power
  • You can add extra weight by adding a chain if you are using a nylon rode

However, it might be wise to simply not take your pontoon over such deep water in the first place.

Generally Rough Conditions

Because pontoon boats have two hulls, they are very stable and almost un-sinkable. Therefore, you won’t have to worry too much about your boat capsizing. However, there are some precautions you can take to ensure that your pontoon boat has a good hold during high winds or a strong current. 

One way to add extra stability is to use two anchors. You can drop one anchor from the bow and one from the stern. Pontoon boats are prone to spinning when only anchored from the bow, so adding an anchor to the stern can prevent this. While this is useful for rough conditions, it can also be helpful when fishing off of your boat. 

Similar to anchoring in deep water, you should also use an anchor with a stronger hold power and account for additional rode length due to the choppy water. 

Anchoring Pontoons in Bad Conditions

We do not recommend taking your boat out on the water during extremely high winds or natural disasters. Pontoon boats are not made for dangerous conditions and therefore should be docked or even dry-docked during periods of dangerous weather.

As when boating in general, it is always important to use common sense and not overthink it when anchoring your pontoon boat. If you use these tips and your common sense, then you should be all set for a wonderful day enjoying the water on your pontoon boat. 

Eric

I have been an avid boater / jet ski fanatic since I was a kid.

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