How To Anchor a Kayak in a River: Comprehensive Guide


Kayak fishing in a river poses a few more challenges than kayaking in still, calm waters. The water in a river is constantly changing and moving, and there are different currents, speeds, eddies, and other dynamics of moving water that you need to consider if you want to keep your kayak in one place safely.

Anchoring a kayak safely in a river requires the correct anchor, the correct anchor line, and safety as a primary objective. Anchor at the bank with an anchor pin or grip anchor and in the current with a grapnel anchor, weight anchor, or a drift anchor to slow your drift.

The constant water motion in a river presents a problem when you need to position your kayak in a certain spot and keep it there.

I have compiled this comprehensive guide to anchoring a kayak in a river to give you all the information you need and what options are available for anchoring in a river. 

Currents may try to push the kayak downstream; eddies may try to spin the nose or the tail of the kayak out and get you out of position or cause you some difficulty in holding your position while freeing up your hands for other tasks.

There are several ways you can anchor your kayak, depending on the circumstances and the condition of the river. 

Why You Need To Anchor a Kayak in a River

Photo of a Kayak on a River

The most common reason people need to anchor their kayak in a river is to hold the kayak in one position, usually for fishing. However, you may want to hold your position to take a photograph or to have a break and take in the scenery.

Whatever your need to keep your kayak in one location on the river, you will need a method to keep it positioned and prevent the craft from being repositioned by the flowing water.

In a river, the water moves in different ways and at different speeds depending on the size of the river, the gradient, the shape of the riverbank and rocks, and other obstacles in the water.

Certain water sections will be calmer and slow slower than other areas, where there will be turbulence and fast-flowing water.

Another factor that many kayakers forget to take into account when holding their kayak in position is the effect of the wind. A prevailing wind will also cause your kayak to drift, even if the water is relatively still.

All these aspects of kayaking on a river will require you to anchor your kayak to keep the craft in one place.

If you are only on the water to kayak, it is possible to keep your kayak in one location by constantly adjusting the position using the paddles and working to keep your craft in one location.

However, you may need to position your kayak and free up your hands to do other tasks such as rigging fishing lines and rods, and that actual activity of fishing, taking photographs, or getting out something to eat or drink.

In these cases, you will need an anchor to keep your kayak positioned and free up your hands to perform other tasks.

How To Safely Anchor a Kayak in a River

To keep your kayak positioned in a river, you are going to need some gear in the way of an anchor and other equipment to get your kayak rigged for the anchor.

Stability is one of the main issues when holding a kayak in place with an anchor. The anchor needs to provide enough stability to the craft to feel comfortable using both hands to perform other tasks while the kayak is held in place with the anchor.

First off the bat, let’s take a look at what gear you will need and the anchor types available for you to choose from, and the advantages and disadvantages of each type.

What You Need To Anchor a Kayak in a River

Beginners to kayaking may wonder why you cannot simply tie off to a rock or a tree or some other object in the water. While this method of anchoring a kayak can be used, there are disadvantages to these methods, and they are not always suitable options.

As a beginner to river kayaking, you may think that the use of an anchor was more in the realm of larger boats such as bass fishing boats, pontoons, and larger river craft.

However, an anchor offers a suitable means to secure your kayak in windy and strong current conditions, but is the anchor all you need?

There are a small number of items you will need in the way of gear to anchor your kayak in a river.

  • The anchor. There are various types of anchors, which I will discuss later.
  • A securing line. This is the line or chain attached to the anchor at one end and to the kayak at the other.
  • A way to secure the anchor line to the kayak. Securely attaching the anchor line to the kayak is important to prevent damage to the kayak and prevent the line from detaching from the kayak.
  • Carabiners. Other pieces of gear that will allow you to adjust the way you anchor or make improvised anchors include carabiners.
  • An anchor trolley. This is one way to secure your kayak to the anchor line and have the flexibility for where you tie off your anchor on your kayak.

The anchor is the first piece of gear you will need, and it needs to be appropriate to the type of water and the bottom of the riverbed. Some anchor types are only suitable for certain conditions and should not be used in conditions for which it was not intended.

The securing line is another important aspect of your anchor system and should be carefully selected depending on the conditions and the anchor type.

Not all kayaks are fitted with a location to which you can secure the anchor line.

You can purchase aftermarket anchor securing points to fit your kayak, and you need to make sure these hold points are strong enough for the type of anchor and line you will be using in the river.

Kayak Anchor Types

Several different kayak anchors are available, and each type has pros and cons that make them suitable or otherwise for certain river and riverbed conditions.

I will run through the different anchor types to choose the most suitable type of anchor for the conditions that you are most likely to encounter on the rivers where you normally kayak.

It is worth mentioning that most serious kayakers will employ more than one anchor method and use the most suitable for the conditions in the location they want to anchor.

Not sure you want to use or carry an anchor? Then read my article Kayak Fishing Anchors – Do You Really Need One?

Anchor Pin 

An anchor pin is essentially a stake shoved into the riverbank or the sandy bottom in shallow water. This anchor method does not use weight but rather the anchor pin’s mechanical hold in the bank or the riverbed.

The advantage of these anchors is that they are lightweight and easy to store on your kayak. Another advantage is that the anchor pin will not allow you to drift with the wind or the current but will hold you securely in position. 

The main disadvantage of the anchor pin is that it can only be used on the bank or in relatively shallow water. If the bottom of the riverbed is too soft and muddy, an anchor pin may not work and may pull out of the soft mud if the wind or the current is strong.

If your kayak has a trolley system, you can secure your kayak at various angles to the pin that best suits your needs for the location or your activity.

Grip Anchors

A grip anchor is a spring-loaded anchor with a set of jaws that you squeeze open against the spring tension. The jaws are then placed on an object and help in place with teeth on the ends of the jaw in conjunction with the spring tension.


YakGear Brush Gripper for Kayak Fishing

Pro Tip: Brush grips are my favorite way to hold tight against the bank or brush pile when catfishing or securing my kayak when working a rocky point for smallmouth bass! They are lightweight, easy to store, and take up little space!

These grip anchors do not use weight to hold the kayak in place but rather the grip of the teeth on the jaws and the tension power of the spring. This type of anchor is not a drift anchor and will hold your kayak securely in place against the current.

The advantage of this type of anchor is that it is easily and quickly deployed by simply squeezing open the jaws and gripping them onto a tree or similar item in the river.

The disadvantages are that your need a tree in or log in the river to attach the anchor to. The anchor is also only as strong as the spring in the jaws and may pull loose in a strong current.

Another disadvantage to this type of anchor, which depends on the make of the anchor, is the width to which the jaws can be squeezed open to grip onto the log or tree branch.

You may find that you may not be able to open the jaws wide enough to grip onto larger branches.

Folding Grapnel Anchor

A grapnel folding anchor is an anchor that has 3 or 4 tines that fold out from the shaft of the anchor. These anchor types normally have some weight to them, so they can be used as a weighted anchor and an anchor that will lodge in the sandy or muddy bottom or hook onto submerged obstacles.


Grapnel Anchor Kit for Kayaks

These anchors are usually made of cast iron and then galvanized or coated with a material that will stop the metal from rusting.

These anchors come in various weights, from 1.5-pounds to 5-pounds, depending on the weight you need for your kayak and how heavy you, your kayak, and your gear are.

The advantage of these anchors is that the tines fold away for easy storage on the kayak. It can be used as a weighted anchor where the anchor’s weight will offer enough resistance to prevent the kayak from drifting with the current

If it hooks into the riverbed with the tines or on a submerged obstacle, it will provide a solid, reliable anchor point that will not allow the kayak to drift.

The disadvantage of these anchor types is they can be a little bulky, even though the tines fold away. Another disadvantage is that the tines, like a propeller, will tend to spin as you retrieve the anchor.

The anchor spinning can cause the rope or line to twist up and create an awful mess of a knot when you try to coil the line up on the deck of your kayak as you pull the anchor to you.

This problem could be relieved by creating a swivel-type rig between the anchor and the line to spin freely as it is retrieved without twisting up the line.

If the anchor does not hook into the sediment at the bottom of the river, it may bounce along the bottom, and because of its shape, may produce a jerky motion for the kayak, which may not be conducive to stability. 

This type of anchor may also not be suitable in conservation areas where the river bottom is shouldn’t be disturbed. Thus, this anchor is not a suitable choice for eco-sensitive areas, as it can substantially disturb the riverbed.

A Weight Anchor

A weight anchor is intended to balance the kayak’s weight against the pull of the current, and this prevents the kayak from drifting with the flow of the current or the pull of the wind.

Of course, the weight type anchor will not be totally effective in keeping the kayak in one position in strong currents or strong winds, and the kayak will drift.

It will act as a drift anchor in these conditions, and the kayak will drift slowly with the current or the wind as the anchor is dragged along the bottom.

In light currents and light winds, the anchor’s weight will provide enough resistance to keep the kayak in one place and prevent drift altogether.

The advantage of the weight anchor is that they disturb the bottom of the river less than a grapnel anchor, and if the kayak does drift, it will be a much smoother action.

The weight anchors come in different weights to select a weight that matches your kayak weight and the water and weather conditions where you need to anchor.

The disadvantage of this type of anchor is that it is not suitable for strong winds or strong currents, and the anchor can add significant weight to your kayak that you need to paddle around with.

Drift Anchors

Drift anchors are not intended to hold the kayak in place, but the intention is to allow the kayak to drift with the wind or the current at a much slower pace.

In other words, it slows the drift of the kayak to the point where you can fish the waters while slowly drifting and not have to constantly maneuver the kayak with the paddle to slow down the drift.


MOOCY 24-Inch Drift Sock with Rope and Buoy

Drift-type anchors are not suitable for strong currents or strong winds; they will not provide enough resistance to slow the kayak’s drift to the point that it will be comfortable to do some fishing or other activities without giving attention to the motion and stability of the craft.

There are many types and varieties of drift anchors. Some drift anchor type act as a parachute and pull the kayak along slowly with the current. Others act by dragging along the bottom of the riverbed to slow the kayak’s drift in the current or with the wind.

The parachute-style drift anchors are similar to a cone-shaped canvas bag suspended just beneath the water’s surface. As the water flows into the bag, the pressure of the water will tow the drift anchor downstream, pulling the kayak with it.

The drag-type drift anchor is a weight at the end of the line that drags along the bottom of the riverbed and slows the kayak’s drift downstream.

In some instances where the river flow is medium to slow, the drift anchor may be sufficient to stop the downstream drift of the kayak completely.

Drag-type drift anchors can be made from various items, and a popular choice is chains. This type of drag anchor can be made quite easily at home.

Here is a quick, inexpensive, and easy method to make yourself an adjustable drag chain anchor for your kayak. The items that you will need to make this anchor are easily available at most hardware stores.

  • 5 Lengths of chain. This should be a ¼-inch chain, and each length between 14 and 18-inches.
  • Bicycle tubes. You will need a bicycle tube or tubes sufficient to cover the length of chains.
  • Zip ties. You will need a zip tie for each chain.
  • Carabiner. This will be used to attach the chains to the anchor rope.
  • Paracord. This will be used to pull the chain through the bicycle tube.

Tie the paracord to the end link of the chain. Thread the paracord through the length of the bicycle inner tube.

Use the paracord to pull the chain into the rubber tube. Lubricating the chain with some grease or Vaseline will help to get the chain into the tube easier.

Pull each length of chain into its own length of tubing. Use an awl or a similar sharp pointed object to pierce a hole in the rubber tube in the last first link of the chain. Put a zip tie through the perforation in the bicycle tube and tighten it on the chain link.

Push the carabiner through the same hole in the rubber tube. You can then attach the anchor rope directly to this carabiner.

This method will allow you to add or remove lengths of chain from the carabiner depending on how fast the current is in the river and how much you need to slow yourself down.

What Is an Anchor Trolley System?

An anchor trolley system is a really useful piece of equipment on your kayak that gives you options for anchoring your kayak.


YakAttack Kayak LeverLock Deluxe Anchor Trolley

Sometimes it is desirable to anchor at the nose or bow of the kayak and sometimes at the stern, and very occasionally from the side. 

As a pro-tip, anchoring from the side can be extremely dangerous in fast-flowing water and strong winds and should only be considered as an anchor point option in still or calm water or at the bank of the river.

An anchor trolley will allow you to easily and quickly adjust the anchor point on your kayak without having to retrieve the anchor, unclip it and reposition it.

The anchor trolley consists of a line running along the length of one side of the kayak. A pulley at the bow and one at the stern.

The anchor is then hooked to the length of a line running along the side of the kayak. This allows the anchor to be repositioned from the bow to the stern or vice versa by simply pulling the line in one direction or the other.

More details on anchor trolleys can be found on my article: How Does a Kayak Anchor Trolley Work?

Anchor Line

There are various types of anchor lines and anchor deploying methods.

The most common anchor rope that is used to attach the anchor to your kayak is nylon rope. It is cheap, does not stretch, and knots are generally easily untangled in these ropes.

Some kayakers use steel rope or cord, but this has the disadvantage of being very abrasive, and it can cut into your kayak. It is also prone to rust and will deteriorate quickly with continual exposure to the water.

Chains are sometimes used but are seldom used as the full length of the rope. They attach directly to the anchor and extend for a few feet before being attached to a nylon rope.

The disadvantage of the chain is that the links can get caught up on submerged obstacles, making it difficult to retrieve the anchor.

If you are starting out using an anchor with your kayak, I recommend that you start with nylon rope for your anchor.

How Much Anchor Rope Do You Need?

Anchoring your kayak is not as simple as dropping the anchor over the side. You need to have enough rope on the anchor so that the angle that the rope makes to your kayak is not too steep.

If the angle is too steep, the current or swells will lift the anchor off the bottom, and the anchor will not hold. The rope needs to be a long enough length so that the rope’s tension on the anchor is at a shallower angle that is less likely to pull the anchor loose.

The length of anchor rope for larger watercraft is often stated s 7:1. 7-feet of anchor line for every foot of depth. A kayak weighs much less and has considerably less drag.

Therefore, for a kayak anchor rope, the rule of thumb is a 5 to 1 ratio for every foot of depth, your need 5-feet of anchor rope. Thus, if you are anchoring in 10-feet of water, your anchor rope should be at least 50-feet long.

Rope management in a kayak can be troublesome at times! My article on rope length should clear that up! How Long Should a Kayak Anchor Line Be

Safety When Using Anchors With a Kayak

Anchoring your kayak can be one of the most dangerous undertakings when kayaking. If it is not done correctly or with a disregard for safety, anchoring your kayak can overturn your kayak.

There are a few basic anchoring rules that you should always consider when you are anchoring your kayak.

  • Never anchor in fast-flowing water. If the water is flowing very fast, it can rapidly spin you around the anchor point and tip your kayak over or throw you out of the craft.
  • Never anchor from the side of your kayak. If your kayak drifts over your anchor line, the wind or a strong current, or even leaning over the side of your kayak could cause it to flip over and spill you into the water. Side anchoring could be tempting when using an anchor trolley, but it is an unsafe practice and should be avoided.
  • Always anchor from the bow or the stern. These are the safest anchor points for your kayak that are least likely to result in a capsized kayak.
  • Always wear your PFD. Never go out on the water in your kayak without a good personal floatation device or PFD. This should be the case in all waters, but especially on rivers.

Always practice safe kayaking and never take chances with your life or your gear. Gear can a least be replaced, but your life is priceless and should be protected at all costs. Always respect the water and don’t take unnecessary chances!

Anchoring your kayak in a river can be potentially hazardous if you do not take care to use the right equipment and practice safe anchoring methods.

However, when anchoring your kayak is done safely, and with care, it can greatly enhance your fishing and other activities out on the water.

Stay safe and have fun out there!

Mike Rodman

Mike enjoys fishing all year round, from fly fishing small streams in Wyoming's higher mountains to kayak fishing the lower altitude lakes and reservoirs. Mike also has a passion for ice fishing. When he has spare time, he'll be found at his rod bench building custom fishing rods.

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