How to Replace a Windlass

Heave Ho

Windlass a little tired? It may be time to toss the darn thing and install a vibrant new one.

Let’s say your electric windlass has seen better days. Maybe it’s slower than tar in January because it’s broken loose one too many anchors. Or maybe its electric motor has grown discontented, perhaps due to long usage, occasionally enlivened by dramatic stints of overloading. Or maybe saltwater’s somehow penetrated the outer housing, thereby turning the interior into a corroded, gunk-filled mess that has taken to making strange, wholly disconcerting crunching noises.

Grand Banks 46

Most likely, there’s only one thing you can do—replace the darn thing as soon as possible, or, of course, have your favorite boatyard mechanic do the job in the same timely manner. Think about it. Almost every experienced boater knows a piece of iffy onboard machinery, like a faltering windlass for example, is gonna break down at the worst possible moment. You know, like, when it’s just about midnight, with half a gale blowing, the anchor dragging, the tide going out like somebody’s pulled the plug, and a big ol’ pile of rocks licking its chops astern, lit by the grim gloom of the spreader lights. Why take chances?

And what’s more—replacing an electric windlass isn’t all that tough a job. In fact, we proved as much just recently, onboard a 1996 Grand Banks 42 Motoryacht, a valiant old charterboat we’re completely restoring down in the Virgin Islands to follow along with this project), with the express purpose of generating how-to articles like this one, as well as lots of refit-related DIY video and Web content. Consummate seafarer Tommy McCoy provided most of the hands-on expertise required to complete this particular project (as well as most of the photos shown here) and Vetus Maxwell provided some expertise too, in addition to a new Maxwell HRC 10 horizontally-oriented windlass (approximately $3,000), a Max Set plough-type anchor, and a variety of other odds and sods.

So Long, Ol’ Buddy

The first step in the replacement process entailed the removal of the old windlass and its attendant ground-tackle paraphernalia. “The previous equipment on the boat was 20 years old or better,” explains McCoy, “and I was carrying the better part of 180 feet of ⅜-inch BBB (Grade 30) chain in the locker, all of it in very poor condition.”

The old windlass.Once the 42’s Bruce anchor was cut loose and carried ashore, McCoy could then tail the old rusted rode out on deck (atop a cardboard underlayment to protect teak planking) and ultimately take it ashore as well. “After you’ve removed the bolts and washers underneath the mounting area and separated the old windlass (it weighed about 60 pounds) from the electrical cables,” advises McCoy, “you’ve got to be really careful lifting it out—it’s heavy. Don’t drop it!”

Cleaning and resurfacing the mounting area came next, along with removing from the underside of said area the old reversing solenoid and disconnecting the wiring for the foot controls, via access hatches on either side of the box-like molding under the inboard end of the bow pulpit. Although the two existing hawse holes lined up quite nicely with the new Maxwell’s wildcat and rope drum, the mounting holes for the Maxwell’s four studs did not. So McCoy filled the holes with epoxy and/or teak plugs and used an orbital sander on slow speed to smooth everything off, teak planking, interstitial caulking material, and plugs included.

WindlassGetting Things Ready

A Maxwell HRC 10 tips the scales at approximately 44 pounds so McCoy had little trouble hefting and positioning his new windlass, with the wildcat to starboard (for the primary anchor) and the rope drum to port (for the secondary anchor), once he’d drilled four new mounting holes. “Another issue was the size of the opening for the electrical wiring,” says McCoy. “To comply with a different direction that the new wiring would travel to the bowsprit, I had to enlarge the opening with a spade bit but, as luck would have it, this was no problem since the new unit was going to cover up the opening anyway.”

Electrics went smoothly. A new reversing solenoid was installed in the same general spot as the old one and a new breaker was installed at the breaker panel at the lower helm station. Otherwise, existing wiring (for the foot controls and the windlass control switch at the lower helm station) and battery cables were found to be appropriately sized and compatible with the new installation.

Finally, once the new Maxwell HRC 10 and all its attendant switches and other components had passed the does-it-work-or-not test, hex-head nuts, lock washers, and flat washers were snugged up around the four studs poking through the mounting platform, as well as the existing backing plates underlying it. “By the time we finished,” says McCoy, “I figure we had about maybe 16 or 18 hours in the project. It was something I’d say your average guy could do on a weekend if, say he started Friday night and figured on being done by Sunday afternoon.”

Some Nifty Extras

To top off the project with a flourish, Vetus Maxwell tossed a few extras into the mix. For starters, there was some new anchor rode—approximately 80 feet of ⅜-inch G43 High-Test galvanized chain, with another 80 feet of 12-plait rope as backup. The anchoring gurus at Vetus Maxwell (see “Ground Tackle Upgrade,”) prefer all-chain rode in most cases, but they spliced rope into our 42’s equation (modern rope is often as strong as chain, say the Vetus Maxwell folks) to cut weight in this particular instance. And then there was a new Max Set plough-type anchor with a swivel (again, see “Ground Tackle Upgrade,”) between rode and anchor shackle. And finally, a new chain stopper (sometimes called a riding pawl) as well as a new safety lanyard came McCoy’s way.

But doesn’t all this additonal stuff constitute overkill, considering that the HRC 10 has an anchor brake that can be torqued down to thoroughly secure an anchor, or anchors, underway? “Never rely on just one thing,” says Chris Deboy, a sales manager at Vetus Maxwell. “In fact, besides the chain stoppers and safety lanyards we sent to Tommy we also recommend other things. We even have bow rollers these days with pins that pass through and secure the anchor. A very positive situation.”

“Our equipment is super-reliable,” adds Will Vrooman, another Vetus Maxwell sales manager who’s been involved in literally hundreds of windlass installations over the years. “But even super-reliable can sometimes fail. That’s why we push all this stuff—it’s all about safety.”

Vetus, 410-712-0740; Vetus website ▶


This article originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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