Skip to main content

Watch Your Winch

  • Author:
  • Updated:

Heavy ground tackle makes for sound sleeping, but when it's time to weigh anchor, it can be a pain unless you have a windlass to do the heavy lifting. Fortunately for our lower backs, there are windlasses sized to fit any boat and no reason not to have one aboard as an unpaid hand. When properly installed, a windlass requires minimal maintenance. Here's what you need to know.


Making sure that there is enough clearance below the windlass motor to keep it free of the rode is another important maintenance task.

First, rinse the windlass thoroughly after every voyage to wash off the salt, let it dry, and cover it. (Many anchor lockers are now equipped with the quick-connect-type freshwater connections for rinsing.) Use the windlass frequently to keep the innards lubricated; crank it over for a few turns at least every couple of weeks. If the windlass sits idle, the oil will drip off the internal gears, some of which are steel and prone to rust. Since the windlass is exposed to lots of salt spray, rain, and dampness from wet anchor rodes, unprotected steel will soon be rusty steel. While you're at it, manipulate any movable parts—clutches, brakes, chain stoppers, etc. "Use it or lose it" is applicable to windlasses, too.

At the beginning of the season, disassemble, clean, and lubricate the windlass according to the directions in the manual. (If you've lost the manual, most manufacturers let you download one from their Web site.) This doesn't require major surgery, just basic field-stripping that anyone can do. Use the type of grease recommended by the manufacturer, being careful to keep friction clutches and brakes lube-free. Repeat the process at lay-up, or at no less than six-month intervals if you use your boat year-round.

Look around the fastenings for signs of leakage, which can lead to water intrusion into cored decks, an expensive and frustrating condition to repair. Check below decks as well, where water drips leave rust stains even on stainless steel fastenings. Misuse of the windlass, e.g., using it to absorb the strains of anchoring rather than transferring the rode to a mooring cleat (or nylon snubber in the case of chain), can overstress the fastenings, break the bedding, and let water in. Don't ignore leaks.

Inspect all electrical connections for problems. Connections should be clean, corrosion-free (corrosion looks like the white deposits you often find on your car's battery cables), and devoid of burned areas that can result from arcing. If necessary, remove the leads (shut off the power first—there are a lot of amps here), clean the terminals and posts, and reconnect. Coat the connections with grease, and re-cover them with the boots. Look at the motor casing, too; it's usually painted steel, and if the paint's nicked, it'll rust. Touch up the paint before it gets worse.

Also, check the footswitches on the foredeck. The hinged caps should open and close easily and have a firm, tight fit for preventing accidental activations. Because the rubber can be damaged by exposure to UV rays, the diaphragms on the switches should be doused with 303 Protectant or another UV shield. The switches can also be silicone-sealed around their edges.

Finally, when you use the windlass, don't make it do all the work. Motor toward the anchor so there's minimal strain on the rode. If the anchor doesn't break out easily, belay the rode and pop it free with the engine, then use the windlass to lift it back aboard. Your windlass will last longer and be happier if you don't overstress it.


I want to change my own oil. Is a portable system adequate, or do I need something built in? My boat has twin Crusaders.—J. Tugal, via e-mail

A portable oil-changer is basically a five-gallon plastic bucket with a pump mounted on top; the pump sucks up old lube oil through a cocktail-straw-size tube via the dipstick hole and dumps it into the pail. I used one of these for a couple of years on my GM-powered Hatteras, and it worked fine, albeit slowly—very slowly. If you’re talking twin engines plus gears, plus a genset, pack a lunch when you change your oil, 'cause you’re gonna be there a while.

A better solution is to invest in a built-in oil-change system, comprising a reversible electric pump and a manifold of valves plumbed to your engine crankcases, transmissions, and genset. You pump the used oil into a container, then move the exhaust hose into a five-gallon pail of fresh oil (where it now becomes the supply hose), reverse the pump, and refill. The oil is quickly pumped out and in via the oil pan drain, rather than through the dipstick tube. You’ll also have to find a place to dispose of the old oil properly—ask your marina manager or even your dockmates for their advice.

Reverso, X-Change-R, and Jabsco sell oil-change systems to suit multiengine setups. Installation is straightforward, but drain each engine before pulling the oil-pan plug, or you’ll have an EPA-size cleanup job. I’d bite the bullet and pay the yard—its mechanics are skinnier, anyway.

This article originally appeared in the June 2007 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.