Selecting an Anchor Windlass

Lewmar V700 Vertical WindlassAfter spending your vacation hauling up the anchor by hand in less-than-stellar conditions, you've decided it's time to invest in a new anchor windlass for your boat. But where do you start, and what do you need to know to make the right choice in the overwhelming array of options available? This Navigator will cover what you need to consider before purchasing your new anchor windlass.

What size windlass should I choose?

Choosing the right size windlass for your boat is crucial. Consider factors such as boat length, anchor size, and rope/chain requirements. While windlasses are marketed for a range of boat lengths, certain situations may require a larger capacity. Even with best practices, your anchor windlass may be tasked with heavy-duty operations.

To cover as many situations as possible, below we list factors you should consider in the process of deciding which anchor windlass to choose.

In general, the best method to figure out how much “pulling power” you need is to add up how much your ground tackle weighs (anchor, chain and/or rope) when not under load and then choose a windlass rated with a “pulling power” of at least 3 times that weight.

For example, let's say you have a 55-pound Rocna anchor with 150 feet of 3/8" HT chain and another 200 feet of 5/8" 3-strand nylon rope. The total weight of the anchor and ground tackle is approximately 305 pounds. To handle this weight, you'll need at least 915 pounds of pulling power (weight of the anchor and ground tackle x 3). If you have a heavy boat or high windage, consider upsizing your windlass. Remember, stronger is always better, and it will help your windlass last longer if it's not constantly pushed to its limit.

Horizontal or Vertical?

Lewmar ProSeries Horizontal WindlassChoosing between a horizontal or vertical anchor windlass is not just about aesthetics. Factors such as your chain locker may limit your options. Let's explore the features and benefits of both types. The "fall" refers to the distance between the top of the anchor locker and the top of the rode when fully stowed, which is an important measurement to consider.

Horizontal windlasses have a more "traditional" look and are entirely above deck. They offer easier maintenance due to their visibility, but they take up deck space and can make bow work slightly more awkward. Surface mounting allows for easier installation and prevents the motor from occupying valuable space in small or shallow chain lockers.

The anchor chain engages only about ¼ of the chain wheel (gypsy) circumference on horizontal windlasses, making a good match of the chain size to the chainwheel, also known as the gypsy or wildcat, particularly important. A minimum "fall" from the gypsy to the top of the piled-up rode of at least 12" is recommended in order to have enough weight to pull the rode down into the locker. If a portion of your rode is rope, more fall is better. Horizontal windlasses with notches in the gear wheel can also be somewhat more forgiving than vertical models if the anchor/bow roller is located higher than the windlass chain wheel and can properly engage the links of the chain – such as out on a sailboat bowsprit.

Vertical windlasses typically have their motor below deck, often presenting a sleeker "low profile" appearance. While the motor and gearbox are protected from the elements below deck, they are potentially located in a relatively damp and salty environment – which can increase the chances of corrosion. Lofrans Project 1000 Vertical WindlassThe location below deck can make it more challenging to perform annual maintenance or repairs (think boat yoga), leading to the “out of sight, out of mind” phenomenon.

A minimum "fall" of at least 18" from the underside of the deck to the top of the piled-up rode in the chain locker is recommended to have enough weight to pull the rode forward from the chain wheel down into the locker. The anchor chain engages approximately ½ of the circumference of the gypsy, giving optimal chain control and minimizing jumping. While a vertical windlass is more suitable for boats with larger, deeper chain lockers, you may need to hire an expert to assist with the installation since they are fitted through the deck.

Both horizontal and vertical windlasses are typically available with or without a capstan drum for independent hauling of a second rode, halyard, tow rope, etc. As you can probably tell, both models have their pros and cons, including the use of a crank, so it is more likely that your boat's configuration and anchor locker will determine which one will work best.

Manual, Hydraulic or Electric?

The final thing to consider is whether you want a powered or manual anchor windlass – and if you go powered, should it be electric (DC) or hydraulic?

Anchored out with Mount RainierWhen choosing a windlass, consider factors like your boat's configuration for anchoring. Ensure that you have enough pulling power for your ground tackle. If you're close to maxing out the pulling power, opt for a larger size. Less strain on the windlass means it will last longer.

Fisheries Supply stocks a wide variety of anchor windlasses from all the best manufacturers, including Lewmar, Lofrans, Maxwell, Muir, Powerwinch, Quick , and Vetus. We also carry a range of windlass accessories to complete your setup. We hope this Navigator has helped you understand what you need to know when choosing a new windlass anchor, whether it be a manual, hydraulic, or electric anchoring system. This includes understanding the different types of controls, such as a panel-mounted switch for remote operation from the helm, flying bridge, or cockpit.

If you have additional questions, please don't hesitate to contact our product experts at (800) 426-6930. For additional information on windlass operation, check out our Navigator on Using Your Windlass