How to Use a Windlass

Maxwell HRC Horizontal WindlassWhether you’ve installed a new windlass, or have bought a new boat and are using one for the first time, here’s some important tips on how to treat your windlass properly.  When referring to “rode” below, we mean the chain and/or rope you have attached to your anchor.  When referring to “scope”, we mean the amount of rode you intend to lay out between the anchor and your boat.

  • After a long passage – especially a rough one – your rode may become a jumbled mess within the anchor locker, making it much harder for the windlass to deploy.  Before anchoring, make sure to take a look in the locker and reorganize your rode as needed for ease of deployment.
  • If lowering the anchor in “free-fall” mode (by manually loosening the clutch mechanism), make sure you have good control of the speed at which the anchor and rode are deploying and can easily stop is at the right time – which can take some practice!  It is NOT recommended to use this method in deep waters as the overall weight of the chain can quickly overcome your ability to stop its deployment when using the free-fall technique.
  • When starting to anchor, as your intended scope is playing out (assuming you are not using the free-fall option), make sure you are not reversing the boat too quickly, putting undue pressure on windlass.
  • After you’ve released the amount of scope you intend to use, but before testing the set of your anchor, deploy a chain stopper or snubbing device to put the testing pressure on the boat, not the windlass.
  • Once you are sure the anchor is set and have finished the process of anchoring, if you haven’t already (during testing) – deploy a chain stopper or snubber.  This transfers the load of lying at anchor to the structural part of the boat, instead of the windlass.  This is critical if you get caught in a bad anchorage with higher winds and waves as the drive shaft of the windlass can be bent under the higher loads if not properly snubbed.
  • When beginning the anchor recovery process, use your engine to move the boat forward to start retrieving the rode.  Do not use the windlass to move the boat forward as it puts too much pressure on the unit – especially when fighting wind or waves. 
  • Lewmar V700 Vertical WindlassWhen ready to break the anchor free from the seabed, use the engine or wave action to help, not the windlass.
  • When done up-anchoring, secure your anchor to the bow to avoid accidental deployment while underway – especially if doing a longer passage or if you are experiencing high wind or rough wave action.
  • If you buy a new windlass or chain – make sure you buy the proper chain wheel for your windlass to match the chain.  These tend to be very finicky and if they don’t match, you will have constant issues with chain jumping or jamming.
  • During windlass installation or when replacing your rode, make sure you have enough “fall” space between the deck and where the rode will be stored.  If you will be using rope, you need to have almost twice the fall distance as the additional drop is needed to avoid the chance of rode piling up and causing jams.
  • If at all possible, cover the windlass when it’s not in use and crank it periodically if not using for long periods to re-distribute the lubricating oil in the gears.
  • Periodically check the windlass on/off switch for corrosion and make sure there is a circuit breaker installed in the windlass wiring (preferably close to the battery) to ensure the breaker will trip if the event of unexpected excessive current flow.
  • Performing the recommended annual maintenance will save your windlass from an early death – especially with frequent usage.   It’s easy and quick and you’ll be glad you did if you get into a hairy situation! 

If you follow these recommendations, we are sure your windlass will live a long and productive life – especially when you need it the most.  For more information on this topic, see our Navigator on Selecting a Windlass, or feel free to contact our product experts at (800) 426-6930.

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