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If you cruise extensively invest in a powered anchor windless

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What is the issue?
Manually hauling in long chains and anchors, either with a manual winch or without, is a slow, backbreaking, exhausting task. This is especially the case in very hot climates.

Why address this?
If dealing with ground tackle becomes a daunting manual task it will, in time, cause you to place your crew and vessel in jeopardy.

Where there is not even a manual windlass available, and the anchor is deployed completely manually, it is a prime time for the crew to strain themselves, receive injuries and fall overboard. You are also more likely to steer away from carrying the safer heavier ground tackle, as you have to lift it.

Even with a manual windlass, unless you are incredibly disciplined the time will come when you are tired and rely on an uncertain holding position because the option of taking all the ground tackle back up again and resetting is just too much, and you will regret that many times. It also supports a tendency to put out the minimum length of chain to a convenient depth, possibly leaving quantities of chain sitting in the chain locker doing nothing for the vessel. And when the situation occurs where a quick exit is required the manual method will be painfully slow. All of this can and should be avoided.

How to address this?
Invest in a powered windlass if you are thinking of doing any extended cruising. A powered anchor windlass is a machine used for raising the anchor chain on a boat, by a crank and or drum.

An electric windlass is one of those items that seems like a luxury but quickly becomes a necessity for the cruising yacht, as having effective equipment when it comes to anchoring is a key strength to a vessel's arsenal. It may be an expensive item at the outset as well as being another item to go wrong aboard, however in time it will pay for itself many times over. If anchoring is a breeze it supports the tendency to sail on past the expensive marinas and swing free and easy.

When looking at windlasses, after finding the model that supports the specific weight of your vessel, you will find there are two different types to choose from; horizontal and vertical windlasses. Here are some notes to help you choose the appropriate one for your vessel and sailing needs.

Lewmar Horizontal Windlass
Photo: Courtesy of Lewmar


A horizontal windlass is so named because the electric motor and gypsy, also known as a wildcat, spindle are configured horizontally but the chain gypsy and the rope capstan are oriented at 90° to the deck.

These units are mounted above decks and they are ideal for vessels with shallow anchor lockers. In use, horizontal windlass are generally regarded as the best choice because they offer a wider range of gypsy variations, are easier to install and service, and do not interfere with space in the anchor locker. They also function better, as the anchor rode enters the gypsy it makes a 90° turn and feeds directly into the hawsepipe down into the anchor locker. If two anchors are to be handled by one winch a horizontal winch is much easier to use.

Where the horizontal windlass comes undone is largely in the ascetics. They are high profile units that break the nice sheer line of the vessel. They take up considerably more deck space than vertical units and are totally exposed to the elements. Likewise, the anchor rode must travel in a direct line from the bow roller to the windlass which often requires the windlass to be mounted slightly, and oddly, off centre.

Lewmar Vertical Anchor Windlass with below deck section
Photo: Courtesy of Lewmar


A vertical windlass takes its name from the electric motor and gypsy spindle being configured vertically but it has the gypsy and capstan parallel to the deck. This allows the motor to be concealed below decks.

With only the gypsy appearing above deck and the occasional drum for handling lines, as with the above header image, a vertical windlass is sleek in appearance, and that helps preserve the lines of a boat. They take up less deck space and look much more attractive. Verticle windlasses fitted with drums are much better when it comes to handling lines. As the line can come in at any angle it is much easier to tail a line off on a vertical windlasses drum. This can be particularly convenient when warping into a dock or kedging off.

But the aesthetics come at a price as they are generally harder and more costly to install and service. They also use more locker space and can only be used if the vessel has a deep locker that provides a minimum of 40 cm (18’’) of fall to have enough gravity to pull the rode down into the locker.

Unfortunately, they do not perform as well as horizontal windlasses. In use, it takes a 180° turn around the gypsy but then another 90° bend down through the hawsepipe to fall into the anchor locker. This additional turn means that vertical windlasses tend to have more snags and hang-ups than horizontal windlasses. Finally, there is the often stated advantage that the unit is installed below decks and out of the weather. But it is broadly perceived that having the parts situated in a damp locker is just as corrosive and any maintenance is much more difficult.


A method of removing the strain from the winch must be provided. This is because anchor winches are not designed to take the continual strain of laying to an anchor. This is often done by hooking a rope or
snubber Experience from a secure/robust deck fitting to the chain or by using an anchor pawl. A pawl Experience is well worth considering if the cruising budget permits. This is a one-way valve, allowing the chain to come inboard but not fly out again. They work so well that it is generally believed that the make a windlass redundant on a lightly used boat of 30 feet in length or less. It would be a vital addition should the windlass fail.


One final point that is worth noting in advance, is that the chain rode and windlass gypsy must be a matched size and type. There are three main chain types generally available: Proof Coil, which is not suitable for windlass applications due to its long links, BBB or Triple B and HT or High Test. The latter two are both suitable for windlasses, with the HT being preferred because it is stronger (or lighter).

Expect some difficulty in matching a chain to the gypsy as there are no universally accepted international standards for chain sizes, and variations in chain that are nominally the same size are common. The best approach is to take the gypsy to the chain. Alternatively, if buying a new chain, buy it from the windlass manufacturer when you purchase the windlass and make sure that it is hot dipped galvanized, and that it is an I.S.O. Standard Chain.


As with all new equipment, always read the manual and follow the manufacturers safety instructions and warnings. Here are a few guidelines that are generally applicable to all windlasses.
  • • Keep your fingers, loose clothing and hair clear of the windlass when in operation.

  • • Make off an anchor rode to a strong point while at anchor preferably using a snubber line Experience. Don’t let the windlass hold the boat while at anchor.

  • • Don’t use the windlass to pull or tow a boat up to the anchor. Motor up to the anchor and when weighing anchor just pull up the slack with the windlass.

  • • Secure the anchor rode/anchor when underway as this will also help reduce noise.

  • • Shut off the circuit breaker when the windlass is not in use

With thanks to:
Michael Harpur, Yacht Obsession.
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