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Winch Servicing Guide

Winch Servicing Frequency

Routine maintenance is the key to preventing malfunction, so an annual pre-season service is essential and a second or even a third during the season is advisable, depending on the amount of work they get through.

A routine check before every regatta is prudent for winches on yachts that are raced in earnest.

Winches should be flushed frequently with fresh water to drive out dirt and salt-water.

Fresh water rinsing will help to preserve a reliable and smooth functioning winch, especially helpful on sea water-based yachts.

Maintenance is required immediately when any of these malfunctions manifest themselves:

  • Ratcheting seems sluggish or sticky
  • Winch doesn’t turn freely
  • Winch can be turned in both directions

The Winch Service Process

The process can be broken down into the following steps: preparation, stripping, degreasing, inspecting, lubricating and reassembling and finally testing.

This may seem a daunting prospect for first timers, but it is eminently achievable with methodical preparation.

  1. Preparation

    Assemble all the required tools and consumables (degreaser, oil, grease).

    Have an exploded diagram of the winch to hand. There is normally one in the manufacturer manual.

    Spread towelling or rag around the winch to preserve the deck and catch any parts that would otherwise go astray by bouncing out of sight, or even worse, overboard.

    Wear protective gloves. Disposable gloves are a good idea because you will need a clean pair for handling the parts once they have been cleaned.

  2. Stripping

    Dismantle the winch systematically according to the manual and the diagram.

    Store the parts in a logical sequence that makes it clear in which order they go back together.

    Take care not to allow any of the bearings to fall out of their housing.

    Pay special attention when lifting the drum off the winch as the main bearings are prone to staying caught in the drum rather than staying on their housing.

  3. Degreasing

    Remove any grease and clean any dirt or gunk off all the components of the winch, using a tub or small bucket of degreaser.

  4. Inspection

    Carry out a thorough overall examination.

    Ensure that the winch is securely fastened to the deck.

    Look for any signs of fatigue or corrosion:

    Check for damage to teeth on the gears including those on the inside of the drum.

    Confirm that the bearings are flawless and roll freely.

    Look for any wear on spindles/pins or in pin/shaft holes.

    Scrutinise the pockets where the pawls and springs are located, looking for any signs of wear or burring.

    Examine the pawls and springs, and especially the pocket where they reside.

  5. Lubrication and Reassembly

    Rebuild the winch in reverse order using the same systematic approach as for the dismantling process.

    Lubricate or grease each part as appropriate.

    A small paint brush is a handy tool for applying the grease to bearings, spindles, gear shafts and teeth.

    Do not grease the pawls or the springs.

    Grease will induce them to stick and prevent engagement resulting in a winch that simply spins.

    Lubricate the pawls and springs with genuine synthetic winch pawl oil.

    Do not lubricate composite roller bearings with either grease or oil.

    If the winch has ratchet gears, ensure that they go back in the correct plane with the pawls properly seated in the teeth.

  6. Testing

    When the winch has been put back together, a simple test is advisable, before subjecting it to any appreciable loading. The winch should spin easily with a twist of your wrist and operate smoothly both ways with the crank of a winch handle.

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