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How to Install a Windlass

07 Dec 2022

Taking a boat out onto open water can be immensely satisfying but physically demanding. Still, there is no need to insist on making your favourite activity too much of a punishment. One of the easiest ways to increase efficiency and ease the load on your back muscles is mastering how to install an electric windlass, rendering “hauling anchor” a thing of the past.

Investing in a windlass will make raising and lowering your anchor a doddle. A professional installation is recommended, but DIY installation is possible if you have some electrical and mechanical know-how. Please keep in mind that if you are in any doubt about any aspect of the installation, it is best to seek out advice. Now, we'll examine the choice between the two main styles of windlass and some key considerations before installing one successfully on your foredeck.

Choosing the right style of Windlass

One of the first decisions to make when installing a windlass is whether a vertical or horizontal windlass will better suit you and your boat. Making this selection usually calls for a balance between practicality and aesthetics. Crucially, for a vertical windlass, the motor hangs below deck inside the chain locker, and for the horizontal windlass, the motor sits above deck with the axle and the gypsy in a complete unit.

This means that the vertical option will be less imposing but require a larger chain locker, which is only sometimes possible. At this juncture, it is also helpful to note that the directional aspect of the description of these two types of windlasses refers to the axle rather than the gypsy. So, perhaps counter-intuitively, the horizontal windlass winds like a bicycle pedal and the vertical windlass like a record player (turntable).

  • Horizontal Windlass: This type of windlass is easier to install, calling only for deck mounting, wiring, and a chain pipe into the locker. Although, it does require optimal alignment with your anchor rode to function correctly.
  • Vertical Windlass: Suitable for boats with more extensive and deeper chain lockers, this windlass style features a vertical axle and gypsy above deck while the motor sits below in the chain locker. As your windlass does the work of retrieving your anchor from the seabed, it is essential that gravity is allowed to finish the task by neatly dropping your ground tackle into the chain locker. This requires a healthy fall, making it vital that the distance between the gypsy of the windlass and the top of the fully piled chain is at least 30cm. Here are a few other factors to ponder ahead of installation:
  • The Anchor roller that will feed your windlass should be as closely aligned to the centreline as possible. This is easy on a powerboat. However, conflict with headstays and other fittings must be considered on a sailboat. The anchor roller should be mounted, so the anchor won't knock against the hull on its way up.
  • Because the windlass will haul some considerable weight, installing heavy-duty backing plates is advisable for mounting the unit.
  • A vertical drop into the chain locker is essential, so avoid any bends or angles when installing the chain pipe.
  • Be sure to use a sealant under the base of the windlass and on all installation holes to avoid water penetrating the deck.

Power and Electrical Aspects to Consider

The size and power rating of your windlass will depend on a combination of factors: your boat’s length, weight, windage, and the weight of your chain and anchor. Different manufacturers rate their windlasses by either wattage or pulling power, making it vital to read each brand's guidance and avoid making assumptions based on the product name. You can view our Windlass Selection Guide, brand charts, and calculators for an overview of what our go-to windlass manufacturers recommend. With an idea of power rating established, the next step is putting your electrician cap on and getting power to the dedicated forward location.

You will need to know whether your windlass has a permanent-magnet motor or a series-wound motor. This is important because it will dictate the switch function necessary to change the direction of the motor—a capability that most modern skippers will enjoy having at their disposal. A permanent-magnet motor has only two terminals; reversing the polarity will change the motor's direction. A series-wound motor has one negative terminal and two positive terminals, with the first of the positive pair serving one direction and the second serving the other. This distinction will help you choose the correct switching mechanism.

The next decision to make is where you'll operate the windlass from. You may prefer a deck-mounted foot switch near the windlass or a remote controller in the cockpit or wheelhouse. Alternatively, a handheld remote is the most flexible option. If the control is to be near the windlass, you can make do with a current-carrying button. However, if it is to be some distance away or in the form of a remote, a solenoid switch will be called for, avoiding the need for the total power draw of your windlass to navigate more cable than is necessary. Here are some key pointers:

  • Install an appropriately sized circuit breaker and ensure that all cables are of suitably substantial thickness for their intended load and the round-trip distance the current will need to cover between the unit and the battery
  • Choose a switch type suited to the windlass motor, the distance from the windlass, and the functions required (either single-direction or dual-direction), with a control box for remote installations.
  • Ensure that all connections are waterproof with the help of heat-shrink tubing and a cable crimping tool. All wiring must be well mounted throughout to minimise movement when the boat pitches and rolls.

You may have heard of sailors installing a second battery bank in the bow to power their windlass and wonder if you need to do the same. Happily, thanks to the increasing efficiency of modern windlasses, this is unnecessary for most installations—larger yachts being the only potential exception. It is worth noting that if you are considering a bow thruster, a forward battery bank may be necessary anyway.

There may only be a slight advantage because heavy cables must be run each way, whether for battery charging or powering the windlass itself. Meanwhile, a second battery bank means adding more weight to the bow in addition to the windlass, the anchor and the anchor chain, which already represent a considerable ballast.

If you are exploring installing a windlass and would like additional guidance ahead of purchasing from our Windlass Selection, feel free to give the Jimmy Green team a shout. We'll be happy to guide you toward an optimal match for your needs.

Lofrans Windlass Warranty and Installation Advisory Windlass Selection Guide

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