Servicing Your Winches | Sailing Blog - Technical Hints and Tips - Sailing Television

Servicing Your Winches

Why service your winches? Here is one item on deck that can outwardly appear to be in good shape and actually be ready to fail. And when it fails it could easily injure a crew-member, or worse!

I have met a number of sailors who are not aware of this danger, and have never serviced their winches. I think they should be serviced at least once a year, more often if they have taken a wave over them or if you have any indication they are not working properly. We know many cruisers who never service them and that is a real serious accident waiting to happen. It shouldn't take more than a couple of hours to do all of them.

taking apart winch
Now admittedly winches can be a bit daunting if you have never taken one apart before. The first time you open up a winch it seems to have a number of gears, and bearings and other bits, so it is important to be organized here. Keep diagrams or instructions for your particular winches handy - I sometimes photograph the winch as I take it apart to help reassemble. I have now put the Lewmar manual up on our plotter so it's nearby as I service it.
servicing winch video
Set up an area to lay out the parts to organize them and make sure nothing goes overboard!
servicing winch parts
Remove the top and check the main bearings. They will likely need cleaning and then a light coating of the winch manufacturers recommended grease. If the winches have been neglected this step could take longer. I clean the bearings with mineral spirits and a toothbrush in a bowl. We want to remove the old grease and replace with a light coating of new grease. Gears receive the same treatment but be careful NOT to get any grease in the area of the pawls (see below).

I think the most important element in servicing the winches are the pawls. These are small ratcheting mechanisms that allow the winch to turn one way but not the other. A single speed winch will have one set (of two pawls), a 2 speed winch will have 2 sets. So a typical 2-speed winch will have four pawls. It is the pawls that can cause the injuries with a winch. A broken spring, or a little sticky grease and some dried out oil will mean the pawl won't move freely. In the event that one of the pawls has got stuck and is not clicking out properly, the winch will still work fine. But only one pawl is now working. So if that second pawl sticks the winch will spin backward - spinning the handle too if it is left in place.
inserting pawl
Check the springs are in good condition - replace if not perfect - and that they are moving freely. Most important never to get grease in this area it can stick the mechanism - they just need a light machine oil.
using light oil to lubricate winch pawls
Now the whole thing goes back together. Check that the pawls are moving freely, bearings spin easily and all looks as it should.
Refer to the diagram as you reassemble and make sure there are no parts left over when you have completed this winch :-)

Move on to the next winch… it will be easier now you know how your winches work!

Our Lewmar winches are beautiful pieces of engineering and very reliable! Check out Lewmar here

Safe Sailing

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