Winch Away!

8 May 2009 By Ofer Shelter

Many crew face this dilemma: “Should I try to fix something that’s not broken?” The answer is yes – sometimes you need to take apart and work on equipment that’s functioning perfectly well, because without proper maintenance, it probably will break.

A friend and I recently went for an afternoon sail on his boat. I used the winches and they sounded funny but worked just fine. When I asked him when the last time was that he had treated them, he said almost a year ago because he was worried he would mess them up. Wrong answer.

Here are few tips on how to open, clean and treat a winch of any size:

1. First, find your working area near the winch. Make sure it’s a flat surface and away from walkways; you don’t want anyone to step over the disassembled winch. Working on a thick blanket is helpful as you won't have any mess to clean up afterwards – and the stew won’t hang you from the mast because you “borrowed” one of her sheets.

2. As a rule for every disassembly, use the winch diagram, no matter how many times you've opened the same winch. The last thing you want to do is to get mixed up putting it back together. Then starts the fun part where you take the winch apart. It's easier to disassemble the pieces according to the order shown in the diagram, setting the parts on the blanket in order so that re-assembly will be easier and quicker.

3. After you've taken the winch apart, the cleaning begins. Use mineral spirits, to get all the old dirty grease off, and a tall bucket; you don't want  to spill any drops on the teak deck. A toothbrush, paintbrush and a scrubby pad are the most useful tools. Once the winch is grease-free, dry with a cloth and let sit to air-dry.

4. Next, it’s important to carefully inspect all parts and make sure all gears are in good shape. The most common items that might need replacing are the springs normally found behind the ratchet gear at the top part of the winch. These springs sometimes fail and are important to replace. New ones come in little kits with replacement pawls for the ratchet gear; every winch has different part numbers so make sure you look it up before running to the store. As a habit, keep a couple of kits on the yacht for this purpose.

5. The final stage is greasing the parts and putting the winch back together. This part is enjoyable for anyone who likes putting together puzzles. For greasing, use Lewmar Geargrease Winch Grease. Coat everything with a thin layer before assembly, except the pawls because then they will stick and the ratchet gear won’t work properly. Then enjoy with the puzzle, workin slow and carefully according to the diagram.

Keep a log of the winch treatments you do and make sure to perform them twice a year. If you’re not sure of what to do and are afraid to mess with the winch, ask someone to show you. The winch is important gear on deck – take care of it and it will take care of you.

Do you have any winch maintenance tips to add?