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How do I stop the self-tailer from jamming?

2013 April 4

Dear Boat Doctor,
I am having a problem with the self-tailing winches on my new-to-me boat. Over the years, I have had self-tailers that slipped, but these tailers are different in that they won't let go. It seems that as the line comes around the drum it gets stuck under the little arm on the winch, the arm that you wrap the line over before clamping it into the tailer. How do I fix this?
Bob Billinghurst
San Rafael, California

Dear Bob,
Let's start with a little terminology. The part of the winch that you wrap the line on is the drum; the slot that you wrap the line into so the winch can grab the line is the self-tailer jaw; and the little arm that you wrap over is the stripper arm. The jaw grabs the line, the stripper arm guides the line from the drum to the jaw and also strips the line from the jaw after a trip around the winch.

You are describing a problem where the line is not correctly stripped by the stripper arm and actually gets stuck under it. I can think of a few reasons why this might be happening.

The most likely cause is that the line is undersized for the self-tailer jaw. If the line is too small, it can get sucked into the gap between the stripper arm and the jaw. The only workaround here is to get a larger line. You would also likely see some slipping in the self-tailer jaw.

You don't give a lot of detail about your boat or winches, but if you have Lewmar winches you could have an assembly problem. Lewmar winches have a little plastic ring that rides in the jaw. The ring has a tab on it that is designed to snap into the underside of the stripper arm. The sole purpose of this ring and tab is to prevent exactly the problem you describe. It is very common to see Lewmars with the tab just floating in the slot and not snapped into the underside of the stripper arm. If the jaw is not snapped in, just remove the stripper arm and reinstall it, snapping it over the black plastic tab.

If you have Barient winches you could have a problem with a loose self-tailer jaw. If the jaw is too loose, the line can sit too deep in the jaw, allowing it to get stuck under the stripper arm. The jaws are tensioned via small springs on most of the models. Unfortunately these springs are long out of production, but you may be able to use common springs as a replacement.