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What grease should I use on my winches?

2019 July 1

Dear Boat Doctor,

I am doing some maintenance on my old electric Barient winches. I have taken down the manual parts of the winches, and I am pretty clear on how to clean and lubricate those parts. I opened the gear cases and was surprised to see clean yellow grease that looked brand new. I’d like to top off this grease but I don’t know what kind to use.

Richard Stevens

Richmond, California

Dear Richard,

Barient winches are nearly bulletproof. I don’t have experience with the electric versions, but Barients have served me well for years.

No matter what kind of winches are on a boat, it’s important to start with clean parts. While Barients are entirely stainless and bronze, many winches have some plastic parts so it is important to use a mild solvent like mineral spirits to clean up the parts.

You’ll need two kinds of lubricant: winch grease and oil. I recommend using a name brand winch grease that is properly formulated for the job. Any lightweight oil will work, but my favorite is Harken OneDrop. 

With a clean winch you can start on the lubrication. Grease the main axle of the winch and the gears. Less is more here, you don’t want to cake on the grease, just a light coat will do. The roller bearings need a light coat too, just a sheen on them actually. Put a little grease on your fingers and massage it into the gear races.

The oil is reserved for the winch pawls, and you only need a drop on each pawl. You want the pawls to move smoothly and to operate with a “snap.” While you are lubricating take a look at the springs, make sure they have good tension. Barient springs have disappeared from the market, but Harken springs fit perfectly.

As for your gear case question, I would clean the internal parts with mineral spirits and inspect everything. Assuming things look good, you’ll need to refill the gear case with grease. Grease is really just thickened oil and the thickener makes all the difference. I would recommend a lithium complex or calcium sulfonate grease, either of these will stand up well and continue to protect your workhorse winches. For an example take a look at Mobil Centaur XHP 460.