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Winch servicing

2024 March 1

Some of the most important equipment on a boat, winches can last for ages with annual maintenance

Winches are amazing pieces of equipment. They last for years providing a crucial mechanical advantage that makes sailing possible.  And because they require little in the way of everyday maintenance it can be easy to forget about them, and that’s where problems arise. With a small amount of maintenance performed usually on just an annual basis, winches will work well for decades.

If winches are extra dirty or grease has dried on them, a parts washer at the boatyard can be helpful, but a bucket of solvent, a stiff brush and some elbow grease will also do the job. 
Standard winches are constructed of aluminum drums and castles with bronze and stainless-steel gears, bearings and spindles. Higher end winches will be constructed with exotic materials such as carbon fiber and titanium for added strength and reduced weight. As you can imagine, with all the dissimilar materials in the construction, corrosion can be a problem. 

Friction is the enemy of proper winch performance. A buildup of dirt and salt will cause winches to bog down, making them slower and more difficult to operate. A small amount of routine maintenance should keep them clean and running free.

Disassembling of the winches should be done meticulously as you will need to assemble them in the correct order for proper function. It is best to have an exploded diagram of the winches handy when doing any service. Most manufacturers have diagrams available, but if you can’t find one for your winch, take photos at every stage of disassembling so you put it back together properly. It’s never good to have parts leftover when you put the winch back together.

The tools and equipment you will need to service a winch are screwdrivers, allen wrenches, needle nose pliers, cleaning brushes, solvent, winch grease and light oil. Also get a few springs and pawls from your winch manufacturer to have on hand in case any need replacing. Winch manufacturers utilize many different methods of securing everything together and will provide instructions on how to disassemble. 

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