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How to maintain the winch of your sailboat?

What is a winch?

The winch is a tool well known to all sailors, both in racing and on pleasure boats. The winch is a small fixed winch, placed on the deck of a sailboat, which multiplies the force applied on the ropes by the crew in order to control the sails. It is useful on the halyards (to set the sails) and on the sheets (to trim the sails). To be effective, the winch needs to be used correctly so that the maneuver runs smoothly.

This mechanism is subject to great stress and requires annual maintenance, which must be carried out according to the rules of the trade.

Before starting to maintain your winch, it is important to know that there are different types: self-locking or not, single-speed or two-speed and sometimes three speeds on racing boats. However, the general structure of these winches remains basically the same: base, cylinder, springs and pawls, gears and bearings, headstock and ring (circlip).

What is required for winch maintenance?

In order to clean the winch properly, you need :

Consumables :

Special winch grease: resistant to sea water and high pressure (practical in spray)

Industrial degreaser: type F gasoline (grease and rust spots)

Liquid cleaner : diesel, petrol, white spirit

Special fine mechanical oil

Pawls and springs adapted for the winch, this set is also called "spare kit"


2 brushes:

cleaning of parts / application of grease



Container: use of the cleaning solution

Screwdriver: flat and Phillips

Set of Allen keys

Maintenance of the winch, what are the different steps?

You don't need to have a degree in mechanics or even be a skilled handyman to properly maintain your winch. We will show you the steps to follow in a few easy steps that you can follow in complete safety and peace of mind.

Using a screwdriver or an Allen wrench, unscrew the top cup (possibly a screw inside the crank).

Carefully lift the headstock (visible part) from the winch. Be careful to loosen the bearings, which may be temporarily stuck inside and then slip out of control.

Without fear of the needles escaping, you can now remove the two needle bearings.

Using the appropriate Allen wrench and making sure to retrieve the screws, remove the gearbox from the winch.

Watching the third bearing, remove the winch column.

Remove the central shaft and the first pawls will appear.

Clean the pawls so that they run freely.

Dismantle all the gears.

Clean the parts with white spirit, kerosene or diesel oil.

Be careful not to use gasoline, which is too dry.

Reassemble the various winch parts. At this stage, only the parts that are in motion during the operation of the winch (bearings, gears and axles) should be lightly greased with the tip of a brush; excess grease would be harmful.

Pawls and springs should only be oiled (fine oil) when reassembling, they should not be greased.

If you have to replace the entire winch, refer to the documentation of the current winch to find out the maximum working load (MWL), which should be the same for the new winch. This load is defined by the manufacturer (shipyard or naval architect) to withstand the loads involved.

Maintenance of the winch, some important information

In order to eliminate all risks of damage to the winch during maintenance, here are a few precautions that will make your job easier. You must follow them!

Do not service the winch too close to the water or on a moving boat. If a part reaches the water, it will be very difficult to recover.

When disassembling the different parts of the winch, take care to position them in the right order so that they can be reassembled in the reverse order.

After the winch parts have been thoroughly cleaned, carefully inspect the gears, bearings, pawls and springs for signs of corrosion (salt, sea water), wear and even breakage, because if this is the case, the parts concerned must be replaced.

Be aware that these parts may differ from one winch brand to another. To avoid mistakes, use the maintenance/repair kits marketed by the winch manufacturers and including pawls, springs and grease. It is prudent for every sailor to have one in advance.

Do not use motor oil, as it forms a "putty" over time in combination with sea water and salt.

If your boat is moored at the seaside, rinse the winch with fresh water after each outing to remove the largest salt deposits.

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