Sailboat Winch Maintenance

Sailboat Winch Maintenance
By Peter Stroud

Sailboat Winch Maintenance is Greasy and Messy

If you're like most sailboat owners, you haven't serviced your winches since you owned the boat. Every year you say this is going to be the year you clean and grease the winches, but something more important always comes along.

Servicing sailboat winches is a greasy, messy job that intimidates even the most boat-savvy person. However, winches need to be greased because they are among the most expensive items on the sailboat!

The Sailboat Winch Jigsaw

Every winch is different, so there's no good way to memorize how a winch goes back together. However, a sailboat winch can not be put together wrong because the parts only fit together the right way - with the exception of maybe getting a washer in the wrong place.

Before you start with Servicing a Sailboat Winch

It's a good idea to have everything handy before you begin because you'll be too greasy to dig around your clean boat for needed items: plenty of paper towels, mineral spirits, small can to wash greasy parts in, small paint brush, winch grease, tools including metric Allen wrenches and access to hot water.

The paper towels let you keep sailboat winch dissassembly mess under control. Pour the mineral spirits into the small can and use to clean parts with the small paintbrush (after cleaning, rinse all the parts in hot water).

Disassembly of Sailboat Winch

To disassemble, remove the drum from the base of the winch using the screw at the bottom of the winch handle socket. Simply unscrew it, pull the socket out, and the drum will lift off.

As you lift the drum, be aware the winch roller bearing cages may momentarily stick inside the drum and could unexpectedly drop out. Make sure they don't bounce off the deck into the water.

Now you can remove all the winch gears and bearings for cleaning. Even though the sailboat winch only goes back together one way, it won't hurt to take a good look at everything.

Most importantly, remember where the washers and other little items go in the winch. It's hard to figure out their location. Don't waste time worrying about the larger winch gears and drive shaft. It's easy to find their homes.

Pulling the gears and bearings out is actually quite simple and doesn't require any sailboat winch tools or skill. They just slip over the gear shaft.

Cleaning the Sailboat Winch Components

Place gears and bearings in the small can. Add the mineral spirits to the can and allow to soak.

Take the gears and bearings and place them in a small can. Cover the parts with mineral spirits and soak.

After soaking, take the small brush and work off any old grease from the winch component. Don't forget to clean the winch gear ring on the inside of the drum.

Now that you've removed the grease and grime, rinse the parts in hot water to remove the mineral spirits. If the spirits are left on, it breaks down the grease.

Dry the parts with a clean rag or paper towel.

Reassembly of Sailboat Winch

As you put the gears back into place, take a close look at how the pawls are working. If they don't open and close smoothly, then the drum could spin backwards.

If there's any question that the pawls are not working properly, it is much easier to replace them and the little springs. It is very important NOT to grease the pawls because grease causes them to stick. And if they stick, the gears won't engage. To lubricate your pawls, use any light oil that might be on hand; something like a 3 & 1 oil.

The final step is to place all the sailboat winch parts back into the base where they belong. If you do end up with extra parts, you'll have to go back through each part and play detective until its home is discovered.

Also, it's not a bad idea to periodically give the shaft and gears a spin to make sure you are on the right path.

Remember, in most cases sailboat winches are used in pairs. Clean one winch at a time. If you become confused as to where a part goes, you can look at its mate for the answer.

Final Touches to the Winch

Lightly brush on clean winch grease. Do not overpack.

Once you are certain the sailboat winch is reassembled correctly, lightly brush on some clean winch grease. Some owners think that because they won't get around to servicing their winches for a long time, the smart strategy is to pack them with so much grease they will last for years. This is a bad idea and only makes a big mess down the road.

Now that the gears and bearings are all in place with new grease, all that needs to be done is to remount the drum.

A video of this procedure is available in the articles section of Sailboat Winch or click here http://www.sailboat-winch.com

Peter Stroud has spent his life around the water and is interested in sailing and live aboard boats. The website http://www.sailboat-winch.com examines the most popular marine winches.

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