Question: How do I keep my winches in top condition?

From the Rigger: We are going to be honest with you. We are often shocked by the condition of the winches we service. We promise not to tease you if you let us work on them, but trust us, we can tell if your winches have been neglected, if you have used incorrect lubricants, and yes… even if you sail with your dog (oh that fur!).

Just as doctors tell us we need more exercise, your winches probably need more attention and care. High loads, corrosive conditions, lubricants that degrade over time, and small internal components all contribute to diminishing performance. We find that it is often a small neglected part such as a pawl or spring that breaks, running up repair costs and ruining a beautiful day of sailing. And worst-case scenario… faulty winches can cause serious safety issues such as backlashing, a forceful recoil that can easily break a person’s hand.

First, we encourage you to use your winches properly. Be sure to take enough wraps, three to four minimum, to distribute the load and avoid bending the arm on your self-tailer. Be sure that the stripper ring is tightly engaged under the stripper arm to prevent your rope from jamming and bending the stripper arm and/or breaking the ring.

To keep winches pretty on the outside, wash them regularly with fresh water and dry them with a soft cloth. You can use non-abrasive liquid cleaner on chrome and stainless steel winches or bronze cleaner on bronze winches, but if you have alloy winches, just stick with fresh water.

Lewmar, manufacturer of world class winches, recommends that you strip, clean and re-lubricate your winches two to three times during an active sailing season. At the end of the season, they encourage you to completely strip them to check for damaged parts and make any necessary repairs before cleaning, lubricating and putting them back together.

Winches are like jigsaw puzzles. If you enjoy puzzles and are handy with tools, you may want to service your own (just be careful … like a jigsaw puzzle, there are a LOT of small parts to drop overboard and NONE of them float!). Your service manual and/or manufacturer’s website should have the schematics for your unique winch or windlass (a special winch designed for heavy loads such as anchors). If you can’t find the specs for your specific winch, basic servicing principals may be applied across styles, so find a schematic for a winch that is similar to yours. We sell most of the spare parts you will need for a full service. Winch grease and oil, pawls, washers, springs, circlips, etc. can often be purchased individually or in kits. We can even hunt down unique or older parts that are difficult to locate and replace.

For those of you who do not have the interest or time to service winches, our Rigworks team is happy to help. We can service your winches on your boat or here in our shop. We will replace damaged or worn parts and get them running in peak condition or, as a worst-case scenario, recommend that it is time to replace them.

So, if you don’t want to trim sails, haul anchors or hoist sails manually, give your winches a little TLC, and they will continue to handle those heavy loads for you!

Harken rebuild



Winch with broken teeth