It is not essential to service the winches when a boat is ashore, but if time allows I prefer to do this maintenance job when the boat is on dry land, mainly because the retaining clips, pawls and pawl springs can easily go flying overboard as a winch is dismantled, especially if the boat is rocking about. Manufacturers recommend winches are serviced at least twice during the sailing season so getting this done before the boat goes back in the water is a good plan. Particular attention needs to be given to the condition of the pawls and pawl springs, which may need replacing.
Most manufacturers provide service manuals which can be downloaded and give detailed instructions for your specific winch models. If however you find these hard to come by, this is a reminder of how to go about things:
Things you will need – small flat bladed screwdriver, old toothbrush, cotton rag, paper towel, paraffin or white spirit, light machine oil (3-in-One oil is good), winch grease and two old plastic containers for cleaning the disassembled parts. Spare parts: springs and pawls.
When taking a winch apart it helps to take photos to remind you how to put it back together again later. These are in addition to the manufacturer’s service manual illustrations.
Like almost everything else on a boat, winches differ from manufacturer to manufacturer. To start the disassembly, some have a big slotted screw at the bottom of the handle socket, some have a cir-clip at the top which can be fiddly to pry open and put back. Others (see photos) have slots on the top that you can push with a screwdriver
Cleaning and checking
The winch components should be removed one by one and soaked in paraffin using one of the containers as a bath. Remove all the old oil and dirt from each part in turn – an old toothbrush makes an ideal tool for this. Then dry the parts and put them in the other plastic container prior to oiling and reassembly.
As you remove each part, check the condition, paying particular attention to the pawls and springs. If the pawls show signs of wear or chipping, then they need replacing. If the springs show signs of corrosion or loss of tension, they should be replaced. These parts are cheap and it is wise to carry spares on the boat. Other parts will be more expensive but still need to be checked – the gears for wear or broken teeth, the inside of the drum for corrosion.
Lubricate the pawls with 3-in-One oil. Lubricate the ratchet tracks, gear teeth and bearings with a light smear of winch grease. Do not apply excessive amounts of grease as this can collect in the pawl pockets, preventing the pawls from working properly. The grease will attract dirt and salt which could lead to the pawls binding and no longer working. Note: if any of the bearings in your winches are plastic, do not grease them.
Before you begin the reassembly, make sure the base plate is completely clean. Any dirt left in the winch can cause wear, so it is worth taking the time to do a thorough cleaning job.
I have to confess I am not brilliant at reassembling winches. There always seems to be something I leave out or put back upside down and invariably I have to start again. The main thing here is not to try and force the whole thing back together – if you meet resistance you are probably doing something wrong and need to start again.
When you finish the reassembly, the best moment of this sometimes fiddly and messy task is to test the winch is working nicely. Then reassure yourself it will be a joy to use when you get back on the water.
Step by steps for a typical winch:
1. Unscrew and remove the top cap, lift off the feeder arm and remove the 2 retaining collets.
2. Lift off the drum.
3. Remove and clean the drum bearings and washer.
4. Remove and clean the gear spindle and gear.
5. To remove the main spindle, rotate it in a clockwise direction as you lift it, also remove the ratchet gear.
6. Remove, clean and inspect the pawls and springs, look for excess wear, replace if necessary. Lubricate pawls with a light machine oil.
7. Lightly grease the ratchet gear, place it in position with the ratchet facing up.
8. Re-assemble in reverse order, remember to lightly grease all gears, ratchet tracks, spindles and bearings.
9. Remove the three fixing screws holding the crown assembly to the drum.
10. Carefully lift off the crowns and lift out the springs.
11. Remove, clean and inspect pawls and pawl springs, look for excess wear, replace as necessary. Lubricate pawls with a light machine oil. Re-assemble.
12. To fit the drum, you will need to use a small bladed screwdriver to close the pawls.