Horizontal or Vertical?

Plusses and minuses of horizontal and vertical windlasses.

An electric windlass is one of those items that seem like a luxury, but quickly becomes a necessity once you strain your back while weighing anchor. I regularly anchor 80 to 120 feet of water to fish deep wrecks and reefs, and I couldn’t do it without a windlass.

If our March 2012 Weekend Workbook on windlasses has you thinking about one, know this: You will have to decide between a horizontal or vertical model. Here are some pluses and minuses of each.

A horizontal windlass is so named because the electric motor and gypsy spindle are configured horizontally. Such units are mounted above deck, and so they are fairly high profile—some might say obtrusive.

Because everything is above deck, installation and maintenance is easier than with a vertical unit. Also, with nothing below deck, it is better for boats with small anchor lockers.

Horizontal units also tend to have fewer snags and hang-up with dropping or retrieving the anchor because the rode makes only a single 90-degree turn before feeding into the locker. A minimum fall of 12 inches above the rode pile is required in order to have enough gravity to pull the rode down into the locker.

A vertical windlass has a gypsy spindle that is configured vertically. Also, the motor is usually vertical, but it is always concealed below deck. With just the gypsy above deck, a vertical windlass is sleek in appearance, and that helps preserve the lines of a boat.

However, installation and maintenance are more complex than with a horizontal unit. Also, because parts are situated in a damp locker, corrosion and maintenance may be more of an issue with a vertical windlass.

Because the anchor rode makes a 180-degree turn around the gypsy and another 90-degree bend before feeding into the locker, vertical windlasses tend to have more snags and hang-ups than horizontal windlasses. A minimum fall of 18 inches above the rode pile is required to have enough gravity to pull the rode down into the locker.

My choice in a windlass is a horizontal model. It is easier to install and maintain, and less prone to snags than a vertical windlass. Sure, it's more obtrusive, but that just tells everyone that I'm no anchor yanker.