Two Rules for Using a Windlass

A windlass works best when you run your boat in concert with the capabilities of this labor-saving accessory.

Using windlass to pull up anchor
A windlass is a rugged tool for hauling up your anchor. Just don’t use one to pull your boat.

I don’t know who invented the anchor windlass, but I am sure that  person ranks as one of the unsung heroes of boating.

An anchor windlass saves backs, allows boaters to more easily visit more places, and, as evidenced by anchor chutes, bow pulpits and rode lockers, even makes its mark on boat design. 

Sure, we can use an anchor ball. But if there is anything ahead, like a beach or anchored boats, it’s back to the broken back—or the windlass. 


Truly helpful, a windlass requires handling your boat in ways that complement its utility and respects its limitations.

Rule one: Do not use the windlass to haul the boat up to the anchor. This causes excessive wear and tear that will surely shorten its life and lead to untimely repair or replacement. Unless you consider making warranty claims as fun, idle the boat toward the location of the anchor using the windlass to reel in the slack. Bump in and out of gear as wind and current dictate to ensure the windlass is reeling in the anchor and rode, and not pulling in the boat. 

It takes experience to do this properly, especially with a larger or high-bowed boat that doesn’t allow a view of the rode from the wheel. Sometimes you can cut the wheel quickly and briefly to get a glimpse of the rode while idling up. Other times you can’t. So, even if using helm-mounted windlass controls, someone may need to go forward to eyeball the rode for you. 


Of course, if conditions are such that you deem it unsafe to send crew forward, by all means sacrifice the longevity of the windlass. Seamanship is foremost about the preservation of life at sea.

Do go easy seating the anchor in its chock. Do not keep the power on and slam it home. Doing so can damage your boat. It often takes a couple of tries to seat the anchor properly, going up and down a couple of feet with light, intermittent touches on the switches. 

Rule two: Do not use the windlass as a cleat. Even moderate wind, current swell or chop can create damage that might find you perusing new windlass deals online long before you intended. Instead, cleat off the rode just as you would aboard a boat without a windlass, leaving a little slack between the windlass and cleat. 


Read Next: How to Install an Electric Windlass

Have an all-chain rode? Use a snubber. This consists of a 15-foot length of nylon line with a hook at one end. Cleat off the bitter end and hook the chain. Now let out more rode until the load comes tight on the snubber. Then allow a bit more chain out, creating slack between the windlass and the hook. This prevents damage and acts as a shock absorber that makes the entire boat feel less herky-jerky while anchored.

Used correctly, the humble anchor windlass can expand your boating comfort and safety. 


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