Tecktalk - Winch Maintenance

August 1999 Telltale page 6 - by Tom Winlow and Marcel Laroche.

An annual winch servicing will prolong the life of those important winches and ensure that they work at top efficiency, particularly when under heavy loads. Tools required are brushes, a sharp knife, screwdriver, some clean rags, some solvent and a cardboard box. The cardboard box helps prevent those important parts from dropping overboard during disassembly.

Be very careful removing winch parts, especially the circlips often holding the drum in place. Ease these off using a knife blade and a small screwdriver. Most of us have winches no longer made so parts are likely not available if you break them or lose them. Thus the cardboard box. Make a hole a bit bigger than the base of the winch. Now, before beginning to disassemble, slip the box over the winch so the winch is enclosed.

It's a good idea to have the manufacturer's exploded winch parts diagram­if you have it. This shows how parts fit together and the order in which they come apart. The first step is to determine how the drum is retained on the spindle. Over the years, manufacturers have used between one and six screws, the round circlip spring and screw­on top cap, and some you push in the bottom of the socket to release a catch. Once the drum is free, pull it off slowly and gently. The roller bearings have a nasty habit of adhering to the inside of the drum and then falling out as soon as the drum is clear of the spindle. Most self­tailing mechanisms pull right off with the drum and need not be taken apart independently. Be careful not to drop the drum. It can be easily dented, which renders it useless. When the internals of the winch are visible, locate the pawls. Some small single­ speed winches have only two pawl­and­ spring assemblies, while larger winches, as well as all two­speed winches, will have four. Pawls are about ½­inch long and comma­like shaped. They ratchet back and forth against toothed gears, allowing the drum to turn only one direction, and making that clicking noise in the process. Inside a groove in each pawl is a tiny circular spring that will come out with the pawl.

If you have a short memory or are not mechanically inclined, jot down the order of the bits coming apart, especially the gears on multispeed units. Remove the pawl assemblies and note how the springs are inserted. Then pull the springs out of the pawls. Be careful with this. Those springs love to slip out of your fingers and fly around. Clean all the parts thoroughly in pan of solvent using pipe cleaners or an old toothbrush.

Once clean, inspect pawls for wear and springs for deformation, replace as necessary. Disassemble the winch in stages, cleaning all bearings, bushings, gears and axles as you go. Some older winches may need to be unbolted from the deck to get the lower gears out. It is only necessary to do a total teardown if old grease and dirt are causing problems. In most normal maintenance cases, turning the gears while working as much dirt out with rags, brushes and spray solvent will be adequate. Clean the bronze spindle that is now exposed and, lastly, wipe out the inside of the drum. When completely clean and dry of any solvent, apply a thin coat of fresh winch grease to each part as it's re­assembled.

Globbing on too much grease is a common error. Brush a thin, even coat on all the parts. I was taught not to grease the pawl ends or the drum where the pawls engage as any dirt here may cause sticking. However a thin wipe shouldn't hurt.

Since all the pawls are standing out it may be difficult to get the drum to go all the way back down. Try turning the drum clockwise as you push it gently onto the spindle. This will generally depress the pawls and allow the drum to fall into place. Re­install the top cap, circlip or screws that hold the winch together. There should now be nothing left in the bottom of the box. If there is, the process needs to be repeated. It takes about 30 minutes to clean and lubricate a winch.

Remove the box and give the winch a spin. You should hear a light, metallic clicking sound­music to the ears. (Thanks to Tom Wood and Sailnet ­ links on our website ­ for much of this material).