Installing An Electric Anchor Windlass

Once again, it is hard for us to believe that after 28 years and an unknown numbers of owners this boat has never had an anchor windlass. We have to think that it did not get much anchoring done over its lifetime but someone somehow managed to bend the shank on the 35 pound CQR that came with the boat. Our cruising style is more anchoring and less marina stays so getting the anchoring system right is very important and with a new storm season less than a month away we felt is was past time to get it done and get it right. An anchor windlass is an important part us our system.

Once the anchoring and bow platforms were refurbished, see our post here, the next step was to find a windlass that would fit in the space behind the anchor roller and in front of the Sampson post. This is not a large area so a windlass small enough to fit but powerful enough to handle the anchor and rode did not leave us with a lot of choices. Additional weight at the bow is another concern for us. The one we finally decided on that would fit our needs is the Powerwinch. We usually take any manufacturers specs with a grain of salt and any time they are marginal based on their numbers, we go with the next larger size. We sized the windlass, rode, and anchor for a 40 boat. This meant the Class 41 windlass from the Powerwinch line. It fit our space, did not add a lot of additional weight on the bow and seemed to be more than powerful enough for Beach House. The one down side was it does not have the capabilities to manually raise the anchor if power or the windlass quits, but we can live with that since the large anchors and all chain rode we used on our sailboat are a thing of the past.



Using the template provided with the installation instructions which was taped in place to keep it from moving, holes were drilled into the anchor platform for the rode and power cables to pass through, and for the bolts to secure the whole thing. It is important to get these holes aligned properly so once the windlass is mounted, everything lines up accordingly. The windlass also needs to be mounted with the gypsy in a straight line with the fall of the anchor and rode to the bow roller. It does take some pre-planning but in the end it worked out just as we expected it too. The holes drilled into the platform were all sealed with penetrating epoxy to keep as much water intrusion out of the platform as we could considering the amount of moisture this area is exposed to. The placement was also planned to allow the anchor and rode to drop straight down into the deepest portion of the anchor locker as it passed through the windlass. For us this meant moving the anchor hawse pipe since it was originally positioned off to one side. We made a template of the original hawse pipe hole and cut the new one to match as much as possible. The section of the deck that was cut out for the new hole would be used as a plug for the old hole. The sides of the hole were buttered with thickened epoxy and the plug slid into the hole. A layer of fiberglass bi-axial was applied on the top and the bottom of the deck to fully cover the old hole and to keep the deck from cracking around the plug. Once the epoxy had set off, the top and underside were sanded smooth in preparation for coating.

We chose to have a set of foot switches at the bow, and a smaller manual switch at both the lower and upper helm station. The foot switches can be used on the foredeck when raising and lowering the anchor and the helm switches can be used in foul weather or if the person on the bow is otherwise occupied. It also gives us a redundancy should one or the other switch fail. Positioning of the foot switch should be done with consideration for ease of access when raising and lowering the anchor and in keeping it just out of the way so that it will not be constantly stepped on and set off or damaged. Once the location was determined, we drilled a pair of holes in the deck to accommodate the up and down switch. Again, the deck was sealed with epoxy before the switches were installed. We do this any time we drill holes in the deck in order to keep water intrusion out of the core of the deck should a leak ever develop. With the holes drilled, the deck sealed, and comfortable everything was correct, the switches and covers were installed with a heavy dose of bedding compound. For the foredeck area where water will be a common occurrence, we like to use 3M 4200 for bedding. The switches are installed, bedded and allowed to dry, then the area is hosed down well with a water hose to be sure nothing is leaking.

The next decision is the placement of the reversing solenoid switch that allows the windlass to reverse directions to either raise or lower the anchor. From past experience I know that this solenoid is a common point of failure and that failure is usually caused by corrosion. So a protected, dry location is the best option. For this, under the v-berth in the forward cabin is the best spot, out of the way of items that might be stored in the same space. Once the solenoid is mounted, the switch at the helm and the circuit breaker between the solenoid and the battery connections need to be mounted. It is necessary to use a DC circuit that is sized correctly. The windlass manufacturer will generally supply the proper breaker. The helm switch is accessible to the helmsman and the circuit breaker, in our case was mounted below the helm and just inside the entrance door. This was done for convenience and ease of access should the breaker trip while the helmsman is at the upper station. The person working the foredeck need only to reach just inside the door, a few steps off the foredeck, to reset the breaker.

With the windlass and various switches mounted it was time to begin running the wiring. The windlass itself has two wires coming off the motor. Cables need to be run from the motor to the proper poles on the reversing solenoid. A word of caution is needed at this point. The correct wire size is critical for making any of these connections. A good explanation of this and the correct wire size to use can be found at http://www.boatus.com/boattech/casey/05.htm and should be determined well before beginning this stage of the installation. The proper connectors and crimping tools will be necessary to complete the install. All of our cable ends are done with eye connectors using ratchet crimpers or large commercial crimpers and putting heat shrink tubes over the connectors at the cables and wires. Be sure the eye connectors are the proper size for the studs they will be attached to. For smaller wire connections we use only heat shrink connectors. This makes a clean, professional installation and helps to eliminate corrosion at the crimp on the connector. All wiring and cables are also wrapped in plastic wire wrap and secured with wire ties. Once the cables are run from the windlass to the reversing solenoid, the cables are run from the reversing solenoid to the circuit breaker to the batteries. For a heavy load like a windlass this is the best option for connecting the electrical. Running the wires through any other switches or circuits will only cause additional voltage loss between the battery and the windlass motor. Once again the proper size wiring for the distance run and the amps the cable must carry needs to be carefully calculated for no less than a 3% voltage drop. In calculating the distance the "round trip" distance must be used. That is to say the distance from the windlass to the battery that the wire or cable must run, and then the return distance from the battery to the windlass. This can result in very large and expensive cables if the distance is long. Some installations might benefit from a separate battery system for the windlass mounted close to the bow. But of course this set up will mean a method of charging this battery or batteries will also be needed so all of these costs need to be factored in. Once the wiring from the windlass to the batteries is completed, it is time to wire in all of the switches. DO NOT CONNECT TO THE BATTERIES AT THIS POINT.

The foot switch is next to be connected, because the foot switch and helm switches only carry enough amperage to activate the reversing solenoid, heavy cables are not required. As a matter of fact the wiring for these switches can be rather small. But each case needs to be determined based on the installation. In our case we were able to use a 12 gauge wire for the helm switches and a 10 gauge wire for the foot switch. A common power wire is run to both foot switches and each switch will have an individual wire run to one side of the reversing solenoid to signal the windlass to either raise or lower. The foot switch will usually have an arrow that can be placed to indicate which direction it will cause the windlass to run. The helm switches will take both positive and negative input from the 12 volt system and then be connected to the reversing solenoid to activate the up or down function. The 12 volt source for this does not need to come directly from the batteries, although it can. The circuit breaker for the windlass, which needs to be sized appropriately for the windlass motor, will be in the positive cable between the reversing solenoid and the batteries. It will usually have an LED in the switch to indicate that the breaker is in the closed position. It is our practice to coat all wiring connection with waterproof grease AFTER the connections are made to eliminate corrosion.

Once all of the wiring connections have been made they should all be checked thoroughly. We give each wire a good yank to be sure the connection is sound. Don't be afraid to pull hard. If the connection comes apart, it was not done properly and needs to be redone now rather than when the equipment is in use. With the circuit breaker off it is now time to connect the cables to the batteries. Once they are tight and coated with grease, the circuit breaker is switched on. The foot switch and helm switches are tested to be sure that if you push up, the windlass does indeed raise the anchor. This is done with no chain or rode attached yet. If a switch is backwards, it is not a big deal, the appropriate wires just need to be reversed and the switch tested again. At the same time, check that none of the wires or cables feel warm or hot to the touch. This would mean the wire is too small. Once satisfied that all is as it should be, the anchor rode and chain are fed through the windlass using one of the up switches and allowed to drop into the anchor locker. Sizing the rode and chain to the windlass gypsy is critical to proper operation of the windlass. Either someone should be in the locker checking the rode to see that it falls as it should or the person feeding it needs to stop on occasion and check. Our choice is a combination of rode and chain so the gypsy on the windlass is set up for both. Another subject of great debate is the type of anchor to use. We did a great deal of research on the various types of anchors for the areas we plan to cruise and after decades of using our faithful CQR, we decided on one of the newer style anchors with the roll bars. We have received a great deal of real world feedback from other cruisers as opposed to manufacturers hype and we believe our choice will be a good one. We have sized the anchor for a 40 foot boat, even though ours is only 34 feet. But discussion of anchors is for another time. The installation went smoothly and with minimum difficulty. An owner of average ability should easily be able to accomplish this task in a weekend. We look forward to using our new toy as soon as the cruising begins.




9 comments:

  1. do you have a link to where you purchased your anchor roller ist seems to be exactly what I have been looking for. any info as to manufacture size etc. Thanks in advance for any info you may have.
    Jim

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  2. Jim, The anchor roller assembly was made by the boat manufacturer when it was built in Taiwan. There are some manufactured by Windline and Dive-N-Dog that are very similar. You might try go2marine or do a Google Search. Good luck. Chuck

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  3. Your blog is extremely helpful as alot of the projects you have done I will be also doing in the years to come. sometimes its the little things that have the biggest impact on getting the job done properly the first time!

    Thanks again
    Jim

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  4. Your quite welcome Jim. I am glad we have been helpful. That is why we keep doing it. Good luck with all of your future plans and let me know if I can ever be of assistance. Chuck

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  5. Hi Chuck - it has been so valuable reading your blog. I have the same boat and am planning the Great Loop. You decided to install the same windlass I have been considering. How does it function in practice? I have some reviews that were not so positive; what is your opinion? Was any modification of the anchor box needed? Is your anchor rod's line 5/8"? Thanks again for all you do through your blog. Best regards, Lasse

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    1. We have used the windlass on two trips along the ICW to the Chesapeake and back to Florida, Naples to the Florida Keys and over here in the Bahamas. It has worked well in all of those travels. My only complaints are that I can't use two anchors with the windlass and there is no manual ability to use it if power fails. Fortunately, that hasn't happened yet. When you decide on which windlass you want, Powerwinch specs the line and size to use. Be sure it has a chain to rode splice since a shackle won't go through the windlass. We haven't had any problems to date. Chuck

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    2. Chuck, I have a 1979/80 34 MTDC and need to replace the manual windlass. Are you still pleased with your Powerwinch or would you advised another model?
      Thanks,
      Butch

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    3. Butch, The Powerwinch finally died on us after two repairs. We probably used it more in a couple of years than most would in a lifetime of ownership. We replaced it with a Maxwell HRC FF and could not be happier with the new one. It is very sturdy, durable and operates faster and smoother than the Powerwinch. If you're considering an electric windlass, look at the Maxwell. Good luck

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    4. Chuck, I appreciate the heads up.I check out the Maxwell. Thanks again for your help. I really enjoy following your adventures. You are one blessed man!

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