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What Is an Electric Anchor Winch?

Paul Reed
Paul Reed

An electric anchor winch, also known as an electric anchor windlass, is an electrically-powered winch used to raise and lower boat anchors. Boats using an electric anchor winch can raise a heavier anchor in a variety of situations where using manual winches would prove difficult. Electric winches can also supply adequate power to dislodge a stuck anchor when the anchor cannot be loosened by hand or a manual winch.

These particular winches are available in both horizontal and vertical orientations. A horizontal winch, including the motor, is mounted on the deck of a boat. Smaller anchors can use horizontal winches, but have limitations because the anchor rode, or the line attaching a boat to its anchor, is held at a smaller angle. Vertical winches capture the anchor rode at much larger angles and can safely handle higher anchor loads. The motor and gearbox of a vertical winch are installed below deck, so these winches are best suited to larger boats with more equipment space.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

It is relatively easy to use an electric anchor winch. Many of these have either foot switches located near the winch, or remote controls that can be operated anywhere on the boat. The foot switch or remote is used to engage the winch and pull up the anchor. It uses electric power supplied by the boat's electrical system.

Lowering the anchor can usually be accomplished by a reverse switch. In some cases a free-fall arm can be released and the anchor will fall under its own weight. An electric anchor winch should be installed and oriented so the anchor rode is pulled straight, and not at an angle which adds load to the winch motor and can accelerate wear on the winch and rode.

An electric anchor winch, whether horizontal or vertical, normally contains a capstan wheel designed for pulling chain and a smooth capstan for handling rope anchor rodes. It can also be used to haul other lines, such as sail halyards long enough to reach to the winch, which can provide a distinct advantage. A crew member may need to be hauled to the top of the mast to repair and service anchor lights and wind instruments located at the masthead. This can prove difficult using manual winches. Using the electric anchor winch makes the job much easier, and the winch speed is typically low enough to minimize any risk to the crew.

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