PS Advisor: 03/02
As I recall, you have done a number of reviews of vertical windlasses, the low-profile windlasses, and the horizontal types. But I don't recall which type is recommended under what circumstances. I am researching the replacement of our Simpson Lawrence manual windlass with an electric (effort-saving) one on our Alden Challenger 38 yawl (displacement 16,000 lbs.). Being in the northern waters, we prefer to anchor with 50 feet of chain and make the rest of the rode with 3-strand braid, which allows us never to need a snubber and still gives us good weight on the rode nearer to the anchor set. My thought is to go with a horizontal-type electric windlass. Although not as aesthetically pleasing as a vertical or low-profile windlass, it would appear to do a better job. Yes?
-Heidi N. Hansen
Cape Elizabeth, Maine
The articles you recall on manual and electric windlasses appeared in the July 15 and August 1, 1996 issues. Here we'll recap the salient points.
Some windlasses, like those made by Simpson Lawrence and Powerwinch, use permanent-magnet type motors, which require more gears than series-wound motors to get the required pulling power, but are less prone to heat build-up. Like small autopilots, these permanent-magnet units are low-torque, high-speed motors, geared way down. The other approach, generally taken with series- wound motors (which are more like starter motors on cars) is a high-torque, low-to-medium speed motor that usually requires just two gears.
To size a windlass to your boat, you might read our July 1, 1996 article, "The Load on Your Rode," which helps you calculate the amount of pulling power needed to retrieve an anchor in given conditions. Like any other winch on board, it pays to oversize the windlass.
With most manufacturers, quality doesn't differ between vertical and horizontal models. The advantage of vertical is that the motor is generally belowdecks, out of the elements, and this type doesn't occupy as much deck space. (There must, of course, be room for the bulky motor below.) On the other hand, if something fails, the parts of a horizontal windlass are more accessible.
Perhaps the more important consideration has to do with leads. A vertical windlass can accept leads from almost any side-to-side angle, while a horizontal windlass must have a lead straight from the bow roller to the chain wheel. On some boats with high stems, a vertical windlass might need to be blocked up to ungainly heights in order for the rode to enter the chain wheel or drum fairly. A poor lead could result in rope overrides or the chain not setting right on the teeth. A horizontal windlass can have the rode enter from a much wider range of up-and-down angles.
The next point of interest is the "combination wheel," that is, a wheel that accepts both chain and rope. It's the way to go for chain-rope rodes such as yours. Simpson Lawrence had a patent on this invention, but it has run out and other companies now make them as well. Without one of these, you'll have to stop the windlass when all the rope has been retrieved, remove it from the drum, and then manually place the first links of the chain onto the chain wheel.
Choices to make among electrical models include free fall, which lets you drop the anchor quickly by slipping the clutch rather than letting it down at the speed of the motor; and manual back-up.
Our tests were of six models from Simpson Lawrence, Lofrans, Lewmar, Muir, Maxwell, and Ideal. To simulate actual conditions aboard a boat we mounted each with a fair lead, lifted weights of 200, 350, 500, and 750 pounds, measured the feet-per-minute retrieval rates, recorded the amps drawn, and noted wear on the chain-rope splice and line.
The strongest windlasses draw a lot of current, but on most smaller boats the engine will be running at the same time, thereby recharging the batteries; and the duration of the draw is usually just a few minutes. For example, 180 amps for 2 minutes is just 6 amp-hours.
Judged on performance alone, the Ideal V1Q was the hands-down winner in our tests.