Features March 2004 Issue

Windlass Test

Maxwell’s Freedom 500 speeds past all competitors in an under-$1,000 powerwinch pull-off. The Lewmar Horizon 600 is the top horizontal windlass.

Around here, one test often leads to another. Guess what came to mind as we broke our backs all day in a recent anchor test (see PS, December '03)? That's right——power windlasses. 

Our nine-windlass test group was comprised of four vertical-axis machines and five horizontals. Top four, left to right: the Quick Genius, Muir 600, Lewmar Horizon 600GD, and Lewmar Horizon 600. Middle three: Lofrans Dorado, Lewmar Sprint 600, and Lofrans Marlin. Bottom two: the Maxwell Freedom 500 and and Lewmar Sprint 400.

Many, if not most, heavy-displacement cruising sailboats carry windlasses on the foredeck, but the decision whether to mount one on a smaller, lighter boat has to be based on several factors, including the size and type of anchor and rode used (a 35-lb. CQR on an all-chain rode is a bit of a hardship to hoist bare-handed); the depth of the water and type of bottom in your anchoring grounds; how much electrical current you can spare; where to mount it; what kind of lead you'll have over the bow—and, of course, expense. We'll only deal with two of those concerns in this windlass exploration: current draw and expense.

A windlass is categorized as horizontal or vertical. With a vertical axis windlass, the motor is mounted belowdecks, and its rode wraps around the gypsy for at least 180 degrees and then drops through the deck. On a horizontal windlass, the motor is generally abovedecks (we have an exception here) and the rode comes over the top of the gypsy and then down.

Much can be said about the relative advantages of vertical versus horizontal windlasses, but alas, we don't have room to say much here. We'll just quote one thing from a PS Advisor on the subject, back in the March 2002 issue:

"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."

In other words, make no move until you've sussed out your mounting and lead situation. The lead must be fair.

What We Tested
We scanned the windlass market for units specifically designed and priced for smaller boats, whose owners might be interested in mounting a windlass aboard for the first time—and found nine candidates.

The field consisted of four verticals and five horizontals. Lewmar sent Practical Sailor four units: two verticals from the Sprint series, the 400 and 600, and a pair of horizontals, the Horizon 600 and 600GD. Imtra, the U.S. distributor for Lofrans and Muir, provided three units: a pair of horizontals, the Lofrans Dorado and Muir 600, plus one vertical, the Lofrans Marlin. Maxwell Marine sent its Freedom 500, a vertical windlass. To round out the field, we purchased the horizontal Quick Genius 600 at West Marine.

The goal was to test under-$1,000 windlasses designed for boats up to 35 feet. One windlass, the Muir, slipped over that price limit.

How We Tested
Nearly every unit made claims for no-load speed, working load speed, and maximum pull. We wanted to test those claims, and also record ampere draw during certain tests.

Each unit was tested with the rode provided by the manufacturer. Lewmar provided a section of New England Premium 3-strand with 20 feet of chain. Imtra sent the same. Maxwell Marine also supplied a New England rope with 20 feet of chain attached, but it was an 8-plait nylon instead of 3-strand. Quick did not provide a rode, so to maintain consistency we tested it with the New England 3-strand. We also checked the Maxwell unit with the 3-strand rope to see if any differences were apparent.

One at a time, each unit was installed on a plywood test deck, which was then screwed to the top of a stand. We secured an anchor roller several feet forward of the windlass location to simulate a boat's ground tackle setup. All electrical connections were made with the switches, solenoids, and circuit breakers provided with each. Wires were sized according to specs, or larger. Power was supplied with two Group 27 batteries backed by a 35-amp power supply.

With our test rig securely anchored, we started checking no-load speeds. About 60 feet of rode was stretched straight in front of the test stand. We timed the windlass for 30 feet of retrieval, calculated the speed, and recorded current draw. The chain's weight kept the rope tight and flowing straight to the roller.

Load Testing
There's no industry standard for a working-load test. For instance, one company could cite performance for a 50-pound pull, while another could use 150 lbs.

For this working load test, we used an "anchor" sitting in our tester's driveway—a boat trailer. We timed how long it took each windlass to pull the trailer 30 feet up the slightly inclined pavement. Current draw was also recorded. It took 200 lbs. of force (as measured on a Dillon dynamometer) to get the trailer moving and 100 lbs. to keep it rolling.

We tested maximum-pull capacity with rope only and then chain only, securing the dynamometer between the end of the chain rode and the trailer hitch on a pick-up truck. With rope in the gypsy and a small amount of slack in the line, we ran the windlass until either the rope slipped or the circuit breaker popped. Maximum pull was recorded. The test was repeated a second time with chain in the gypsy.

Lewmar/Simpson-Lawrence Sprint 400
Packaged with a reversing control switch, 25-amp circuit breaker, mounting studs and hardware, and instructions, this 150-watt vertical windlass is ready for owner installation. Instructions include a mounting template that made marking, drilling, and cutting the test deck easy. Everything worked as stated in the well-documented manual.

Performance of the Sprint 400 was good. It achieved its advertised retrieval speeds in no-load testing and managed 60 fpm (feet per minute) in working-load testing, slightly below its advertised rating of 70 fpm. We can't complain here, as the manufacturer's test conditions and PS testing may have varied considerably.

Maximum pull exceeded the manufacturer's claim of 400 lbs., with both rope and chain. Power consumption of the Sprint 400 was the lowest in the group.

The Sprint 400 has the lowest motor power rating and lacks some features found on every other unit tested. It lacks an adjustable clutch and uses plastic for both the gypsy and control arm. The gypsy is a high-wear item in a windlass, and we think a metal gypsy would last longer.

However, at $565, the Sprint is the least expensive in the group.

Lewmar sales manager, Dick Rath, said this about the Sprint's plastic gypsy: "Plastic gypsys are indeed components that wear out more quickly than those made of metal. The Lewmar Sprint 400 windlass is focused toward consumers looking for a less expensive windlass for lighter operation. It is a component quite easily and inexpensively replaced."

Rath said an alternative is also available to those using all-chain rodes or ones with chain lengths from 15 to 30 feet: Lewmar's chrome-plated bronze gypsy, an exact replacement for the plastic units. These are sold through authorized Lewmar dealers or service centers, and retail from $150 to $175.

The gypsy in our test unit did show wear and some damage following testing. Minor damage was also evident on the chain/rope control arm. We checked with Rath on the control arm and he said: "The plastic arm will remain standard on the Sprint 400." This part is replaceable, and it would be advisable to carry spares.

With no clutch-tension lever, lowering the ground tackle requires running the windlass. We'd prefer an option to freefall the anchor.

Bottom Line: We'd only choose the Sprint 400 for a small boat with a short section of chain in the rode. The plastic gypsy wouldn't last long enough, for us at least, using chain, and we'd buy the 600 rather than spend money to upgrade the 400.

Lewmar/Simpson-Lawrence Sprint 600
The Sprint 600 is rated at 250 watts vs. the 150 watts of the Sprint 400. Other upgrades are evident as well. The 600, which is $174 more than its little brother, features a metal gypsy and a lever-controlled clutch. The 600 is packaged with a reversing control switch, a larger 35-amp circuit breaker, and all other mounting and instruction material. It also fit the same cutout, allowing us to simply remove the 400 and mount the 600 on the same test deck. Wiring is identical to the 400, with the exception of the larger circuit breaker.

Retrieval speeds for the Sprint 600 varied slightly from the 400's. The 600 fell short of its advertised no-load retrieval speed of 98 fpm, attaining 85 fpm. Despite the 600's higher claimed working load speed of 82 fpm, it performed exactly the same as the 400, with a working load speed of 60 fpm. Lewmar's Dick Rath explained the probable reason: "The slower-than-predicted speed you observed on the Sprint 600 is most likely attributable to the seating of the brushes on a new motor. We have found that a small percentage will run slightly slower until the brushes better 'seat' themselves. Generally, 15 to 25 anchoring cycles will accomplish this."

The Sprint 600 easily exceeded its claimed maximum 600 lb. pull, hitting 640 lbs. with rope and 900 with chain.

We like the 600's metal gypsy and adjustable clutch. However, it carries the same plastic control arm as the 400. We did not note any damage to the 600 gypsy or control arm after testing. But the 600 is slated to receive a stainless control arm in the near future.

Bottom Line: The Sprint 600 is a good, compact, and efficient vertical windlass, though it remains a step behind the Maxwell in speed performance.

Lewmar/Simpson-Lawrence Horizon 600 and 600 GD
Both are horizontal units with 400-watt motors, adjustable clutches, metal chain wheels, and plastic control arms. They are packaged with reversing switches, 50-amp circuit breakers, clutch levers, mounting supplies, and instruction manuals. These two windlasses are nearly identical, with one exception. In addition to the chain/rope combination wheel that both carry, the 600 GD has a capstan, which is a smooth drum—also known as a warping drum—that serves as an alternative winch wheel for use with rope only. We found the Horizon 600 priced at $640, while the 600 GD is $724.

With identical motors and gears, we expected performance to be similar, and it was. The 600 managed 95 fpm for no-load, while the 600 GD scored 99 fpm. Working load retrieval rates were identical at 69 fpm. Both surpassed their advertised maximum pull rating of 625 lbs. by attaining 950 lbs. and 900 lbs. with chain, respectively, for the 600 and 600 GD. With rope, the 600 pulled 550 lbs. and the GD 600 lbs.


Like their vertical cousins, both Horizon units sport plastic control arms, and we damaged both during testing. Small sections—less than an inch in length—of the control arms broke off. Dick Rath responded with some good news: "In light of Lewmar's experience with plastic control arms on the 600 series, where longer chain lengths are common, a decision was made recently to change the material used for the arm from plastic to stainless steel. The change will be made first on the Horizon models and then on the Sprint 600."

Bottom Line: The Horizon 600—with or without the capstan—is our top pick for a horizontal windlass. It has a good price, good performance, and a 3-year warranty. If there's room on deck, we think the extra $84 for the rope-only capstan would be a good investment. In either case, we'd wait for the new model with the stainless steel control arms.

Lofrans Dorado
This horizontal windlass carries its motor assembly belowdecks, a design more akin to a vertical windlass. This gives it the smallest on-deck footprint of any horizontal tested. Supplied with a 35-amp circuit breaker, control switch, reversing solenoid, and clutch lever, the Lofrans Dorado kit is nearly complete. (Strangely, no mounting bolts or hardware were supplied.) Installation and wiring were straightforward.

Lofrans states the no-load speed for the Dorado is 79 fpm. We recorded 62 fpm, which is below average performance when compared to the best windlasses tested. Under a working load, the Dorado went slightly beyond its claimed 46 fpm speed, hitting the 48 fpm mark. The manufacturer states maximum pull is 695 lbs. We achieved 550 lbs. with rope, but managed a whopping 1,000 lbs. with chain.

Above the deck, the Dorado sports a die-cast aluminum case with an anodized finish, a chrome gypsy and clutch head, and a metal chain/rope guide, which Lofrans calls a "pressure finger."

We found the Dorado kit for $730. The paperwork that comes with the windlass states the warranty is 1 year. But Imtra's Jim Thomas said the warranty is now 2 years. The company will correct the information in the manual, said Thomas.

Bottom Line: The Dorado has a strong maximum pull, but only average speed. We really like the metal pressure finger, and think it'll take far more wear before needing replacement than the plastic ones.

Lofrans Marlin
The $810 Lofrans Marlin comes with a pair of foot switches and a reversing solenoid. A 35-amp circuit breaker is also required. A remote switch is optional.

To install the Marlin, separate the motor/gearbox from the on-deck hardware, install the on-deck equipment from above and the motor from below. The unit bolts together with four studs permanently installed in the on-deck piece. Installation and wiring went well.

Like the Dorado, the Marlin is advertised to be capable of 79 fpm in a no-load condition. We were only able to get a speed of 58 fpm. Under our working load test, the unit achieved 45 fpm. The claim is 46 fpm. Lofrans says the Marlin will pull a maximum of 695 lbs. under full strain. We managed a pull of 550 lbs. with rope in the gypsy.

As we were pulling the slack out of the chain in preparation for the final max load test, the Marlin stopped dead and would not restart. We could hear the control box relay click completing the circuit to the motor, but it wouldn't run. We began troubleshooting. The power supply was good. We bypassed the circuit breaker, but that didn’t work. We connected the windlass motor directly to the battery—still no go. At that point, the testing was terminated and we placed a call to Imtra, the Lofrans supplier.

The company said the failure was likely an issue with the control box—the unit that regulates the power going to the motor and allows a two-wire motor, like the one on the Marlin, to run in both directions. The company suggested swapping the control box for the Dorado with the one issued with the Marlin. This also proved unsuccessful. Further investigation proved the problem was internal to the windlass. Imtra's Jim Thomas said a situation like this would be covered under warranty.

We also asked for comment on the pulling power of the Marlin compared to the Dorado, since its failure prior to the chain maximum pull test did not allow us to get our own data. "A Marlin will provide the same pull capacity as its cousin, the Dorado."

PS testing lends credence to this claim, as both the Marlin and Dorado pulled 550 lbs. with rope in the gypsy. We'd expect a working Marlin to pull 1,000 lbs. with chain.

Bottom Line: Though it's priced within $5 of the Maxwell 500, its speed performance and warranty lag behind.

Muir Compact 600
The Compact 600 was shipped with a 60-amp circuit breaker, plastic clutch wrench, and control switch. With the proper holes cut and drilled, we attempted to screw the studs into the base of the unit. However, they wouldn't fit. At first we thought they were the wrong size. But upon closer inspection it appeared that paint inside the threads was the problem. We chased the threads on each hole with a tap, cured our problem, and screwed the studs in place. That was a quality-control issue, in our view.

The rest of the installation and wiring went as planned.

Muir makes no claim as to the no-load speed of the Compact 600. It achieved 66 fpm. Claimed working speed is 59 fpm and it managed 51 while drawing 45 amps. The manufacturer claims a maximum pull of 600 lbs., but for us it achieved only 500 lbs. with rope and 550 lbs. with chain.

Chrome-plated metal construction of the Muir gypsy and clutch head, plus a high-quality white painted case, gives the unit a distinctive look. The chain control arm is plastic, like several of the other units, but sustained no damage. At $1,110, the Compact 600 is the most expensive unit we tested and, in our opinion, a tad pricey for its size and speed.

The Muir windlass, like the Lofrans models, was supplied by Imtra, whose Jim Thomas had some comments on the Muir's price and quality. "Muir windlasses are considered the Cadillac of anchoring management systems …Hinckley, Sabre, Tiara, Navigator, and Island Packet are a few of the more discerning builders who chose Muir."

Bottom Line: It's a handsome, quality product, but in our tests its performance didn't support its premium price tag.

Maxwell Freedom 500
A vertical design with an enclosed gypsy, the Freedom 500 comes disassembled in two pieces for a faster installation. Its 600-watt motor and gearcase assembly is below the deck. Maxwell ships the unit with a reversing solenoid, control switch, circuit breaker, and plastic clutch handle. The clutch handle doubles as a manual retrieve handle too. This is the only windlass we tested that could retrieve the rode manually.

Installation went smoothly. We inserted the low-profile head containing the gypsy from the top and the gearbox from the bottom. A plastic nut holds the two together. They're also clamped with three lugs.

The enclosed gypsy is an unusual design for a vertical windlass, as it tends to limit a user's ability to clear a jam. We asked Maxwell about this.

"The concept of this windlass grew out of an injury—albeit one we felt was mostly operator error," said Mike Dillon, president of North American operations. "So we felt developing a fully enclosed, automatic rope/chain windlass design was important in the smaller vessel range where boaters are less knowledgeable about operation procedures. The other obvious issue is that we don't have to worry as much about boaters snagging clothing, hair, or whatever in an enclosed windlass design."

Topping all others in speed performance, the Freedom 500 hit retrieve rates of 112 fpm with no-load and 105 fpm with working load. These are far above the speeds listed in Maxwell literature, which lists a working load of 62 fpm for chain and 45 fpm for rope.

Maxwell supplied 8-plait nylon line, but we also tested the Freedom 500 with the same line we used in all the other units, the New England Premium 3-strand. Speed testing was the same with either line. However, the the unit really liked the firm 3-strand line in the max pull test. Maxwell claims a maximum pull of 500 lbs. We were able to attain a 700 lb. pull with the 3-strand, but only 550 lbs. with the softer 8-plait line. Go figure—maybe it was a traction issue.

The Freedom 500 managed a 650- lb. pull with chain.


Mike Dillon still believes the 8-plait (a more expensive rode) is a better choice for this windlass than 3-strand rope. "The importance of the 8-plait rope is to ensure jam-free operation of this enclosed design and permit the high speeds."

Asked if owners could still run their 3-strand rode in the Freedom, Dillon said that it would be no problemin terms of jamming. However, "over time, the 3-strand will develop hockles, as it will in any windlass, and need to be replaced."

Maxwell achieves its high retrieve rates by using a lot of electricity. Start-up current draw in the working load test was 210 amps, with continuous working amperage of 75 amps. Both numbers are far higher than other units tested. Is that a problem? It depends on the depth of the water, the weight of the anchor and rode, and the capacity of your batteries. In most cases, the fast retrieval speed will make up for the higher current demand, and a good alternator will replace the power loss quickly.

Another difference between this and some of the units with lower power consumption is that it needs larger wires, so the initial cost of installation will be slightly higher. That's no deal-breaker.

Bottom Line: The Freedom 500 has by far the highest retrieval rates, maintains a strong maximum pull, and has a 3-year warranty. It's our top pick.

Quick Genius 600
Quick's Genius 600 is an inexpensive horizontal windlass. All components are above deck, contained in a brightly finished aluminum case, which should keep corrosion at bay. The 500-watt unit ships with a reversing solenoid, control switch, clutch handle, mounting hardware, and an instruction manual. Installation went well.

Though very powerful, achieving nearly an 1,100-lb. pull with chain, the highest tested, the Genius 600 did not reach its advertised maximum pull of 1,496 lbs.

While attempting a maximum pull with rope, it only managed to generate 250 lbs. of draw before the rope slipped in the gypsy—that's only half or less of the amount pulled by every other unit we tested. In speed testing, it was the slowest unit, with a no-load retrieval speed of 36 fpm. When a working load was added, it slowed further to 26 fpm.

We contacted Quick through its U.S. distributor, Plastimo. Plastimo's David Darmstadter addressed the rope slippage: "Rope slippage is an issue with most windlasses at some point. The lay of the rope, the type of construction, the variations in fiber used, and the tolerances allowed in the manufacturing process all can play a role. Plastimo USA offers our own rope/chain rodes that are built here in our facility by the experts who developed the rodes originally for Simpson/Lawrence 10 years ago. In our experience, slippage is primarily a rope issue, not a windlass issue."

Daniele Rizzo, Quick's export sales manager, responded to the slow retrieve speeds. "Quick's first priority in the Genius 600 design was not simply high quality and well finished components, but also low current draw. If you need higher performances in terms of speed you can use the Genius 1000: its retrieve speed is twice as fast as the Genius 600."

In our opinion, the Genius 600 is made of quality materials—the case, gypsy, and clutch are all metal. All the non-aluminum parts are nicely finished in chrome. Only the control arm is plastic, but it's well-designed and heavily constructed. It suffered no damage during testing. All the associated electrical components appear to be of high quality, as well.

Bottom Line: The Quick Genius 600 is a powerful, well-designed, and good-looking machine. It produced sub-par retrieve speeds in our tests, but the price is attractive.

If you have space belowdecks for the motor, we'd recommend a vertical windlass. Generally speaking, they take up less deck space, and because most of the machinery is sealed out of the elements, they're more resistant to weather-related problems. Verticals also have fewer problems with rope slippage because the rope passes through the gypsy for at least 180 degrees. Most horizontal windlass gypsies only have contact with the rope for 90 degrees of travel. Vertical windlasses, however, are usually more expensive than a comparable horizontal windlasses.

The Maxwell Freedom 500 is our overall top pick because of its performance, construction, warranty, and price. Lewmar's Horizon 600 proved to be the top horizontal windlass in performance. We also like the 3-year warranty and reasonable price. The product will be greatly improved with the new stainless steel control arm.


Also With This Article
"Value Guide: Windlasses."

• Imtra Corp. (Lofrans and Muir), 800/989-2580, www.imtra.com
• Lewmar Inc., 203/458-6200, www.lewmar.com
• Maxwell, 714/689-2900, www.maxwellmarine.com
• Plastimo USA (Quick), 866/383-1888, www.plastimousa.com

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