Small windlasses handle a wet, backbreaking, sometimes dangerous job that few of us like. Big windlasses, like the verticals we tested for this article, do a job many sailors could likely not do on their own. When boats get bigger, anchors get bigger, and the job of pulling them off the bottom gets enormous.
In the continuation of PS’s anchor windlass testing, we evaluated a group of verticals models, which are a step up from the smaller, less powerful units we tested in our Aug. 1 issue this year. Some of these stronger siblings are able to put more than a ton of force on the anchor rode. If you’re looking to lift a hefty anchor set deep in a muddy bottom and then carry hundreds of pounds of chain, anchor, and mud to the surface, these are the tools you want.
What We Tested
We tested seven powerful vertically oriented windlasses. Collectively, they’re suitable for a range of boats from 25′ to 60′ LOA and are priced from $1,300 to $3,400. (Three sell for less than $2,000 and four for more.) And each has the ability to handle both chain and line.
Drive mechanisms—including motors, reduction gears, and electrical connections—on vertical windlasses, are all contained belowdecks, while the gypsy and clutch assemblies are housed on deck in low-profile bases. Capstan-equipped units are a bit higher profile and normally retain the combination rope/chain wheel assembly. In our testing, only one of the units was fitted with a capstan, but all the others have this as an option.
Before you select a vertical windlass, you must be sure the forepeak on your boat has enough space to accommodate not only sufficient anchor rode for your vessel, but also a portion of the windlass unit and the bulky electrical cables that power it.
Though vertical windlasses need plenty of space below them, they have one major performance advantage over horizontal models: the rode contact area on the gypsy is approximately 180° on a vertical vs. only about 90° on a horizontal model. This additional contact area provides a better grip on the anchor rode, which usually means superior pulling power.
Lewmar sent us a pair of its new vertical windlass designs, the V2 Gypsy and the V3 Gypsy. Lofrans also sent two new releases, the Project 1000 and Project 1500. Maxwell, a company whose windlasses have consistently fared well in our tests, sent us a Freedom 800 and a Liberty RC2500. Muir participated with its Atlantic VRC1000.
How We Tested
Every windlass we tested made claims for working-load speed and maximum pull, and most made a claim for no-load speed. To verify these claims as both reasonable and accurate, we ran all units through a full battery of tests using a land-based location.
Lewmar, Maxwell, and Imtra (distributor for Lofrans and Muir) each supplied an anchor rode made from at least 100 feet of nylon line coupled to 20 feet of chain. (Maxwell’s line was 8-plait, while the others were 3-strand.) We used the supplied rode to test each windlass. While we acknowledge that most boats using these larger windlasses would be apt to have more chain in their rodes, that wasn’t necessary for the testing. Prior to each test, the anchor line was dunked in a water tank to better simulate the weight and texture of an anchor line at sea.
One at a time, each unit was installed on a plywood test deck and then clamped to the top of our test stand. The stand was secured to the concrete floor of our test facility using both chains and fasteners. All electrical connections were made using the switches, reversing solenoids, and circuit breakers provided by the manufacturers with the windlasses. Wires were sized according to specifications, or larger. The electrical power was supplied with a pair of new 8D marine batteries hooked to our CSI Speco power supply with the output set at 13.8 volts. This setup simulates a boat with lots of battery capacity and the engine running at idle or slightly above.
Each no-load test began by stretching 100 feet of line straight out in front of the test stand. We made two marks, 50 feet apart on the pavement, and set the chain-line joint on the starting mark. The weight of the chain at the far end held the line taut. One of the testers then made sure the rode continued in a straight line and flowed smoothly onto our lead roller. Then we ran the windlass and measured the time it took for the windlass to pull in 50 feet of line. Once we recorded the time, calculations were made to convert the time into feet per minute. With a Fluke 336 ammeter, power usage measurements were taken both at startup and while the anchor line was in transit.
Next, we set up for the working load test by pulling the line back off the windlass and coupling the chain to a bridle rigged on our test load. To simulate pulling an anchor off the bottom and dragging it up, we had each windlass pull a wooden pallet (weighed down with large bricks) over flat pavement. When we measured our test load with our dynamometer, it registered an average of 150 lbs. while moving along the pavement. Again, we measured the speed for 50 feet of travel and recorded the current draw.
Maximum pull testing was done in two phases. First, we tested with line in the gypsy and then with chain. We used the dynamometer to measure the load during each pull. To prevent any movement and obtain good readings, we used the towing pin on a 5,000-lb. forklift that had its drive wheels chocked to secure the tag end of our anchor rode. Using an additional section of chain, we installed the dynamometer between the forklift and the windlass chain. With line in the gypsy and a small amount of slack in the line, we ran the windlass until either the line slipped or the circuit breaker popped. We recorded the maximum dynamometer reading. The test was repeated a second time with chain in the gypsy; again, we recorded the resulting pull.
We did not attempt to test how the gypsies on these windlasses react to jamming because none of them suffered any jams during our test. We did note, however, that some models would be easier than others to clear if jamming were to occur. The Maxwell Freedom 800, for instance, has a gypsy that’s entirely enclosed, so getting at jammed line or chain would be difficult. At the same time, this feature also enhances safety.
Lewmar V2 Gypsy
Lewmar’s V2 windlass has a 700-watt motor rating. You have two choices for deck hardware—gypsy only or gypsy and capstan. We tested the gypsy-only model. The electric motor mounts to the gearbox perpendicular to the windlass’s main shaft to minimize the installed depth of the unit. The V2 is constructed with high-quality materials. The abovedeck case and pressure finger are stainless steel. Gypsy material is chrome over bronze. Belowdecks, you’ll find an aluminum gear case and a motor housing with aluminum end caps and a painted steel main body.
This new model comes packaged with a reversing solenoid, 90-amp circuit breaker, control switch, mounting hardware, clutch lever, and owner’s manual. Instructions include a mounting template that made marking, drilling, and cutting our test deck easy. The only installation glitch we noted was a bit of difficulty lining up the gearbox if the holes in the deck were not perfectly aligned when drilled. Lewmar tells us it has already made changes here: All the V series windlasses are now shipped with mounting studs that correct this problem. We wired the unit according to the easy-to-read wiring diagram in the owner’s manual.
The V2 managed a no-load speed of 63 feet per minute (fpm)—just below its claim of 69 fpm. Lewmar rates its windlasses for no-load speed using a tachometer to measure gypsy rpm and then converts that to fpm. Our slightly slower results are to be expected considering the difference in test methodology. Working load speed measured 39 fpm against a claim of 46 fpm. Again, Lewmar tests for working speed with a 100-lb. load while we used 150 lbs.—this accounts for the slightly slower speed attained in our testing. During maximum pull testing with line in the gypsy, the V2 pulled the anchor line as tight as a banjo string before the circuit breaker popped at 1,420 lbs. With chain it managed to hit 1,460 lbs. Lewmar rates the V2 to a maximum pull of 1,433 lbs., so it definitely performed to specifications.
The Lewmar V2 is priced online at $1,798. It carries a 3-year warranty.
Bottom Line: A powerful windlass with below-average retrieve speeds.
Lewmar V3 Gypsy
Big brother to the V2, the Lewmar V3, uses the same deck hardware, but is equipped with a more powerful 1,000-watt motor. Motor mounting geometry, construction materials, and package contents are the same as the V2. The only exception: The V3 ships with a 110-amp circuit breaker because of its larger motor.
The extra power provided by the V3’s larger motor and higher gearbox ratio was evident in both an increase in speed and pulling power during our performance testing. In no-load testing, the V3 turned in a speed of 80 fpm against a claim of 92 fpm. Working load speed was 54 fpm with a claim of 59 fpm. The same caveats that apply to the V2 speed testing apply here. We consider the speed claims made by Lewmar for the V3 to be reasonably accurate.
The V3 shined in pull testing. With line in the gypsy, it pulled a whopping 1,600 lbs. before the clutch slipped—higher than any other windlass tested. In chain testing, it exceeded its 1,962-lb. maximum pull rating by exerting 2,140 lbs. of pull against the stationary forklift. This was second only to the more expensive Maxwell Liberty. We give kudos here to Lewmar for designing and building a gypsy for the V-series windlasses that grips anchor line like Hercules—no matter how hard we pulled, the line did not slip in the gypsy.
The Lewmar V3 is priced at $2,064 and carries a 3-year warranty.
Bottom Line: Super-sizing pays dividends in the Lewmar line; we’d gladly pay the extra $260 to upgrade to the V3. It’s a smooth, quiet brute of a windlass.
Lofrans Project 1000
The Project 1000 is fitted with a two-speed, 1,000-watt motor, 52-to-1 gearbox, and came to us in the low-profile version. A capstan-equipped model is also available. The two-speed motor allows the windlass to pay out line at an accelerated rate of 145 fpm. Our tests were conducted in high speed.
The forged-bronze, nickel-plated line/chain combination gypsy in conjunction with a composite pressure finger handled the rode. Deck-mounted hardware including the base, chainpipe cover, and top cap are all chrome-over-bronze construction. The gearbox is black anodized aluminum while the motor case is steel, protected by two coats of paint with a stainless steel brush cover.
Imtra (U.S. distributor for Lofrans) packages this windlass with a reversing solenoid, a pair of foot switches, clutch/manual override lever, a neoprene deck gasket, and an operator’s manual. A 100-amp circuit breaker and any switching to be used at the helm need to be user supplied. We used the supplied template to drill and cut our test deck for the hardware installation. Electrical connections were made with the supplied reversing solenoid, but in place of the normal 100-amp circuit breaker we used the closest size we had available, a 110-amp unit. We also used a console-mounted switch rather than the supplied foot switches.
The Project 1000 performed well in speed testing, hitting a high of 96 fpm in our no-load run—only one other unit was faster. Lofrans claims a working load speed range of 52-79 fpm; we got 72 fpm. The outcome in maximum pull tests were 1,340 lbs. with rope and 1,380 lbs. with chain, just below the 1,450-lb. claim—very good results.
On the web, we found the Lofrans Project 1000 priced at $1,320, that’s the least expensive windlass in our test group. Warranty on the Lofrans is 2 years.
Bottom Line: High retrieve speeds combined with plenty of pulling power make the Project 1000 an excellent choice for boats from 29′ to 45′.
Lofrans Project 1500
A step up in size from the smaller 1000 series, the Lofrans Project 1500 is also a two-speed windlass. It’s equipped with a very powerful 1,500-watt motor coupled to a 70-to-1 gearbox. Construction and packaging details on the Project 1500 are the same as the 1000.
Though the 1500 uses a larger motor and higher gear ratio than the 1000, we did not find significant performance increases in this windlass. That’s interesting when one considers the over $800 additional expense.
No-load speed on the Project 1500 was fast at 89 fpm, but a bit below the 96 fpm turned in by the 1000. With a load, the speed dropped to 66 fpm, within the speed range of 59 to 78 fpm claimed by Lofrans. The Project 1500 is rated to pull a maximum of 2,300 lbs., but we were never able to come close to this claim. With line in the gypsy, the winch managed a pull of 880 lbs. and with chain 1,650 lbs. Lofrans prices the Project 1,500 at $2,160 and warranties it for 2 years.
Bottom Line: A decent windlass that fell short of the manufacturer’s claimed maximum pull ratings.
Maxwell Freedom 800
The Maxwell Freedom 800 is the big brother of a previous PS windlass test winner, the Freedom 500. The Freedom 800 is equipped with a 1,000-watt motor and is shipped with the motor/gearbox separated from the above-deck hardware to facilitate a speedy installation. We tested the low-profile version, which features an enclosed gypsy. Though the enclosed gypsy design can limit an operator’s ability to clear a jam, it also enhances safety by restricting access to the moving gypsy. A capstan version of the Freedom 800 is also available.
The Freedom 800’s above-deck case and below-deck gearbox are constructed from anodized aluminum. Rope/chain wheel material is chrome-plated forged bronze, while the line-controlling pressure finger is glass-filled nylon with a reinforcing batten. The motor case is made from enamel-coated steel with stainless steel end caps and an aluminum face. O-rings are used to prevent moisture intrusion. Unlike many of its competitors, the Maxwell Freedom 800 has a drive unit that can be oriented in any of 12 positions below decks, which makes this model quite versatile as it can be adapted for a number of different sailboat designs.
Maxwell packages the 800 windlass with a reversing solenoid, deck plate, 135-amp circuit breaker, clutch lever, remote control switch, and a well-illustrated and easy-to-follow owner’s manual. Installation was easy. Wiring was straightforward and accomplished simply by following the manual’s diagram.
The Freedom 800 boasts a no-load speed of 108 fpm, higher than any unit tested. Though it failed to meet this speed, it still retrieved line faster than any other windlass in this test, hitting 98 fpm. Maxwell claims a working load speed of 69 fpm, and with our load it beat its claim by pulling in line at 81 fpm. Conservatively rated for a maximum pull of 800 lbs., the Freedom windlass exceeded this number in both line and chain testing. It hit 880 lbs. with rope and 1,000 lbs. with chain.
Priced at $1,500, the Maxwell Freedom 800 carries a 3-year warranty.
Bottom Line: A long warranty in a well-equipped, reasonably priced package make the Freedom 800 an excellent choice.
Maxwell Liberty RC2500
Maxwell’s Liberty RC2500 windlass is a substantial piece of hardware; it’s beefy, powerful, and expensive—even the low-profile version we tested weighed 90 lbs. It ships with a 1,200-watt motor coupled to an enamel-coated aluminum gearbox using a 60-to-1 gear ratio. The gypsy is cast bronze, machined, chrome-plated, and equipped with teeth near the outer edges to grip the large splices found on the 3/4-inch line this unit uses. Line and chain are managed with a glass-reinforced, two-stage nylon pressure finger able to handle a very bulky line-to-chain splice without damage or jamming. The on-deck components are mainly stainless steel or chromed bronze and have one-button maintenance access.
The motor is encased in enamel-coated steel with O-ring sealed, stainless-steel end caps. Another high-tech feature on the Liberty is the advanced manual backup. Maxwell’s director of Super Yacht Sales, Mike Dillon, described it for us: “Simply flip out the lever at the base of the drum and turn the handle. It is a high-power (300 to 400 lbs.) pull and requires no disassembly. Essentially we have married a sailboat sheet winch’s gearing into a windlass.”
Maxwell ships the Liberty with a reversing solenoid, 135-amp circuit breaker, clutch lever, control switch, and an owner’s manual. We used the provided template to cut our test deck and then installed the hardware. To do so requires the removal of the Allen bolted pressure finger, four hex bolts, and a pair of snap rings. Then the motor-gearbox assembly is separated from the topworks. After the hardware is fitted to the deck, the five bolts and two snap rings are reinstalled. The job was not difficult, but does require some manpower to manage the weight of the components as well as the ability to follow instructions.
The RC2500 proved to be a powerful windlass in pull testing. It drew our dyno down to 1,300 lbs. with line in the gypsy, and 2,350 lbs. with chain.
It was no slouch in speed testing, either, managing to exceed the manufacturer’s speed claims in both tests. It hit a no-load speed of 75 fpm and a working load speed of 64 fpm.
This is the most expensive windlass we tested ( $3,399). It carries a 3-year warranty.
Bottom Line: We like the Maxwell Liberty. It’s powerful, fast, and technically advanced, but one drawback is price—it is very expensive.
Muir Atlantic VRC 1000
The VRC 1000 is a low-profile design equipped with a 1000-watt electric motor. This windlass is also available in a hydraulic version and can be fitted with a capstan. Above-deck hardware, including the gypsy, is constructed of bronze finished with chrome. The gearbox is anodized aluminum and the motor case is steel, protected by two coats of paint with a stainless steel brush cover.
The VRC 1000 ships with a clutch lever and owner’s manual—all other needed gear like switches and circuit breakers must be supplied by the user. We had no problem using the template to cut our test deck for the VRC 1000. However, significant disassembly is required to separate the halves and complete the hardware installation. The electrical hookups were straightforward.
Muir is known for rating its windlasses very conservatively for both speed and power. We found that to be the case here as the VRC 1000 managed a working load speed of 69 fpm against a claim of 48 fpm. No-load speed was 71 fpm. Muir makes a maximum pull claim of 1,000 lbs. on this windlass, and we were able to get 800 lbs. with line and a whopping 1,600 lbs. with chain.
The Muir Atlantic VRC 1000 is $2,385. It carries a 3-year warranty.
Bottom Line: A solid windlass that beats its own claims, but still trails the best in pulling power. It’s pricey, too.
We divided this vertical winch test into two price categories to pick winners. In the under-$2,000 range, we like the Lofrans Project 1000 and the Maxwell Freedom 800. Both combine fast retrieve speeds and enough pulling power to lift a hefty anchor. They’re reasonably priced, too. The Project 1000 is not perfect, though. We’d like a longer warranty and would prefer to see it ship with a remote switch and the appropriate circuit breaker. The Maxwell Freedom 800 is a tad faster, but trailed in the maximum-pull test. It comes standard with the needed installation items and has a 3-year warranty. The Maxwell is our top pick and the Lofrans is a Best Buy.
For a windlasses priced over $2,000, our top pick is the Lewmar V3. It is quite fast under minimal load and only a few fpm slower than the fastest with a working load. Plus, it’s smooth, quiet, and pulls like a 20-mule team. This windlass also ships with many accessories and carries a 3-year warranty.