How many of you have cleaned, inspected and lubed your winches in the past year? If you haven’t I recommend you do so soon, and if, your winches are squealing like a cat that just had its tailed stepped on or if they are stiff and not turning freely you need to clean and lube them right away.
Winches are expensive, even the smallest self-tailing winches start around $1000.00. Materials for cleaning and lubing less than $25.00 plus the price of spare parts like springs and pawls. If you take care of your winches they will usually last the lifetime of the boat. I regularly clean winches that are now going on 50+ years of service with little need for parts other than the occasional pawl or pawl spring.
However I have had to replace winches on boats where the winches never saw any service and eventually froze up and had to be replaced! Lack of service is a poor reason for having to replace a winch!
As the photo to the right shows this is a winch that hasn’t been cleaned in a number of years. Item #1 the pawl ratchet on the main shaft is caked with old lubricate which can result in the pawls not seating or slipping. Item #2 the pawl is heavily corroded and on this winch all four pawls were very sticky thus the drum was in danger of rotating backwards which could result in a line loosing tension at a critical moment. Item #3 corrosion around the top of the bearing pedestal causing the shaft to stick. Item #4 build up of dirt around the pawl pocket and the base of the winch.
In the photo to the below, which shows the bottom of the winch pedestal note that the cir-clip that holds the shaft in place is half way undone. (All 3 Barient winches on board this boat had the same problem) If this cir-clip comes undone the shaft is free to lift out of the winch base and the drum is in danger of also coming off the base as it is held to the shaft by another cir-clip at the top of the shaft. This could be disastrous under load.
Unfortunately this winch is not an anomaly! I see many boats that go for years without cleaning their winches which only makes the job harder and more expensive to do. If you are a recreational sailor and lay your boat up for the winter clean your winches before launching next year, if you are cruising or racing you need to clean and lube your winches at least twice a year. To aid in servicing your winches you should have a manual for each size and make, plus spare parts such as pawls, pawl springs, bushings and various clips, as well as winch grease and light machine oil such as “3 in 1”.
For those who need to learn how to disassemble, clean and lube their winches Lessons From An Old Salt will be posting a video in January (likely late January) on Basic Winch Servicing.