How to Select the Best Electric Anchor Windlass for Your Boat

Electric Windlass, Vertical or Horizontal? (This is defined by the position of the drive shaft). There are various factors to bring into the equation when selecting the correct Electric Anchor Windlass for your boat. The first factor to consider is the size of your anchor locker and how much distance there will be between the top of the coiled anchor rode to the deck, this distance determines how much “fall” The chain rode will have. Gravity is the main influence in making your rode go down through the chain pipe and into your chain locker (not enough distance and your rode will jam or not coil properly all the way).

If your distance inside the chain locker from the top of your rode to the bottom of the deck is 16 inches (40.64 cm) or more you may choose either a vertical windlass or horizontal windlass. 

The minimum recommended distance from the top of your rode to the bottom of the deck to install a horizontal electric windlass is 12 inches (30.48 cm)

If you have enough room to install either a horizontal electric windlass or a vertical electric windlass, then you must base your decision on other factors such as which one best fits your interests.

Benefits of Horizontal Windlass 

1. It is a simple 90% wrap of the rode on the chainwheel through the chain pipe and into the chain locker so less chance of jamming at the chainwheel or at the chain pipe.

2. It is easier to install as the motor is above deck and fewer holes need to be drilled on deck.

3. It is a no-nonsense alternative which is generally preferred on commercial fishing boats and medium to larger size cruising sailboats.

(Click for more information on Horizontal windlass)

Benefits of a Vertical Windlass

1. The motor is mounted below deck so there is less exposure to the elements.

2. More aesthetically pleasing and takes up less deck space.

3. There is a 180% wrap of the rode around the chainwheel so less chance of jumping and slipping.

(Click on this link for more information on  Vertical windlass)  


All Chain, All Rope or a Combination? 

This is determined by your specific needs including the type of boating that you do. Generally, people that do extensive cruising and live aboard their boats will go with an all chain rode because of the safety features of an all chain rode which include:

1. A chain does not chafe like rope does.

2. The weight of the chain makes the anchor stay set better on the seabed as the pull on the anchor is almost from a horizontal direction.

3. Less motion of the boat from side to side while at anchor.

4. Less swing on tide changes, wind shifts and during rough weather.

5. During storms, the weight of the chain helps reduce the strain on the anchor set point so less chance of the anchor coming out or dragging.

6. On a current shift (if sufficient length of chain is out) the chain will drag along the bottom and form a U shape along the bottom which can prevent the anchor from being pulled out because the chain is acting as an anchor especially if there is a little structure on the seabed.

7. A chain cannot be cut by coral or sharp rocks at the bottom.

8. The chain cannot be cut while swinging from side to side and chafing occurs at the friction points like the chain roller or the Bob stay.

Selecting the Correct Rode 

Rope and, particularly chain, selection is extremely important. Deciding on the right anchor winch for your boat depends on the size, not only of the boat but also the ground tackle.

Maxwell anchor winches and capstans are designed to take chain only, rope only or a combination of both.

Automatic rope/chain systems are now commonly used on boats up to 20 meters (65 feet). Consequently, Maxwell’s HRC6, HRC8, HRC10, RC6, RC8, RC10 and the NEW RC12 automatic rope/chain systems have become increasingly popular, as they offer the added benefit of less weight in the bow with the ability to carry an increased amount of rode.

Chain only systems will probably always remain popular on heavier displacement boats, cruising sailboats and motor yachts, (because of the above-mentioned reasons).

There are two main types of anchor chains. Short link chain is most commonly used on small and medium-sized boats while stud link chain is generally used on much larger vessels such as Superyachts. The latter is characterized by a stud (bar) joining the two sides of the link preventing them from deforming when overloaded. High test or calibrated short link chain should always be used. Long or regular link chain should not be used with anchor windlasses.

There are a large variety of both metric (mm) and imperial (inches) chain sizes available and these will have an impact on your final windlass decision.

It is important that the right size and right grade of the chain are used to ensure a correct fit of the links to the gypsy. If the chain is not matched to the chainwheel problems may occur, such as the chain jumping off the gypsy or the chain jamming as it will not feed smoothly through the chain pipe.

As chain to chainwheel compatibility is so important, some manufacturers such as Maxwell Marine supplies chainwheels to fit just about every known chain available on today’s international market.

To accurately select a Maxwell chainwheel for your boat based on the size and type your existing chain, click on the following link which will guide you on how to measure your chain links and you can download a chart which you can use when ordering your electric windlass from Maxwell US distributor SeaPeople Depot. 

What size windlass do I need? 

The rule of thumb when determining the size of your electric windlass is you add the weight of your heaviest anchor plus the weight of your entire rode and you multiply times 4

Example: (Anchor) 60 pounds (27.21 kg) + (Chain) 200 pounds (90.71 kg) = 260 pounds (117.93) x 4 = 1,040 pounds (471.73 kg) Estimated pulling power needed on the windlass (when in doubt go to a bigger size windlass)

It is important to note that an electric windlass is not intended to be used by itself when retrieving your anchor, meaning that you are supposed to use your engine’s power to get close to the anchor while slowly using your electric windlass to bring in the chain and you are also supposed to use your engine’s power to get the anchor away from its set position to then use your windlass to bring the anchor up to your boat.

The reason you want to go as big as you can on the windlass is if you find yourself in an emergency situation and your engine is not functioning properly or at all, you might need a little extra help from your windlass to get the anchor out but obviously this is not recommended on a regular basis to extend the life of your windlass. Also, whenever at anchor, always use a heavy anchor snub or stop from the chain directly to a bollard or firmly placed deck cleat to reduce shock load on the windlass. Following these simple tips can help you get many years of trouble free operation out of your Maxwell Windlass. 

Why Maxwell? Maxwell is synonymous with reliability and durability. The company has been in business for four decades and have developed an outstanding reputation, great technical support for their customers and a great replacement parts department for their older winches as well as newer models, so you can always find parts when needed after your windlass has had more than a few cruising seasons under its belt.

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