Some sailors expect their winches to work year after year with little or no maintenance. Mark Corke offers a step-by-step guide to servicing this vital piece of deck gear.
Winches are expensive, have a hard life and are often subjected to very heavy loads when they are needed the most. It pays to look after them. Overhauling a winch for the first time can seem daunting, but approached methodically it can take no more than an hour to service one. After you’ve done it once or twice, you’ll wonder what the fuss was about.
You won’t need much equipment for this job: plenty of clean rags, some mineral spirits or parrafin, and a container in which to clean dirty parts. You’ll also need a couple of screwdrivers, one small and one medium size, and perhaps a set of needle-nose pliers for replacing small parts like, pawls.
All major winch manufacturers supply overhaul kits, which include grease for bearings, oil for pawls, pawl springs, a small brush, and an instruction booklet. The Lewmar kit, for example, retails for around £16 and is universal to all their winches. All major manufacturers also have helpful websites. Harken has an online parts list for their complete line.
Once you’ve got all you need, follow this step-by-step guide. The photos show a small self-tailing Lewmar winch (the differences from manufacturer to manufacturer are minor). The major parts of all winches, as shown in the accompanying diagrams, are very similar and should closely resemble those in the photographs.
Don’t be tempted to take your winches apart at sea unless it is absolutely essential. I once took a winch apart in mid-Atlantic and dropped some vital part over the side, rendering the winch useless for the rest of the passage. It didn’t make me the most popular crew member on board.