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Sizing up a project such as installing a new anchor windlass first requires knowing what you and your boat want and need. In this article, we’ll look further into the key aspects of any installation, which include the layout and condition of the forward deck, the absence, presence and/or location of the bow roller, the anchor and anchor rode locker, and the electrical system.
If you are replacing an old windlass with one that’s not identical, your first question should be whether or not you can use the same cut-outs in the deck. The answer, unfortunately, is that it’s uncommon to have a great match between old and new. We’ll cover that in more detail later, specifically with respect to what makes it a more or less difficult DIY project.
What challenges come with a windlass installation?
Whether you are replacing a windlass or installing one for the first time, we recommend taking a good look around the foredeck. Look for what’s in the way that might need to be moved or worked around—such as mooring cleats, a bollard, a hatch or vents. At the same time, if you have an older boat, have a close look at the deck itself. Is it solid or spongy? How thick is it and does it merit repair work first? A windlass handles a significant load, so having a solid deck to mount it on is the most important first step.
Look below the deck to see if a bulkhead or stringer on the underside of the deck needs to be avoided as you install the new windlass. You should be sure the deck can support the loads on the windlass. Even if the deck is structurally sound and nothing is in the way above or below the deck, reinforcement of loaded areas may be required before mounting a windlass.
When you position the windlass itself, it should be directly over the deepest portion of your anchor locker. Our rule of thumb is that there should be 16 inches of space above your pile of chain or rope anchor rode when it’s all aboard. If your windlass isn’t located correctly or your locker is too shallow, you may need to develop an approach to flaking or otherwise assisting the rode to avoid over-filling the locker. In some cases, this might dictate choosing a horizontal-style windlass to give you more space below.
Which bow roller should I choose?
The next thing to check is the bow roller, particularly if this is a first-time installation. There may be no bow roller at all, in which case you’ll need to work out how to install one and choose a roller that can be solidly mounted with reinforcement as needed.
You’ll also need to select a roller designed for the type of anchor you’ll be using—Danforth/fluke-style, CQR/plow, Bruce, Delta, or Rocna. There are several types, and if paired incorrectly, the anchor will not rest in a secure and stable position when seated in the roller. The roller model must be able to accommodate the correct size and weight of your anchor, as well. It needs to be far enough forward so that when seated, the anchor won’t hit the hull, yet not too far forward, as that would increase the load on the roller. Projecting the anchor farther than necessary can also cause it to get in the way when you’re maneuvering.
If you have an existing bow roller, figure out early in the process if it’s up to the task. Make sure it has a strong backing plate and large fasteners to accommodate the extra loads it must bear.
Positioning the bow roller depends on several other factors, as well. An obvious one on a sailboat is that it must be offset to port or starboard to avoid the forestay, which is on centerline. This will affect how far off centerline the windlass needs to be. An inner forestay can be an obstacle to work around, as well.
To accommodate the bow roller, centerline running lights on any boat may need to be separated and moved to the rail or the hull. And if you have toe rails, a forward coaming, or a bulwark to negotiate, a modification may be needed to mount the bow roller and allow smooth passage for your anchor rode from windlass to roller.
How much fiberglass work will be required?
A good-sized challenge for many owners interested in a DIY installation is whether the deck will need much repair or rebuilding. More often than not, you will have to plug, fill, and re-glass the deck. Then new cutouts will need to be machined.
What can help is that some manufacturers have a current model that comes close to fitting the existing cutout from an older model. For example, some models in the Storm series by Muir windlasses can fit cut-outs for some models in the discontinued Atlantic series. Lofrans Windlasses did something similar, replacing its Progress series with the Project series. Even if this is the case, don’t expect the fit to be perfect, as the cutouts may need to be enlarged slightly. To prevent water intrusion, the deck will then need to be dressed.
How do I know where to cut the deck?
Before anyone starts cutting new holes in the deck, we always recommend using a scaled template. Be sure to get a physical template from the manufacturer or distributor, as printing one off the internet almost certainly will not print at the correct scale, thus skewing the measurements of the windlass.
Sometimes, this template may be enough to give you the sense that the size of the windlass looks wrong even if it has the power you need. But the template has other important purposes, the first being to compare the old deck cut-outs with any new ones the template shows are required. This will help you estimate the job and also decide whether you need professional assistance to do this part of the installation.
After you position the template, you can also run a piece of string from the bow roller to the chain-line mark on the template. Our recommendation is to position the windlass so there’s no more than 5 degrees deflection in the rode to port or starboard as it leads forward to the bow roller. Working with the template is a much better time to measure the angle than after you’ve started cutting.
What’s needed in the anchor locker, besides ample space?
Typically, anchor lockers don’t need a big overhaul when you install a new windlass, but it’s definitely a good time to scrub it out and clear the drain, which can often become clogged with dirt and debris.
Anchor lockers are sometimes rough with a chopped-fiberglass finish, and older rusty chain may have been taking bites out of the surface, further restricting the chain’s ability to slide. We often suggest to boat owners that they repaint or glass over a locker like this. Also, if the windlass won’t be positioned over the dead-center of the locker, we recommend lining it with Starboard, which is very smooth and helps the chain fall.
On larger yachts and for blue-water sailors with a dual-chain system for primary and secondary anchors, make sure you have a centerline divider in the locker. And on big motor yachts, you may go as far as mounting a pair of vertical windlasses, one for each anchor, one turning clockwise and one turning counter-clockwise.
If I have to run new wiring, do I need to hire an electrician?
The answer is, “It depends.” Are you installing a more powerful motor? It’s critical that a windlass be wired with properly sized, tinned-copper cables and a properly paired circuit breaker. If the windlass motor is more powerful than your old one, you may be need larger cables and a larger circuit breaker. We look at the voltage and wattage of the windlass, and then cross-reference that to the ABYC 10% Voltage Drop tables below to determine proper gauge wire. That will dictate whether your wire is sized correctly or is undersized.
Low voltage is the most common problem with electric windlasses, as it damages the solenoids. Also, cables will degrade over time, therefore, you don’t want to start at the bare minimum. We always recommend going up one size from what the 10% Voltage Drop table tells us.
The challenges you will face if you need new cable depend physically on whether you’ll be pulling through conduit or not. But you also may find your circuit breaker needs to increase size. Here, the amp rating for the breaker is derived from the “10% rule.” If the windlass motor is rated at 12v/1000 watts, 10 percent is 100, so we spec out a 100-amp circuit breaker for a typical 12-volt system. When reviewing a 24v system, the “5% rule” applies – 24v/1000 watts requires 50amp protection. You’ll need to measure the distance from the battery source to the windlass and double it to work out the cable size. It needs to go both ways between windlass and battery. From there you look at the other axis of the chart to see the amp draw.
If I have a popular, older model boat, does that simplify the installation?
In some cases, yes. As an example, for a model like the Sea Ray 30- to 45-foot yachts, there are close to 10,000 Lofrans Progress 1 windlasses nearing the end of their lifecycle. For a replacement from the Lofrans Project 1000 series, Imtra made a pre-cut oval pad of Starboard seven-eighths inch wider all around to mask the impressions of the old windlass. We cut an oval trench near the perimeter in the bottom to bed the pad to the deck. The pad is pre-drilled for the mainshaft hole, the deck studs and the hawsepipe hole. Imtra even selected “Sea Ray” white for this windlass conversion deck pad.
The Bottom Line
As we said at the beginning of this article, once you’ve done your homework to see what you and your boat really need, a little self-reflection may be in order. You know your DIY skills in each of the areas we covered—fiberglass, paint, engineering, and electrical. Compare this to your available funds of money and time.
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