Anchor winches for cruising

If you regularly anchor you need to handle chain and if you handle chain you need an efficient anchor winch. You can choose to crank it by hand or have it driven by an electric motor, it can be capable of handling just chain or both rope and chain and it can be a capstan or a windlass.

Technically, on a windlass the axis of the shaft around which the drum or gypsy turns is horizontal; on a capstan it’s vertical. This distinction is rarely recognised these days and the terms are used interchangeably, so anchor winches are simply referred to as ‘vertical’ or ‘horizontal’ – just remember that it’s the axle on which the gypsy turns that is horizontal or vertical.

Whether you drive your winch manually or by an electric motor is a matter of personal choice influenced by the availability on board of sufficient electrical power or willing muscle.

On Adriana I had a magnificent bronze vertical winch from the Ideal Windlass Company. It was powered by an electric motor and had both rope drum and chain gypsy. On other boats I’ve had a horizontal manual Goiot winch and a horizontal powered Muir – they all did their job well.

A vertical winch with its motor mounted under the deck takes up a little less space on the foredeck where space may be at a premium. On horizontal windlasses the motor and gearbox are usually mounted on deck, integral with the winch.

Another feature of a vertical winch is that the chain exits the gypsy horizontally and travels a short distance before entering the naval pipe. The naval pipe has its opening oriented horizontally and pointing away from the bow so it is an inherently more water resistant arrangement than the vertical opening into which the chain from a horizontal windlass must drop. But these are fine differences and I’ve used both configurations successfully.

Whatever the configuration of the winch you choose, it is vital that the chain gypsy is correctly mated to the chain. Calibrated short link chain is what’s used on an anchor winch but there are several sub-types, each with a slight difference in chain link dimensions, so make sure you have the right chain for your gypsy. Mismatched chain and gypsy is a formula for frustration, and possibly worse.

Happy anchoring!