Windlass Instructions

These instructions are the result of input by well-travelled boatmen, but they do not necessarily constitute the only way to manage a small traditional Dutch windlass. The windlass pictured is one of many designs in use, and your windlass may have minor or major differences, but in the end they all work similarly. The windlass cover has been removed for clarity but should always be in place when the windlass is in use.  This is a two-speed windlass, so more complex than a  single-speed.

This windlass, like most,  has three shafts.

1. The input shaft has two sliding speed selector cogs on it and a hand crank wheel and handle outside the frame. You will use the hand crank to weigh your anchor or, with clutch engaged, to allow a carefully controlled lowering of the anchor. All other times it is best to leave the speed cogs disengaged, or at least the primary speed cog nearest to the main crank wheel) to avoid injury should the mechanism “misbehave”.




2. The second, intermediary shaft, has a third speed selector cog (handle is missing) and a medium intermediary size cog wheel. In combination of 2 of the 3 speed cogs, you can select one of two ratios. If the wrong two cogs are in place then the windlass will lock up. On this windlass you can also select warping drums only (located at both ends of shaft 2), which simpler winches do not have. Experimentation will show which gear combinations are useful.




3. The main shaft, from left to right, has a

1) big drive cog wheel 

2) toothed latch ring for the main  pawl (one casting),

3) chain 'gypsy*' with a brake drum (again, one casting), 

4) brake drum and band controlled by a hand brake wheel,  at top right of image.

5) clutch. The clutch and the brake / gypsy are two separate pieces. The clutch is engaged by rotating it into the brake/gypsy (right hand thread usually) so that when the main shaft turns, all components on the shaft rotate as one. The clutch can be disengaged by spinning it out to the right on the threaded part of the main shaft. On the far left end of this shaft (in some cases) is a winding drum for wire rope. You should have a bar to make your clutch engagements tight. No bar? A gentle blow with a hammer on one of the protruding lugs is an emergency alternative (but be aware that this could crack the clutch casting).











The main pawl (2 left) is usually a square bar hinged at the deck (see picture below) or on the body of the windlass.. The pawl prevents the windlass letting out chain and is your main holding point when you have laid out the anchor. When you are raising the anchor. It should move freely and click into place on the pawls willingly and automatically.

The chain gypsy (3 above) is driven by the main shaft when the clutch is engaged and the brake is off. To drive the main shaft you engage speed cogs (on a two-speed windlass and rotate the hand crank. The gypsy will free wheel out if the clutch is not engaged and the brake is off.

The brake operates on the brake drum of the gypsy. If the clutch is engaged, then the main shaft turns the gypsy and moves the chain. If the clutch is disengaged and the brake is off, the gypsy will spin freely out.


WARNING – only engage the speed cogs when you want to turn the main shaft. The speed cogs should never be stowed in the engaged position. Should the anchor release suddenly, the hand crank wheel may spin out of control and may take you with it.







Operating procedure

To weigh (raise) anchor:

Wind in the clutch tightly. Make sure that the 2.) main pawl is in place. Release brake. Engage speed cog(s). Remove 1.) stopper bar if one is being used. Wind in anchor. The main pawl will stop chain and anchor from dropping again. Once the anchor is housed, wind the brake on securely. Then release the clutch. The anchor is then reasonably secure but is being held by the brake only, ready to be dropped immediately in an emergency. Make sure the speed cogs are disengaged. You may also want to use a steel stopper bar laying loosely through the first chain link above the deck/hawsepipe, to be removed for quick anchor drop.

For more secure stowage you can leave the clutch wound on. Then the main pawl will hold the anchor. And/or you can also leave a steel stopper bar* lying loosely through the first chain link above the deck/hawsepipe to be pulled out before dropping the anchor.

To drop anchor:

Disengage the  clutch  and be sure that any speed cogs are disengaged. Put the brake on and release the pawl.  Then release the brake and the anchor will run out quickly. Once you have let out enough chain, screw on the brake and engage the pawl. The  pawl will now hold the weight of the ship.  And/or you can also drop a 'stopper bar' through the first visible chain link at the top of the hawse pipe if you want to be more secure.

If you have left the clutch wound in, you will not be able to drop the anchor quickly (and safely) in an emergency without first releasing it, but you can wind the anchor down under control if 1 or more speed cogs is engaged and the main pawl is pulled away. If you have left a bar through the chain obviously it must be removed.

Warning:  if you leave the clutch engaged, (and 1 or more speed cogs are engaged on this model) then releasing the brake will allow the anchor to drop and the entire works, including the hand wheel, will be spinning fast with risk of serious injury. It is safer to keep the clutch disengaged when not needed, and make it a rule never to release the brake without first checking that the clutch is disengaged. The main pawl reduces the risk, but only if it is properly engaged, which doesn't always happen if there is a bit of corrosion around.

When traveling:

Opinions vary but one recommendation is to leave the clutch disengaged and all speed cogs disengaged with the anchor held on the brake and with a stopper bar loosely in place through a chain link just above the deck. That will allow the anchor to be deployed quickly in an emergency.

So your windlass needs a bit of care and understanding, and regular greasing of moving parts! And don’t forget to check that the other end of the chain is well attached to the ship.

Some people have put a hydraulic or electric motor on their windlass, which is actually pretty simple to do and if correctly specified you can eliminate the risk of spinning cogs and flailing handles, and save a bit of sweat!

If your windlass has a cover, use it. You do not want to be near spinning cogs and shafts should the windlass suddenly release for whatever mistake you made. If you do not have a cover, consider making one.

* Terms: 

Gypsy?  A wheel with a shaped rim to hold a chain.

Stopper bar?   Any old steel bar that fits through the anchor chain!

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