Winch Maintenance and Lubrication

Dec 28, 2010
462
Catalina 380 san pedro
I finally got around to some deferred maintenance on my winches over the holiday weekend. I have owned the boat for one year and had no idea if the winches had ever received any care at all. Soooooo...guess what?...NOPE....NAH-DA....The grease had solidified into something resembling varnish. It took soaking the gears and bearings for several hours in Acetone followed by in some cases, scraping and such, swearing..(no really it did involve cussing the PO's) followed by carefully lubricating everything and putting it all back together. That was for the first one. Since it took well over 10 hours of work, the second one will have to wait, and there are 3 more winches. Moral of the story, DON'T NEGLECT YOUR WINCHES FOLKS!
 

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Oct 24, 2010
2,401
Hunter 30 Everett, WA
Thanks for the post. When things are working, it's easy to miss routine maintenance. It's time to break ours down and lube them.

Ken
 

Joe

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Jun 1, 2004
7,499
Catalina 27 Mission Bay, San Diego
Kerosene and a wire brush works well for me. Second one will take much less time... 3 and 4... you'll be a pro.. After that you'll look forward to winch maintenance one or two times a year.... A pleasant chore on no sail days, especially with football or golf on TV.
 
Oct 22, 2014
16,409
CAL 35 Cruiser moored EVERETT WA
Not football. Maybe golf. Need care and no distractions. A big catch or a cheer from the crowd and you may see one of those pawl springs leaping free and attempting a half gainer into to the bay. There is a reason they put 4 springs in a kit when your only have two to replace.
 

capta

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Jun 4, 2009
4,320
Pearson 530 Admiralty Bay, Bequia SVG
We also had that problem with our winches. We find diesel (much cheaper than acetone) works quite well as a soak/cleaner. But we found no easy solution to the old, hard grease deep in the teeth of the gears and drums, just my old friend manual labor.
We've not had very good results with the Lewmar lubrication products on our mast mounted winches. It seems that since they don't get used often and that as they are mounted sideways, the oil on the pawls doesn't stay there and the grease hardens up much more quickly than on the horizontal cockpit winches that do get used more often. Anyone have any thoughts on this?
 
Sep 8, 2014
2,551
Catalina 22 Swing Keel San Diego
Believe it or not acetone is not the best degreaser in the world... at least for me I notice that it does not cut through grease as fast other items specifically made for degreasing. It was noted above that kerosene and diesel work well, and they do, but obviously there are fumes/fire hazard etc. If you have access to an automotive parts wash tub that is most convenient and least messy, mineral spirits is usually the cleaning agent.
The most environmentally friendly is probably Simple Green while Dawn and hot water are also effective. I use a much more effective but less common degreaser available from welding supply stores. Pretty cheap by the gallon ($12, about the same as simple green). Works best cut with hot water. The active ingredient is phosphoric acid, it not only cleans the dirt/grease/grime but it brightens up the bronze. You just have to be very careful not to mix metals in the solution, the bronze will give up some of its copper and basically 'plate' steel parts... You can clean aluminum with it as long as the aluminum is alone, other wise the aluminum will get eaten if there is steel in the bath (basically, really fast galv corrosion). You can see the results in this thread;
https://forums.sailboatowners.com/index.php?threads/blasphemy-by-winch-over-haul.180956/

(if my pics don't display its because I have to pay for photbucket now, smh. I'll fix it tonight, so check back)

CLR is also effective. It used to have phosphoric acid as the active ingredient until certain gov't agencies got involved, but it is still an effective descaler and degreaser... also cut with hot water. I would avoid stainless brushes and especially wire wheels on power tools, a softer brass brush is better. Scotch brite pads are my weapon of choice.
 
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Likes: Parsons
Jul 12, 2011
996
Catalina 36 1771 Ft Pierce, Florida
I am motivated -- this is my new winter project! I watched an old sailor disassemble and re-assemble a Lewmar winch at a yacht club demo, while carrying on a lecture about how to do it and taking questions from the audience. Like a Marine field stripping his rifle. I don't think he looked down! I'll never get that good, but I can follow directions and a video. The best hint I received from this was to cut a hole in a shallow box top and fit it around the winch during the process. That at least gives you a chance to catch those diving springs.
 

BarryL

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May 21, 2004
839
Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 409 Mt. Sinai, NY
Hey,
When I service my winches I never pay that much attention to removing the old grease. I wipe it off as much as possible. Anything that doesn't come off just gets left there. Then I add a little (not a lot) of new grease and reassemble. What harm is old grease going to do? What am I missing?
Barry
 

SFS

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Aug 18, 2015
1,982
West Marine Kayak Tampa Bay
Old grease can continue to harden into a solid, which negatively affects winch operation. I've not had one become impossible to turn, but I've used plenty that didn't turn as freely as they would if properly lubed.

Hardening of grease is why you don't use grease on the pawls at all. Hardened grease will freeze up the pawls and/or those tiny springs, and the pawls will not engage the gears. Runaway winches can ruin your day in a lot of ways. Use a very light oil on pawls.
 

capta

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Jun 4, 2009
4,320
Pearson 530 Admiralty Bay, Bequia SVG
This might be a good place to mention this. If you are new at winch maintenance, get a cardboard box that's big enough to put over the winch and still work inside of. Cut a hole in the bottom (not necessarily in the middle) the size of the winch base. Slip this over the winch, empty side up, before you disassemble it and any errant parts will stay in the box instead of go swimming.
 

Gunni

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Mar 16, 2010
5,937
Beneteau 411 Oceanis Annapolis
Believe it or not acetone is not the best degreaser in the world... at least for me I notice that it does not cut through grease as fast other items specifically made for degreasing. It was noted above that kerosene and diesel work well, and they do, but obviously there are fumes/fire hazard etc.
You bet. I'm sure you know this but acetone has a wicked high vapor pressure and that vapor is very explosive. I wouldn't want my face over a pot of acetone. Low vapor pressure paint thinner, kero, or the available diesel is all that is necessary. Soaking and a small brass wire brush get the job done in no time. I love those modern Lewmar winches, come apart without tools, and you cannot put them back together wrong (careful with the pawl orientation). Beautiful engineering design.
 
Mar 1, 2012
2,182
1961 Rhodes Meridian 25 Texas coast
This might be a good place to mention this. If you are new at winch maintenance, get a cardboard box that's big enough to put over the winch and still work inside of. Cut a hole in the bottom (not necessarily in the middle) the size of the winch base. Slip this over the winch, empty side up, before you disassemble it and any errant parts will stay in the box instead of go swimming.
and make some loops of masking tape or duct tape and put on the bottom of that box, so it doesn't slide around as you work.
 
Oct 22, 2014
16,409
CAL 35 Cruiser moored EVERETT WA
It is just not that complicated. One wonders why so many folk ignore this maintenance item.
I have 40 plus year old winches. My latest are a pair of ST Barient 24's. Took them to the bench. Stripped them down till all the pieces were layed out on the table. Gooy pieces got a kerosene spa treatment. A good dental pick and paper towels separated the aged goo from the pretty brass gears. A package of lewmar pawl/springs and clips gave new life to the winches. Once clean put parts back in reverse order using "Corrison Block" to oil or grease/lube the bearings and gears.
They spun and clicked when back together like new. Installed on the boat. Took them out for a sail and was very pleased.
It is a task that will take a couple of hours the first time. Assemble the various pieces, like clips, pawls and spirings first so you don't get everything apart then wonder where the new replacement pieces are. The second one will be just about an hour. Then you'll think I can do this. I wonder if I could make beer money down at the dock doing winches. Bet I could do one in less than 30 minutes. With my eyes closed.
Resist this flight of whimsy and open that second beer. You have sailing to think about.
 
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Likes: Ken Cross
Dec 29, 2008
798
Treworgy 65' Custom Steel Pilothouse Staysail Ketch St. Croix, Virgin Islands
After that you'll look forward to winch maintenance one or two times a year.
LO Two times a year? Not likely! I aspire to do our 10 winches every 3-4 years - that would be an improvement on our past record!
 
Oct 24, 2010
2,401
Hunter 30 Everett, WA
I tore ours down and lubed them yesterday. It was certainly time to do so.
I have no idea how long since they were done, but I know I hadn't (on year 3 now) and the previous owner lived on board for a year, but I don't think they ever sailed. Winches were working fine but needed to be lubed.
Ken