What is a Windlass on a Boat? – Marine Windlass & Its Details – Boatingbasicsonline

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what is a windlass on a boat

Payload management is one of the most difficult things to do on a marine vessel. That is why everything you find on board is there for good reasons; this includes boating equipment such as the windlass. But what is a windlass on a boat?

The windlass is a device used for holding, deploying, and retrieving the anchor with relative ease compared to by hand . We’ll take a look at important facts about it, such as windlass meaning and how it works.

Table of Contents

Marine Windlass and Its Details

1. Windlass definition


In general, the windlass is a device using a pulley mechanic to raise or lower an object, especially those with significant weight. A windlass on ship or even boat, in particular, is usually used for deploying and retrieving the anchor.

2. Meaning – what is a windlass used for

What does windlass mean on a vessel, and how significant can it be?

For starters, deploying an anchor requires an appropriate rode length, which should be 4 to 7 times the depth of water. The rode needs to be unwound vertically in a careful manner plus takes a lot of time to do. Not to mention the particular anchor chain is rather heavy—ranging from 2, 500 to 50, 000.

With the help associated with an anchor windlass, the task of winding and unwinding rode is much simpler and less prone to mistakes. This boat part will be especially useful when longer lines or heavier anchors are used.

3. Parts


Illustrating exactly how it works can be complicated because of the need to refer to a few anchor windlass parts name. These are its basic components.

  1. Chain wheel – also known as the gypsy. It’s where the rode is wound, so by manipulating the chain wheel via a clutch, you’ll be able to hoist the anchor and raise the rode.
  2. Capstan – also a rotating drum where the line could be wound but usually oriented vertically. It may be used together with a gypsy in bigger windlasses.
  3. Anchor rode the line with an point connected at the end. It can be a thick rope or the chain.
  4. Chain stopper – serves as a brake and holds the collection in place.

4. Types of windlass plus functions


Point windlass operation can be manual or electric. Whereas the former requires muscle power to turn the particular crank, the latter may be operated with the push of a button.

Types of windlass may also be categorized into horizontal and vertical, where the difference is in the orientation of its axle. Regardless associated with type, anchor windlass function remains largely the same, although each design will have its advantages.

One of the particular biggest concerns with horizontal windlasses, despite their overall superior performance, is that they are exposed above the deck. While they are encased with regard to protection, being at the mercy of the weather elements is still concerning.

Vertical models, however, don’t have this issue, considering they’re installed below the deck. However , this particular position makes it harder to access the particular motor and gearbox.

Differences between types of used windlass anchor winch
Horizontal Vertical
+ Placed above deck + Motor installed below deck
+ Feeds directly to anchor locker + Saves on deck space
+ Easy to install and maintain + Protected against elements
+ Better overall performance + Better deck aesthetic
– Takes up a lot of deck space – Requires space beneath outdoor patio
– Exposed in order to boating components – Expensive and harder to install and maintain

How Does a Windlass Work


Refer to my description on the basic components of the ship windlass above plus a diagram to visualize their construction.

To put it simply, the anchor rode ought to be wound around the gypsy. This way, when you turn the clutch, the particular axle will turn the chain wheel, bringing in or extending the core rode. In some cases, its entire length might go through other drums or even a capstan to make it easier to handle heavier loads.

When deploying the particular anchor, you’ll need to turn the chain steering wheel to gradually lower this. Nevertheless , a windlass regarding small boats may use a free-fall system, meaning that you’ll only have to throw the anchor into the water and let gravity do the rest of the particular job.

Once the anchor has been deployed to the desired depth, you’ll need in order to hit the chain stopper to make sure that the rode will not continue to unwind.

Frequently Asked Questions


Why do they call it a windlass?

Aside from looking at the windlass description, analyzing the name can give us a better idea of what it is specifically “why is it called a windlass? ”.

To elaborate, two recognized etymologies for the word are the archaic Nordic word “vindāss”, and the Middle English word “wyndlas” or “wyndase”, all associated with which mean “to wind a pole”.

What does the windlass look like?

The winch is a device of considerable size on the particular deck of smaller boats near the bow. It has a characteristic cylindrical shape protruding from its main structure.

Another telling feature of the windlass is the anchor rode running from it toward the particular bow, which connects to the anchor. Even the windlass anchor system beneath the deck can be identified this way.

What is the difference between a capstan and a windlass?

In their simplest forms, the primary difference is that a capstan has a vertical axle while the marine winch has a horizontal one. However, modern designs have led to the emergence of vertical windlasses as well.

Another point to consider is that windlasses are more complex structures in comparison to the capstan’s simple drum-like appearance. The capstan may also be part of a windlass. Within these cases, the windlasses are either operated via pneumatic or hydraulic powers.


Exactly what windlass on the boat? Now you know enough to answer anyone else asking this question. You can now explain the basics of different types associated with windlasses, be them manual or electric. All that’s left is to get on a windlass sailboat and experience using it intended for yourself.

What other boating equipment do you find difficult in order to understand and use? Tell us about them in the particular comments section below.

Remember to boat safely.

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