How To Fix A Sailboat Winch (12 Steps And Tips!)

Sailboat winches will help keep your sails trimmed for optimal speed. If you just purchased an old sailboat or your winch seems to be cranking a little rough, maybe it needs some servicing. Follow the steps below to make your winch like new again.

1. Tools You Will Need

The first step is to get the necessary tools for the project. The list below is all the essential tools you will need.

  • Gloves
  • Grease
  • Snap Ring Pliers
  • Sharp Pointed Knife or Awl
  • Wrench to remove winch from boat hull
  • Small Bowl to hold the parts

2. Remove The Winch From The Boat’s Hull

The second step after gathering all your tools is removing the winch from the boat. This will make it much easier to deconstruct and clean. Make sure not to drop anything in the water!

3. Remove The Spring Clip From The Top Of The Winch

To remove the spring clip, you will need a sharp pointed knife or awl. This will allow you to get under the spring clip and pry it up. Once you have pried it up, carefully removed it from the winch. It is very important to not bend it!

4. Separate The Drum From The Spindle/Base

Now that the spring clip has been removed, you can separate the drum from the spindle. Slowly separate the two while turning one part. This will help separate the two more smoothly.

5. Take Out The Half-Circle Spacers

The half-circle spacers need to be removed next. These are located between the spindle and the base. They are very thin and easy to bend. Be sure to not lose these, they are very important. Once you have removed them, place them in the bowl with the rest of the parts.

6. Remove The Snap Ring

You should have a pair of snap ring pliers nearby. I have done this with other tools, like tiny needle nose pliers, but it’s quite difficult. Definitely use the snap ring pliers if you have them.

Turn the base over and look into the bottom hole. You should see the snap ring at the base of the spindle. Use your snap ring pliers to remove the snap ring.

8. Separate The Spindle From The Base

Now that the snap ring has been removed, the spindle and the base should separate from each other. If they do not come apart, it may be time for a new winch. You may try some light tapping around the two parts to help separate them, but if they are stuck together, you probably have bigger problems than you thought.

9. Remove The Pawls

The pawls are small spring-loaded items on the base and spindle. Press them against the spindle or base and slide them up and out. You should have four total when done. As always, be careful not to lose these overboard. Getting new ones might be a bit of a hassle.

10. Clean All Parts Of The Winch Assembly

Make sure to remove all grease, dirt, and grime from the parts of the winch. This process is usually only performed once every few years at most, so make sure you do it correctly. I use dish soap to clean mine but there are marine cleaners out there if you prefer. Allow all parts to dry before reassembly.

11. Reassemble In Reverse Order

I am not going to walk you through each step in reverse order. Just reverse the steps above and you will end with a working winch.

One thing to remember before reassembly is grease!
I recommend this tub of grease, it will last you forever and works on all parts of your boat.

Grease each part that is going to rub with another part. This will keep things running smoothly for years.

12. Attach The Winch To The Boat Hull

This is the final step in winch repair/maintenance. There is one very important thing to do when mounting your winch to the boat, WATERPROOF!

When you have bolts going through your deck, it’s very important to waterproof around those bolts so no water can get inside the boat’s fiberglass hull and cause rot or spongy soft spots. This is very bad for sailboats.

I use this 3M Marine sealeant on my sailboat. Its strong and flexible.

You can use any sealant you prefer. Just remember at some point you may want to remove that winch again so don’t use something that will never come off.

That is the complete guide step-by-step to servicing your sailboat winch.

Final Thoughts

Servicing your sailboat winches is not something you will do very often unless you are working them very hard on a daily basis. I have only serviced mine twice and that’s probably more than I needed to do. It will be up to you to decide how much servicing your winch needs.

I hope this article helps! Cheers!

Check Out These Other Articles On Sailboat Winches


Boatlifehq owner and author/editor of this article.

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