A windlass is an apparatus for moving a heavy weight. Typically, a windlass consists of a horizontal cylinder (barrel), which is rotated by the turn of a crank or belt. A winch is affixed to one or both ends, and a cable or rope is wound around the winch, pulling a weight attached to the opposite end.



Good F850 windlass brushed chrome       Lewmar H series horizontal windlass



Windlasses are used on boats to raise anchor as an alternative to a vertical capstan, and see anchor windlass below.  Crossbows may also use windlasses as a cocking mechanism.


Windlasses are vital in the operation of almost all locks on the British Inland Waterways.


An anchor windlass is a machine that restrains and manipulates the anchor chain and/or rope on a boat, allowing the anchor to be raised and lowered. A notched wheel engages the links of the chain or the rope. A brake is provided for control and the windlass is usually powered by an electric or hydraulic motor operating via a gear train.



Horizontal vs Vertical


Technically speaking, the term "windlass" refers only to horizontal winches. Vertical designs are correctly called capstans. Horizontal windlasses make use of an integral gearbox and motor assembly, all typically located above-deck, with a horizontal shaft through the unit and wheels for chain and/or rope on either side. Vertical capstans use a vertical shaft, with the motor and gearbox situated below the winch unit (usually below decks).


Horizontal windlasses offer several advantages. The unit tends to be more self contained, protecting the machinery from the corrosive environment found on boats. The dual wheels also allow two anchors on double rollers to be serviced. Vertical capstans, for their part, allow the machinery to be placed below decks, thus lowering the center of gravity (important on boats), and also allow a flexible angle of pull (which means rope or chain can be run out to different fairleads).


It tends to be the case that smaller boats use capstans, and larger boats have windlasses, although this is by no means a hard and fast rule.



Gypsies and Wildcats


The wheels on either a vertical or horizontal windlass provide for either chain or rope to be engaged. The wheel for rope is termed a wildcat, while a gypsy is for chain. Combination wildcat/gypsies are capable of handling both chain and line on the same wheel, although particular care must be taken with sizing and compatibility of rope, chain, and windlass, for this feature to work effectively.


It is important that the gypsy match the chain size exactly. Even a small difference in link size or consistency can cause undue wear on the gypsy and/or cause the chain to jump off the windlass when the winch is operating.



Lofran Tigres 1299 watt horizontal windlass





While most windlasses require power, many are manually driven in the same manner as most sailing boats' winches for sheets. In fact only modern boats have practical sources for power, and ships in the old days have always required manual power.


Powered solutions include steam (antiquated), hydraulics, and electrics. Electrics are convenient and relatively cheap, but hydraulics prove more efficient and powerful on all but small boats.


In general, windlasses and their power system should be capable of lifting the anchor and all its rode (chain and rope) if deployed so that it hangs suspended in deep water. This task should be within the windlass' rated working pull, not its maximum pull.





1. How long is my boat?

Use the selection guide to determine the general size of windlass to be used for your boat length and displacement.

For example, if you have a 33ft/ 10m boat, a 600lb/ 270kg pull windlass (Sprint 600) would typically be selected. Adjust the windlass size if necessary, based on your answers to questions two and three below.

2. How long is the anchor rode you wish to use and will it fit into your locker?

Begin by examining the depth of the anchor locker to determine the amount of 'fall' available. The fall is the vertical distance between the top of the anchor locker and the top of the anchor rode when it is completely stored inside the locker. This measurement is important in determining whether your boat will be best suited for a vertical or horizontal windlass.

Horizontal Windlass



Windlass horizontal below boat deck diagram


The Horizontal windlass is a no-nonsense design widely used by boaters requiring optimum performance from their anchoring system. Boaters who frequently anchor, especially in deep water, require a no hassle self-tailing system.



Boat above deck layout windlass mounting offset


The horizontal windlass offers the best performance with small or unusual locker designs. As the anchor rode enters the gypsy it makes a 90º turn and feeds directly into the anchor locker. a minimum fall of 12"/ 30cm is recommended.



Vertical Windlass


Windlass vertical below deck diagram


Vertical windlasses provide aesthetic value and offer the added security of the anchor rode making a 180º wrap around the gypsy. The inherent design of the vertical windlass requires at least 16"/ 40cm of fall. This is to allow gravity to properly self-tail 



Vertical capstan windlass deck configuration


the anchor rode through a 90º vertical turn into the anchor locker. Additionally, nylon line is lightweight and a short fall in a vertical windlass system might prevent the rode from feeding properly into the locker.

3. How much pulling power should my windlass have?

Having selected a vertical or horizontal windlass and determined the size required for your boat length and displacement, the correct windlass pulling power for your needs must be determined using the following formula:

Total weight of ground tackle (anchor and rode) X 4


Pulling power required by the windlass


Working Load

In a typical anchor recovery situation, the windlass will pass through a number of phases of operation as the boat approaches the anchor and finally breaks it out of the seabed. The load and speed will vary at each phase. For any anchor recovery, the windlass will operate longest in the 'working load' phase and it will experience a significant peak in load during anchor breakout.












Electrical Circuit Protection

Any installation of electric powered windlasses must be protected with a circuit breaker. This ensures complete protection of the electric motor and installation cables if the windlass is overloaded.

Circuit breakers are normally rated on a 'continuous' basis. This is the load in Amps, under which they will retain electrical contact for an indefinite period. For example, a 70Amp circuit breaker will not trip unless the continuous current exceeds this figure. However, the maximum tolerated current draw may be as much as 250 Amps, but only for a short period of time. All our windlasses carry a recommendation on circuit breaker rating based on continuous operation.

Remember that motoring up to the anchor whilst using the windlass to retrieve the anchor rode and using the boat to "break out the anchor" is the proper anchor recovery procedure. Using the windlass to haul the boat to the anchor is not recommended and will result in damage to the windlass and motor.


Safety At Anchor

Windlasses are not designed to hold high loads while a boat is at anchor. When the windlass is not is use and the boat is at anchor, the anchor rode should be secured using a chain stopper or attached to a load bearing point such as a cleat.

Diagram showing horizontal windlass installation


Horizontal Application

Windlass vertical installation layout


 Vertical Application





Lewmar Limited
Registered in England No. 620277
Registered Office:
Southmoor Lane, Havant, Hampshire, PO9 1JJ



IDEAL Windlass Company

5810 Post Rd. * PO Box 430

East Greenwich, RI 02818 USA

TEL: 401.884.2550 * FAX: 401.884.1260




Good® Automatic Windlass, Inc.

357 Route 72

Barnegat, New Jersey 08005


Phone: New Jersey 609-698-4402 ~ Outside NJ 800-780-4655

Fax: 609-698-3698

Web Site:



Boat Gear Direct  (a trading division of EYE Marine Limited)

The Gunshed, Levington, Ipswich, IP10 0LX

T - 01473 655541
M - 07900 988355
(Monday - Friday 0830 to 1700)
Registered in England & Wales. No.: 5325224
VAT Registration No.: GB837284796



Ships windlass with dual horizontal capstans


 Ships windlass with dual horizontal capstans




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