Installing an electric winch, or windlass, on your powerboat or sailboat requires a number of considerations and steps. First, contact your local marine retailer who sells winches and obtain professional advice about which brands and models best suit your needs. If it does not come with the purchased product, download the owner's manual with installation instructions from the manufacturer's website or order the manual from the supplier. Then contact the boat manufacturer for specifications and reccomendations about installing the windlass on your particular vessel.
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Before You Buy
The larger your vessel, the heavier the anchor will be, and the greater the length of chain section and rode (rope) will be. There are some rules of thumb for choosing the appropriate anchor for your vessel's holding power and windlass performance: choose one that has good "teeth," or flukes, like a Danforth, plough, Bruce, kedge or grapnel. Boats under 24 feet long need 3/16-inch chain and 3/8-inch nylon rode, up to 31 feet use 1/4-inch chain and 7/16-inch rode, 5/16-inch chain and 9/16-inch rode should suffice to 45 feet; over 45 feet use at least 5/16-inch chain and 3/4-inch rode. Calculate how much chain and rode you'll need, what weight and diameter they will be, and how big the winch has to be to handle the combined anchor, chain and rode. Also double check that the motor size of your new winch is sufficient based on your calculations.
Location and Hardware
Choose to install the winch vertically if you want to kneel on the deck to watch and guide chain and rode, or horizontally if you only want only to lean over for this process. Once you have settled on the windlass make and model that best suits your requirements, determine where on the bow it should be located, and what additional hardware you need for installation and function---switch, control box, circuit breaker, etc. You also need to decide how to power your electric windlass: it will be wired to the engine battery or powered by its own unit. If you choose the latter, pick the battery that will supply the most reliable power. You also need to reinforce the deck where it will be per the manufacturer's and/or boatbuilder's specifications.
Make sure you have all the necessary tools on-hand when you begin the installation process. At the very least you'll need an electric drill and hole saw, wiring tools, socket tools and screwdrivers. All through-deck fittings must be silicon caulked. Place the windlass temporarily so you can determine exactly how the wiring should be run and what deck reinforcement needs to be done. Depending on the preferred placement of the winch, relocate deck hardware or accessories; for example, you may have to reduce the size of your bow hatch to accommodate the winch. After installing these items, connect the windlass permanently with through-deck fittings, power it up and test it.
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