Summary

I) Boat windlasses
  1. What is a boat windlass?
  2. How does a windlass work?
II) A windlass adapted to the ship
  1. How to choose a windlass
  2. Vertical windlass
  3. Horizontal fence
III) The right power 
  1. What power for my windlass?
  2. Calculate power requirements

All you need to know about boat guides

A boat windlass is a device for raising and lowering a boat's anchor. It is essential for safe mooring and anchoring maneuvers. A boat windlass greatly facilitates these sometimes tricky operations, especially in difficult weather conditions or in narrow places where maneuvering can be arduous. Choosing the right windlass for your boat is crucial to ensuring safe sailing and a smooth mooring experience.

In this guide, we'll explain everything you need to know about windlasses. How do you choose the right windlass for your boat? What criteria should you take into account? What types of windlasses are available on the market? How do you install and maintain a windlass? This guide will help you answer all these questions and make the best choice for your boat. 

And if you'd like to find out more about different anchoring maneuvers, how to choose your boat anchor and the legislation governing boat anchoring, read our guide to boat anchoring: definition, operation and regulations.

header mobile guide guindeau

All you need to know about boat guides

A boat windlass is a device for raising and lowering a boat's anchor. It is essential for safe mooring and anchoring maneuvers. A boat windlass greatly facilitates these sometimes tricky operations, especially in difficult weather conditions or in narrow places where maneuvering can be arduous. Choosing the right windlass for your boat is crucial to ensuring safe sailing and a smooth mooring experience.

In this guide, we'll explain everything you need to know about windlasses. How do you choose the right windlass for your boat? What criteria should you take into account? What types of windlasses are available on the market? How do you install and maintain a windlass? This guide will help you answer all these questions and make the best choice for your boat. 

And if you'd like to find out more about different anchoring maneuvers, how to choose your boat anchor and the legislation governing boat anchoring, read our guide to boat anchoring: definition, operation and regulations.

The GUindeau bateau, a practical piece of equipment

What is a boat windlass?

The anchor windlass is a practical mechanical device to help anchor a boat, designed specifically to facilitate anchor maneuvering. Its main role is to raise, lower and hold the anchor in a controlled manner. 

There are 2 types of windlasses: vertical windlasses and horizontal windlasses. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. A windlass enables yachtsmen to moor and anchor safely and efficiently. It is generally installed at the bow of the boatclose to the bow, to facilitate anchor handling from the deck.

The anchor is connected to a chain which is wound around the windlass sprocket . When the windlass is activated, it sets this sprocket in motion, unwinding the chain or winding up the chain, thus raising or lowering the anchor. 

Some windlasses are equipped with a headstock, an additional element which allows you to wind or unwind a rope, and once the engine is disengaged, to use the windlass as a winch, for example.

composition d'un guindeau bateau
Composition of a vertical windlass

How does a windlass work?

A windlass is a device used to hoist or lower a boat's anchor and mooring chain, reducing the sailor's physical effort. A windlass can be either electric or manual.

A manual windlass is operated by a crank or handle, which the sailor turns by hand to drive a gear mechanism. This mechanism turns the sprocket, which is a toothed wheel adapted to the diameter of the chain. The chain is wound or unwound around the sprocket, depending on the direction of rotation of the crank. A manual windlass is simpler, lighter and less expensive than an electric one, but it requires more time and energy to haul in the anchor, especially if it's heavy or deep.

An electric windlass works on the same principle as a manual windlass, but is powered by an electric motor connected to the boat's battery . Simply press a button or remote control to activate the motor. An electric windlass is faster, easier and more comfortable than a manual one, but requires more complex and costly installation, as well as significant power consumption.

barbotin guindeau
How the sprocket works

Choosing the right windlass for your boat

How to choose your windlass?

It's crucial to choose the right windlass for your boat, because every craft has its own specific mooring and anchoring requirements. Using the wrong windlass can lead to safety concerns, complex maneuvers and even damage to the boat or its equipment. That's why it's essential to take several factors into account when making your choice.

guindeau vertical bateau

The size and weight of your boat are essential criteria to consider. A larger, heavier boat requires a more powerful windlass to lift and maneuver the anchor efficiently. It's also important to consider your sailing habits. If you frequent areas with strong currents or difficult seabeds, opting for a sturdy, reliable windlass is a must.

The size and weight of your anchor are closely linked to the characteristics of your boat. If your boat is large and has a high windage, you'll need a heavier anchor. A sturdier anchor windlass is essential for optimum handling. For more information on selecting the right anchor for your boat, I encourage you to consult our complete guide to anchoring.

The configuration of your deck and the space available to install the windlass are also factors not to be overlooked. Some boats have space constraints that may restrict your choice of model. A vertical windlass will take up more space below deck, and will suit larger chain wells. A horizontal windlass will take up more space on deck and less below.

Please note For all windlass chains with a diameter of 6mm, 8mm or more, there are precise standards defining their configuration. Each type of sprocket corresponds to a specific chain standard. In Europe, ISO is the most common chain standard. It's essential to check your chain's standard, as it defines the spacing between links. Failure to check the standard can lead to chain slippage on the sprocket.

Vertical windlass

Vertical windlasses are a popular choice, thanks to their ease of installation on the bow and their superior pulling power. Their axis of rotation is positioned vertically, and the gear motor is discreetly housed below deck. 

What's more, their design allows the chain to wrap 180 degrees around the sprocket, improving safety and stability when manoeuvring.

A notable advantage of vertical windlasses is their discreet profile, which blends harmoniously with the deck. 

However, a vertical windlass will require more depth below deck and in the chain well. A minimum drop of 40cm is recommended to allow the chain to be stowed by gravity.

schéma guindeau vertical
schema guindeau horizontal

Horizontal windlass

Horizontal windlasses,with the axis of rotation located horizontally, are contained in an on-deck structure requiring more space on deck than in the anchor locker .

The anchor chain makes a 90° turn around the sprocket and then drops into the chain well. A 30cm drop is recommended. Horizontal windlasses are therefore particularly suitable for boats with limited space in the anchor locker. What's more, they're relatively easy to install, requiring only a few holes to secure them to the deck.

Their accessibility for maintenance operations is a major asset. In short, horizontal windlasses are ideal for boats with space constraints, offering a practical and efficient solution for mooring and anchoring maneuvers.


What power for my windlass?

When choosing a windlass for your boat, it's essential to select the right power to ensure safe and efficient mooring. This involves considering several factors and calculating the minimum pull required.

Several factors come into play to determine the ideal power of your windlass:

  1. Anchor weight: Knowing the weight of your anchor is essential.
  2. Chain length: The length of chain used in the mooring.
  3. Chain weight per metre: This weight depends on the chain diameter (see table below).
  4. Chain diameter: Windlass chain diameter (6 mm, 8 mm, 10 mm, etc.).
  5. Cable length: If used, the length of the cable (usually negligible).
Chain diameter Weight per metre (kg/m)
6 mm 0,8
8 mm 1,4
10 mm 2,2
12 mm 3,2

Windlass Power Calculation

To estimate the ideal power for your windlass, perform the following calculation: P = 5x Total anchor weight. The total weight breaks down as follows:

Power = 5 x [Anchor weight + (5 x hull length x chain weight per metre)]

Example :

Let's consider a 10-meter sailboat equipped with a 50-meter-long, 8mm-diameter chain and an anchor weighing a minimum of 14 kg. 

  • Anchor weight = 14 kg
  • Hull length = 10 m
  • Chain weight per metre = 1.4 kg/m

Minimum windlass power = 5 x [14 kg + (5 x 10 m x 1.4)] = 455 W


So this 10-meter sailboat would need a windlass of at least 500W.

Now you know how to choose the power of your windlass, estimate the total weight of the anchor and use the formula to determine the minimum power.

In general, opt for a slightly higher wattage than calculated, for reasons of safety and efficiency. Always consult the manufacturer's specifications for specific recommendations.