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There are a number of important criteria to be considered in selecting the correct anchor winch. These include the vessel size, displacement, windage, anchor size and rode selection. Practicalities such as locker space and depth of fall for the rode also play a part in deciding which windlass is ideal for you.

Maxwell's range of windlasses and capstans is extensive, with models to suit boats from 6 metres (20 feet) to 60 metres (200 feet) and more. This section aims to simplify the selection process by taking you step by step through all the criteria that needs to be considered when choosing a windlass or capstan.

Consider the overall length and displacement (either light or heavy) of your boat .

The two basic types of windlasses are differentiated by the drive shaft orientation. Deck thickness and underdeck space are the two main considerations when deciding which of the two types to fit.

Vertical windlasses make up the majority of anchor winch sales. They are characterised by situating the capstan and/or gypsy above deck and the motor and gearbox below deck. Vertical windlasses provide a 1800 wrap of the anchor rode around the chainwheel giving optimal chain control, minimising slippage and jumping.

Horizontal windlasses are mounted completely above deck with gypsy and capstan located to either side. They provide a 900 wrap of the rode around the chainwheel.

Deck thickness and locker space play an important role in deciding whether to install a vertical or horizontal windlass. Estimating or measuring the depth of fall of the rode into the anchor locker may dictate which type of windlass is most suitable for your vessel. Calculating the depth of fall differs for horizontal chain only windlasses and for vertical rope or rope/chain windlasses.

Rope and/or chain, particularly chain selection, is extremely important. Deciding on the right anchor winch for your boat depends on the size, not only of the boat, but also the ground tackle. Maxwell anchor winches and capstans are designed to take chain only, rope only or a combination of both. Automatic rope/chain systems are now commonly used on boats up to 20 metres (65 feet). Consequently, Maxwell's Freedom and Liberty Series automatic rope/chain systems have become increasingly popular, as they offer the added benefit of less weight in the bow with the ability to carry an increased amount of rode. Chain only systems remain popular on heavier displacement sail and motor yachts.

There are two main types of anchor chain. Short link chain is most commonly used on small and medium sized boats while stud link chain is generally used on much larger vessels such as Superyachts. The latter is characterised by a stud (bar) joining the two sides of the link preventing them from deforming when overloaded. High test or calibrated short link chain should always be used. Long or regular link chain.

There are a wide variety of both metric (mm) and imperial (inches) chain sizes available and these will have bearing on your final windlass decision. It is important that the right size and right grade of chain is used to ensure a correct fit of the links to the gypsy. If the chain is not matched to the chainwheel problems may occur, such as the chain jumping off the gypsy or the chain jamming as it will not feed smoothly through the chainpipe.

As chain to chainwheel compatibility is so important, Maxwell supplies chainwheels to fit just about every known chain available on today's international market.

The wattage of a DC electric motor is not the important factor. Rather it is the efficiency of the whole winch, including the gearbox and motor, which counts. With the increasing popularity of powerful and compact on-board generators, AC powered winches are becoming a practical consideration for bigger boats. Hydraulic systems provide another power source well worth considering as they have the advantage of constant speed under all load conditions and can be run almost constantly while coupled with safe guards such as pressure relief valves. Modern hydraulic systems offer an integrated, low maintenance and efficient, centrally managed, power pack.

The only meaningful way to rate anchor winch performance is by looking at what it will lift and at what speed. The two things to consider are (a) the maximum pull capability and (b) the working load of the winch. Maximum pull (sometimes referred to as stall load) is the maximum short term or instantaneous pull of the winch. Working load is generally rated at about one third of the maximum pull and is usually considered to be the load that the winch is pulling once the anchor is off the bottom. To determine your required maximum pull capability, complete the calculation below.

1. Calculate ground tackle weight (anchor + chain + rope = ground tackle)
eg: Anchor 18m/60ft Chain 61m/200ft rope Ground tackle
30kg/66lbs 40kg/88lbs 12kg/26lbs 82kg/180lbs
2. Calculate the maximum pull (total ground tackle x 3 = Maximum pull)
Safety guidelines suggest that the pulling capacity of the windlass should not be less than 3 times the total weight of the ground tackle.
eg: GROUND TACKLE maximum pull
82kg/180lbs 246kg/540lbs
In this instance a Freedom 800 or VW 800 or HWC 650 would be suitable. The maximum pull of 246kg/540lbs is well within the capability of all these anchor winches.

Circuit breaker/isolators are used in the installation of any DC electric windlass to provide protection to motor and cables should the windlass be overloaded. Accessories such as chain stoppers or chain snubbers are highly recommended for safe anchoring, the avoidance of unintentional self-launching of the anchor and for the prevention of damage to your anchor winch.

You should never anchor off your winch or use your winch to draw your boat
to the anchor spot. The anchor winch is designed to pull up a dead weight and should not be subjected to the strain of your boat riding at anchor.

If you think the winch you are considering may be too small, then go to the next size up. Better to have excess lifting capacity than not enough!

General Products

Maxwell equipment is born of innovation and backed by years of experience. All our anchor windlasses, ancillary deck gear, stern-handling products and accessories provide a level of quality, functionality, durability and style that is unparalleled in the industry.

To make the proper selection in anchor-handling equipment, it is important to give careful consideration to the style and size of boat, the anticipated anchoring conditions, and the weight and type of ground tackle. For assistance in determining what anchoring solution is right for you, refer to the Which Winch section above, or contact your nearest Maxwell representative

Vertical vs Horizontal Winches

Vertical systems have several advantages: They take up less space on deck and are easier to maintain. They are less expensive than equivalent horizontal models. Chain alignment for smooth chain retrieval, while important, is not as critical as horizontal windlass alignment. With vertical systems more chain is in contact with the chainwheel thus avoiding the possibility of chain jump. Line-pull on the warping drum can be in any direction, as opposed to fore and aft only on horizontal models.

Horizontal models have the advantage of being better suited to applications where there is limited below deck space / accessibility, extreme deck thickness (over 200mm - 8"), or where two anchors must be handled from one winch.


This section provides some universal guidelines on winch safety and correct anchoring procedures. Winch safety starts with winch selection. A correctly specified and installed Maxwell Anchor Winch will provide years of reliable, trouble-free anchoring. If in doubt regarding windlass selection, refer to the product information section of this web-site or the Find Us section for your nearest Maxwell retailer, service agent or representative.

Tips and guidelines:

  • Be sure the windlass has been correctly specified and installed
  • The windlass should be used in conjunction with a chainstopper of the appropriate size
  • Run the boat engine while raising or lowering the anchor. Not only is this a safety precaution, it also helps minimise the drain on the batteries
  • Always motor up to the anchor while retrieving the rode. Do not use the windlass to pull the boat to the anchor
  • If the anchor is fouled, do not use the windlass to break it out. With the chainstopper taking the load, use the boat's engine to break the anchor loose
  • Do not use the windlass as a bollard! In all but the lightest conditions, engage the chainstopper or bollard after completing the anchoring manoeuvre. This will avoid damage to the gearbox and possible bending of the stainless steel shaft
  • In heavy weather conditions, always use a heavy anchor snub or stop from the chain directly to a bollard or firmly fixed deck cleat
  • NEVER use the windlass or chainstopper as a mooring point
  • Always turn the isolator switch "OFF" before leaving the boat
  • When using the windlass do not switch immediately from one direction to the other without waiting for the windlass to stop as this could damage the windlass
  • Do not depend on the windlass to hold the anchor in its bow roller. A nylon line or an alternative anchor tension system should be used to secure the anchor to its stowed position when underway and will need to be removed before operation of the windlass. Alternatively, a pin through the bow roller and the shank can be used for securing
  • Correct fit of chain to chain wheel is essential for the windlass to operate properly.

Anchoring Procedures

Books on seamanship all have a section on how to properly and safely anchor your boat. The summary below is intended only as a basic guide to acceptable anchoring technique. Maxwell recommends that correct anchoring technique be researched and understood thoroughly before going to sea

Tips and Guidelines:

  • Before deciding where you want to anchor, slowly cruise around the anchoring site and check the boats already at anchor, to ensure you have enough room to swing
  • Allow adequate room around the spot where you wish to anchor. Remember that power vessels swing differently than yachts. Boats on rope rodes swing around more than those on chain
  • Slow down and keep the bow into the wind, or current, whichever is stronger and as the boat comes to a complete stop, start to lower the anchor
  • After lowering the anchor, either drift back or slowly reverse while paying out the anchor rode, in order to ensure the anchor is set (holding firm)
  • The amount of anchor rode you pay out should always be at least three times the depth of water in which you are anchoring
  • In case the engine fails to restart, do not switch off the engine until you are sure the anchor is set (holding firm). Use buoys as reference points if they are available or, if close to shore, use prominent landmarks to check you are holding your position
  • Once anchored, secure your anchor rode with the chain stopper or secure to a deck cleat or bollard with a hitch that is easy to cast off. Do not anchor off your winch
  • Have a small buoy handy, which you can tie to the end of your anchor rode in case you have to slip your anchor. You will then be able to recover your anchor & rode later
  • Always anchor your boat via the bow
  • Check your position frequently when at anchor to monitor drag


Well maintained and cared for, a correctly specified and installed Maxwell Anchor Winch will provide years of reliable, trouble-free anchoring. Below is a brief summary of recommended procedures to ensure you get the best out of your Maxwell Winch year in and year out.

Tips and guidelines:

  • Accumulation of dirt and debris is the biggest problem for any equipment. Routinely wash down the above deck portion of the winch and chain with clean salt or fresh water.
  • Remove any corrosion build up and coat with a suitable protective product. This applies especially to the gearbox and motor
  • Ensure that the clutches are in good working order by releasing and re-setting them during inspection and wash down. Periodic greasing of the clutch cones with a waterproof marine grease is essential.


  • Above deck components should be removed and greased following the appropriate maintenance and installation instructions in the owner's manual. Check the level of oil in the gearbox and top up as per instructions if necessary
  • Underdeck components should be sprayed, preferably with CRC-3097 Long Life or alternatively, CRC 6-66, CRC "Soft Seal" or WD 40
  • Particular attention should be paid to the motor terminals, footswitch terminals, terminals on the reversing solenoids, plus the battery and isolator terminals to ensure all are in good working order


Repeat procedures under PRIOR TO SEASON


Before storage, carry out procedures under PRIOR TO SEASON

  • ABOVE DECK COMPONENTS: Clean the windlass with a cloth damp with kerosene (paraffin). Spray, preferably with CRC 3097 Long Life or, alternatively, CRC 6-66 or WD 40. Polish off with a clean non-fluffy cloth
  • GEARBOX: The Maxwell gearbox is a totally self-contained sealed unit. Providing the windlass is not abused this unit should give years of trouble free service. Every three years the gearbox should be removed, oil drained, cleaned and replaced with SAE 90
  • RECOMMENDED LUBRICANTS: Gearbox Oil: SAE 90, (e.g. Shell Omala 320, Castrol Alpha SP 320). Mainshaft and bearing: Marine grease, lithium based or lithium complex based, (e.g. Duckhams Keenol, Castrol LMX). Do not use soap-based grease. Above deck components: CRC 3097 spray
  • Most anchor winches on vessels up to about 18 metres use 12V or 24V DC electric motors. It is important if the motor is not kept well protected and serviced. Neglect of the winch's electric motor is one of the most common causes of windlass failure
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. How do I know which Maxwell winch I should install aboard my boat?
A. The latest Maxwell General Products and Superyacht catalogues have a section advising you how best to ascertain which windlass is best suited to your boat and your requirements. If your boat is in the 6 meter (20 feet) to 20 meter (65 feet) range, then the General Products catalogue should provide you with most of the background information you need. If you are fortunate enough to be considering the most suitable windlass for your Superyacht (vessels generally over 25 meters (80 feet), then the "15 Easy Steps to Windlass Selection" chart in Maxwell's Superyacht colour catalogue should provide you with the information you need. Should you require further assistance with your windlass selection please do not hesitate to contact Maxwell or any of their representatives world wide. Contact details can be found under the 'Find Us' section of our web site.

Q. What is the difference between a Winch and a Windlass?
A. There are many nautical terms associated with the anchoring of your boat. Winch and windlass are but two. To acquaint you with many of the commonly used terms associated with lowering and raising your anchor, we have provided a Glossary of Terms in both our General Products and Superyacht catalogues. These terms can also be found under the 'Support' section of our web site. Click 'Glossary'. For those of you who really want to get into marine nomanclature there is an excellent book available called: "The Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea", Oxford University Press.

Q. Which is Better, a Vertical or Horizontal Windlass?
A. Maxwell manufactures both. Refer to the "Which Winch" section of our web site under General Products or Superyacht Products headings for more information regarding which type will be most suitable for your boat.

Q. Which is better, an all chain or a combination rope & chain windlass?
A. Much will depend on your anchoring requirements. Maxwell manufactures a number of different winches suitable for all chain use or for rope and chain use.The Maxwell General Products catalogue details all available models and sizes. Or you can check our web site information under General Products. Just click under any of the models shown.

Q. What is the correct procedure to follow when I anchor my boat?
A. We have included an Anchoring Tips section in our General Products catalogue. You can also find this information under the Support section of our web site. Click on Winch Safety and scroll down.

Q. How much chain or rope and chain should I use when anchoring?
A. When anchoring your boat there are many factors to take into consideration. Depth of water, type of seabed, wind, tide and proximity of other vessels are all considerations. Books on seamanship will vary in their opinion. However, considering relatively sheltered anchoring conditions, you should lay out at least three times more chain than the depth of water you anchoring in (don't forget to allow for the rise and fall of the tide). If using a combination rope/chain rode then you will want to consider at least a five to one ratio of rode to water depth. Always remember, use common sense and if in doubt, lay out more rode.

Q. I've checked your web site and can't find the information I'm looking for. What should I do?
A. Maxwell products are sold and distributed around the world. Maxwell has appointed distributors, service agents and/or retailers in most countries. Click on "Find Us" on our web site for the help nearest you. Our Head Office in New Zealand, or our two branch offices in the USA and Australia, are alway ready to help if no one else can answer your questions. If you wish to contact us via e-mail us at: [email protected]