Windlass Maintenance


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Our Maxwell 3500 windlass has performed flawlessly for us in a decade of use across thousands of anchorages around the world. To keep it that way, we disassemble and grease the top end every twelve months and change the oil every two years. Both were due recently.

In taking the windlass apart, we found far more wear than usual.  Usually everything looks great and disassembling it feels a bit like a waste of time, but this time was different. The base had a tangle of heavy fish line wrapped around it, the split ring at the lower friction wheel had partially come out of it’s groove in the shaft and both damaged the split ring and wore some marks in the shaft, the lower friction clutch was jammed on the shaft (probably due to the split ring problem mentioned above), the lower shaft circlip had rusted off, the oil was unusually dirty, and there was a surprising amount of corrosion where the housing is attached to the deck.

The corrosion is probably normal for a 10 year old part that has been used extensively in difficult salt water conditions. Likely the dirty oil is just bearing and gear wear. Mistakes that put excessive load on the windlass during retrieval can add greatly to wear and we suspect we must be guilty of at least a couple of those.  But we do our best to be careful and the oil isn’t seriously discolored but you can see some evidence of wear so we will move to annual oil changes.


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Unusual amounts of corrosion had built up where the windlass transmission is attached down below deckā€”it was really rusting badly and is very pitted. This has no impact on operation, but does produce lots of rust and some of the material falls below onto the seal which can cause early seal failure. We cleaned that area up thoroughly. The corrosion may have been caused by the the coating starting to fail after 10 years. We cleaned it up with a wire wheel and greased all exposed surfaces to reduce corrosion. 


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We changed the oil and it was fairly dark, so we changed and flushed it twice to clean out the dirty oil and we’ll move to an annual oil change interval since there are now signs of wear whereas previously it drained out looking like new oil.


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The lower circlip below the transmission was broken as well. We replace this circlip just about every time we take the windlass apart so this one isn’t surprising. Overall, there was more evidence of wear and age than we usually see. We replaced all the needed parts, cleaned up all the corrosion, and put it into service. It’s back to full operational speed and power.


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2 comments on “Windlass Maintenance
  1. Andy says:

    How many of those red shop rags do you carry on board? Are the available most places you travel?

    • The shop rags are a bit less than $0.50 each on Amazon. Here’s a couple of examples:
      *https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000ICRJ3G
      *https://www.amazon.com/Nabob-Wipers-Auto-Mechanic-Commercial-Perfect/dp/B01BJJ3EAI

      We purchased around 250 when the boat was new and have just washed them and re-used them since. I think I still have around 50 or 100 that haven’t yet been used and I’ve probably worn out 50 to 75 and there are about 150 currently in service. I used to go through prodigious amounts of paper towels whereas now, hardly any. It’s better for the environment, it’s challenging to store enough paper towels for long trips, and the shop rags often are nicer to use. We really like them.

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