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 deck—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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20 comments on “Windlass Maintenance
  1. Richard says:

    How did you get the lower friction clutch that was jammed on the shaft off. Mine is jammed as well.

  2. Thomas says:

    Hello James,
    If that is still an open issue, I might be able to help here.
    Are you looking for CRC Rost flash 10864?
    I‘ve found a german online shop that would ship to me. I then could forward to you easily. They also carry other CRC products – so please let me know the exact specification and I‘ll look into it.
    Address to ship to?
    Number of cans? 3?


    • Thomas says:

      Just had a little closer look into this and have some doubts that No. 823-2586 of RS really is the one that you‘re looking for. Seems that CRC US and CRC Europe have different portfolio.
      I believe you need more like Wuerth 89315. They recommend it also for salt water atmospheres and off shore applications. Website is available in English. Wuerth is a well known industrial supplier here with high reputation.

      • CRC Rost flash is a penetrating oil that looks pretty good. It’s a different application to what I’m looking for but still looks worth a try for corroded metal part disassembly. Wurth 83315 does look to be similar to CRC Heavy Duty Corrosion Inhibitor. Thanks for passing that along.

        • Thomas says:

          If you would like me to send you some just give me a PN with shipping address. Would be a small “thanks” for all the valuable info that you share with us…

          • That’s very kind of you to offer Thomas. In this case, the windlass and fittings have been covered in grease and I think that’ll hold us for a year. Thanks for the blog feedback as well.

            • Chasm says:

              RS No. 823-2586 aka CRC 10864 Rost Flash is most likely the wrong product. It is a cyrogenic rust loosener, not a protective coating.

              There does not seem to be a direct equivalent to CRC 3013 Soft Seal in the CRC Europe catalog.
              Perhaps ask the Maxwell Europe office in NL what they recommend? Or CRC Europe for an equivalent to Soft Seal.

              • Rost Flash looks like a great product but, as you said, not what I’m looking for. What I’m after is “CRC Heavy Duty Corrosion Inhibitor” usually sold through their marine focused group but widely available in the US. But, no problem, the fittings and pump are currently covered in a thin layer of heavy grease and they’ll be fine this way for now. Whenever I get the product I’m looking for, I’ll clean it up and re-coat it then. Thanks!

  3. John says:

    James, Have you used fluid film for anti-corrosion purposes? It comes in an aerosol and non-aerosol formulations so it may be easier on shipping.

    • It’s a super harsh environment and, as a consequence, light oil based solutions like this one just don’t seem to last very well and I’ve got fairly heavy corrosion. The solution I would like to find in Europe is a waxy based sealant that actually hardens to thick layer that can only be removed with mineral spirits. But, in the absence of that, I applied a layer of grease which will be effective but requires a bit of care to avoid getting the grease on your hands, clothes, and hair :-)

  4. Ken Anderson says:

    James – what do you use for anti-corrosion? The manual specifies CRC and several others I have not been able to obtain in Europe.

    • I’ve got the same problem as you Ken. CRC would be excellent but I can’t get it here and transporting aerosols is difficult. I tired WD40 for a couple years but it required very frequent application and was generally ineffective. I then moved to an oil mist but still have been experiencing heavy corrosion. It wasn’t smart for me not to take action earlier but, because I was unable to get what I wanted, I ended up not doing as much as I should.

      The last approach I took was to grease the pump and fittings with heavy duty grease on the belief this would be effective and accepting the obvious downside of needing to be careful in the anchor locker to avoid getting grease on fingers, hair, etc. I would rather have the CRC spray but, until I can get it, I’ll use grease as a temporary measure. When a better solution is easily available, I’ll use spray engine cleaner to clean off the grease, clean up the parts, and then spray them down.

      • Ken Anderson says:

        Thanks James. I was going to down the WD 40 route. Interestingly, you see a lot of CRC products here in Malta and I am slowly calling the shops who carry it but have yet to find the products specified in the manual. If I do, I’ll be sure to let you know where.

        • My findings where that WD40 is pretty close to useless in that application. I suspect grease will work fairly well but, if you find a source of CRC, I’ll move quickly to that solution. Thanks.

      • Terry Gregory says:

        Hi to you both, I,ve been following your journey since you arrived in Ireland and must say I’m in awe of you both. Just done a little research and CRC is available from RS Components in the UK and they have a branch in Haarlem and CRC is listed in their product catalogue No. 823-2586. Hope this is of some help.

        • Good find Terry. I bought frequently from RS Components when we were staying in London but they refuse to take online orders from the Netherlands from non-commercial entities. They sent me to their international dept and they just won’t do it. Why they wouldn’t just recommend buying from RS Components in the Netherlands is hard to figure out but, with your help, I just placed an order for 3 cans of CRC Heavy Duty Corrosion Inhibitor. Thanks for finding the Haalem office.

          • It turns out the local RS Components office accepts orders but just ignores them if they are not from a business. They accept the order but just don’t confirm it and, if you follow up with them, they say “can’t ship.: So, that one didn’t work out but you got, by far, the closest to success so far.

  5. 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:

      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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