Tips for Choosing The Right Boat Anchor Winch



Boat Anchor Winch

If you have retrieved a few anchors in your time, you’ll know the value of an anchor winch. Every boat owner has their reasons for installing a winch; it can save your back and reduce the chance of falling overboard, allows you to change your boat’s position multiple times in a fishing trip and can help you leave in a hurry if necessary.

But an anchor winch will only be a valuable piece of equipment if you choose the right one. Consider how much space you have available on your boat, the weight of your anchor, length of your anchor rode and what capacity a winch will need to have in order to lift your anchor and rode.  

The ability of an anchor to hold will depend upon the the design & shape of the anchor, the composition of the seabed material and the weight of the chain on the anchor. Make sure you have the correct anchor for your boat length before looking at a winch.

What are the Benefits of an Anchor Winch?

For large boats carrying heavy anchors that are impossible to retrieve by hand, an anchor winch is a necessity. Skippers of smaller boats have a choice to lift anchor themselves or let an anchor winch do the heavy lifting. Here are some of the benefits of using a winch:  

  • Safety – there may come a time when you need to retrieve your anchor and leave in a hurry. Weather conditions can change quickly or an approaching vessel that hasn’t seen you are just two reasons why you might want to pull anchor and leave fast. There is also less risk of falling overboard or injuring yourself on a boat trip if a winch is retrieving your anchor.  
  • Moving locations – if you have to lay and retrieve your anchor manually, chances are you won’t move fishing spots too often. With a winch, it takes less time and exertion to move the boat to a new position to try your luck.  
  • Physical Exertion – if you are getting on in years, you may not have the strength you once had. An anchor winch means you don’t have to struggle with the anchor; it’s just the push of a button to set and retrieve.

Information You Need to Know Before Choosing an Anchor Winch

With three different types of anchor winches and many sizes, it can be complicated choosing the right winch. But if you know the answers to the following questions you will be well on your way to selecting the correct size winch.

  • The length and weight of the boat - which you need to know in order to calculate:
  • The size & weight of anchor required to anchor the boat safely, which (along with the water depth you’ll be operating in) you need to know in order to calculate:
  • The size & length of rope & chain (also known as anchor rode) required to anchor the boat safely. The average rule of thumb is 3:1 rope + chain length to water depth e.g. 10m of water requires 30m of chain and rope to be paid out for the anchor to hold securely.
  • The capacity of the anchor well to house the winch and store the anchor chain and rope (anchor rode)
  • The required working load of the winch (its capacity to lift the entire length of rope & chain plus the anchor, when all is wholly suspended off the ocean floor)

Types of Anchor Winches

There are three kinds of anchor winches available:

Windlass Anchor Winches

A windlass anchor winch has the rope and chain rotate vertically over a winch which is in a horizontal position. The horizontal windlass has a 90-degree wrap of the anchor rode around a chainwheel.  This anchor winch pulls the anchor rode in and stores it in an anchor well/storage locker.

Windlass Anchor Winch

Capstan Anchor Winches

The capstan anchor winch rotates the anchor line horizontally around a winch which stands in an upright position. Also known as a vertical windlass, there is a 180-degree wrap of the anchor rode around the chainwheel.  

The hard work of a winch is completed by a gypsy that hauls the anchor’s rope and chain in and out of the water. The gypsy is designed to fit one or more diameter of the line (three strand, eight strand or twelve strand construction) and specific types of chain.   This anchor winch also stores the anchor rode in an anchor well or storage locker.

Capstan Anchor Winch

Drum Anchor Winches

A drum anchor winch gathers all the rope and chain on a drum, which means it is ideal for vessels which have no anchor well/storage locker to gather the rope & chain in so it can be mounted anywhere where the winch has a direct line pull over the bow roller.

Drum winches can be limited by the amount of rope and chain that can be contained on the drum.  To obtain extra length, you can use thinner (smaller diameter) rope with higher breaking strain.  This will increase the length of rope that can be stored on the drum, however it needs to be selected carefully for safety reasons.  It is also more expensive so can increase the overall cost.

Drum winches release the anchor rode very quickly and pull it in equally fast.

Drum Anchor Winch


Which Anchor Winch is Best?

Deciding which anchor winch to choose depends on the following five factors:

# 1 Bow Spit or Bow Roller

The boat must be fitted with a bow spit or bow roller to correctly house the anchor when it has been retrieved.  Without this, serious damage can be caused to the boat when the anchor is retrieved.

#2 Space Below Deck

An anchor and chain take up space, and before deciding on an anchor winch, you need to determine how much space you have available.

One type of anchor winch needs far more space below deck than the other. Vertical windlass winches (shown in the upper part of the below image) have the capstan and gypsy above the deck with the motor and gearbox below deck. Horizontal windlass winches (shown in the lower part of the below image) are installed entirely above deck so are better suited to boats that only have enough room for the anchor chain below deck.

The depth of the fall of the rode (the line or chain connected to the anchor) into the locker should also be considered. A minimum 400mm fall is recommended.  As a general rule, this will accommodate 50m of rope with 10m of chain attached or 60m of chain only. This may vary however depending on the shape of the bow, which differs from boat to boat.

Boat Anchor winch diagram

Image courtesy of Quick SPA


#3 Capacity of the Anchor Winch

If the anchor winch is too weak for the load, you are at risk of it not working when you need it most. Before installation, check that the anchor winch is strong enough to retrieve the rope, chain and anchor required to hold your boat.  The required working load of the winch is its capacity to lift the entire length of rope & chain plus the anchor, when all is wholly suspended off the ocean floor.

#4 Anchor Chain Length

Know the length and approximate weight of your anchor rode before purchasing your anchor winch. Most anchor winches will provide recommended chain, rope and boat lengths to ensure all components are suitable for the winch. You can either buy a winch to suit your current anchor setup or change your anchor setup to suit the winch.

The links in the chain also need consideration. Long and regular link chains shouldn’t be used with anchor windlasses. The right size and grade of the chain are required to ensure it is compatible with the gypsy. Chainwheel problems occur when there is a mismatch. The chain can jump off the gypsy or become jammed.

 #5 Anchor Rode (rope & chain combination)


All anchor winches require a special chain, which is called short-link chain (general-link chains will not work in an anchor winch).


When using a combination of rope & chain on an anchor winch, you will need to use specific types of rope. Choices are nylon or polyester.  Silver rope will not work in an anchor winch because it won’t grip in the jaws and will slip.

In shallow water, the average anchor rode required is 10m chain and 50m rope. For deep water, the average anchor rode required is 20m chain and 100m rope. The most basic anchor rode setup connects the anchor to the nylon anchor line. However, this is only appropriate for small boats. Larger boats of 40-foot should use an all-chain anchor rode. But even if you are using an all-chain rode, it’s essential to have some nylon at the boat end which can be cut in an emergency to free the boat from the anchor.

It is important in all instances to have a swivel between the anchor and the chain. If you do not have this, when retrieving the anchor it will spin and tie the rope in knots, which means it can’t pass through the winch.


Recommended Anchor Winches

Boat Accessories Australia recommend the following popular and reliable brands:

  • Viper Pro

  • Quick

Drum winches

The Viper Pro Series II 1000 has three different sized rope and chain kits to choose from. If your boat is more than 8 metres long the Viper Pro Series II 1500 can handle hauling a 37lb anchor. The kits come with everything you need to install including wiring and instructions.

Vertical anchor winches

The Quick DP2 Series 300w is a high-quality winch suitable for boats between 5-7.5 metres in length and the Quick DP2 Series 500w is ideal for boats from 5-9 metres. For 7-12 metre boats there is the Quick DP2 Series 700w and 8-13 metre boats may be best off using the Quick DP2 Series 1000w.  See the Specifications tab for more information on each product.

Horizontal anchor winches

If you’re looking for a horizontal anchor winch, we’d suggest considering:

Need some assistance choosing the right anchor winch for your boat?  Call one of the experts at Boat Accessories Australia on 1300 308 161 or contact us online.

Category: Anchors

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