Monday, January 27, 2014

Laughing and Learning your way through servicing your Sailboat Winches

Servicing the boats winches should be an annual maintenance exercise, but we procrastinate, we let it go to long and now the job must be done and more damage may have occurred because of the delay.

Heck we all know as sailors that the winches need to be serviced, so why not just take the hour or two and get it done?  I would suggest that for many people, it is because they are not sure exactly how to go about doing it, so it gets put on the "back burner".    Routine maintenance and servicing will keep the winches running free and easy and allow for a much less stressful sailing experience.

In this post and associated how to video, I will show the challenges that I faced because I procrastinated, as well as, show step by step how to remove the winch from the boat, service it, reassemble and reinstall on the boat.    Feel free to bookmark this page or the "Last Affair Boat Projects" page on our blog.  You can refer to it any time you have a need for some guidance on a project you are taking on or when you intend to service your winches.
Corroded base on the Barient Winch

We bought our boat about 2 and a half years ago and at the time I noticed that the base of the primary winches seemed like it was "melted".  In our case we have two Barient 28 Primaries and 3 Barient 21 winches.

Part of the metal was eaten away and I was mentally dreading doing this job and knew that as we finalized the refit on the inside it was time to work on the items outside, including the winches.  In addition to the visual side of it, when we made a passage from Houston to Corpus for a couple of days, it became evident that the winch was so much tighter and harder to use this time.  We had to fix it, and since I knew it would be a doozy, I figured I would film each part to show how we would overcome what lied ahead, in hopes that it helps you too.

Removing the winch from the Boat

We learned that it is a good idea to come up with a method to keep any parts that you remove and happen to drop, from going to the bottom of Davey Jones Locker.  On our last boat, we would lay down towels around the work surface to remove the tendency for a dropped item to bounce too high.  We would then build sort of a towel damn at the lower areas of where we were working so that
Barient Winch with small put bottom around it to prevent items from falling overboard
something rolling or falling would hit that and hopefully stop it from going over.  This time we used a slightly different method that I had heard others and it also worked pretty well.

I had heard that if you take a bucket and cut a hole in the bottom of it the same size as the base of your winch, you can essentially work and remove any screws and nothing can fall out of the bucket.  Doing this also made it harder to work down in the bucket.   I ended up using an old flower pot base that only had about a 4 -6 inch lip on it and cut a hole in that.  It allowed for easy access to the screws, and still provided some protection for anything that happened to fall.  I would suggest that you use one of these methods when you do the work and just use whatever one fits your location best.  You will notice in the picture that the bimini supports were in the way even for the solution that I used.

To remove the top keyed locking nut (the portion with the 2 holes in it) you are supposed to be able to
use a standard deck key, however none of mine were large enough and the specialty wrench I have for the Groco strainers was too large.  However, if you put the winch handle into the top of the winch, and an old hex wrench or bolt about the size of the hole, you can turn the handle counter clockwise against the hex wrench or bolt and it will rotate and loosen that nut that holds the drum on.  Once the nut is removed, you can lift up the drum.  BE CAREFUL that the bearings don't stick in the drum and fall out when you lift it off the shaft.  In the picture to the side, you can see that after lifting the drum off, the bearing were still on the shaft.


Once the drum is off and stored in a bucket or bag for cleaning later, it is time to remove the bronze winch assembly from the base.  There are 4 hex bolts in the base of the bronze winch.  In the picture  In this picture you can see 2 of the 4 bolt holes on this unit.   In order to remove these bolts I sprayed
Winch base with 2 of the screw positions showing
penetrating oil on these for about 24 hours ahead of when I was working on it and reapplied every few hours (WD-40, Berrymans, etc) In our case, that "melted" metal on the base, was the aluminum and the bronze fusing together.  Metals of different qualities react to one another when in contact in a conductive environment.  Salt water is a conductive environment so we as boaters, have to deal with this corrosion in many areas and on many levels.  Without going into a lot of detail on this, we are all familiar with the need for Zincs since they are a 'lesser' metal they corrode before vital parts of our engine do for example.  This same phenomenon is what impacted this winch.  The Bronze from the winch was in contact with the Aluminum base and without a protective coating on it, these 2 surfaces were touching for many years in a salt water environment.  This resulted in the aluminum corroding away and almost welding or fusing itself to the bronze.

Chasity helping to chisel the corrosion out from between the aluminum base and bronze winchAfter removing the bolts that held this winch in place it still would not come out.  I attempted prying up on the winch, however that felt like it was going to bend the base before anything came loose.  I attempted to try a rubber mallet.  I also used a heavier hammer, and tapped on the shaft (while it was protected and wrapped in line so as not to damage the smooth texture of the shaft).  These didn't work.  I also used a small putty knife and attempted to chisel a small groove in the fused together metals where the joint should have been.  This seemed to make progress but was not enough to break it loose (I even enlisted my grand daughter since she loves to help).   What ended up solving the problem was to tie a line to a cleat, wrap it around the shaft of the winch and over to another winch and apply pressure.  I did that and heard a pop sound with just a bit of light pressure and it was enough to pop that winch from the base.   I do think in the end it was the combination of the putty knife removing a good portion of the corrosion that was visible and then the winch pressure in the end to finish the job.
Line wrapped around Barient Winch and pressure applied to break corrosion loose

Cleaning and replacing worn parts

After removing the winch assembly it is time to remove all of the parts and prepare them for cleaning.  A good trick is to take the drum that you removed and stand it on a flat surface.  You can then put the base upside down in the drum opening to hold it steady.  There are 3 screws on the
Screws are identified by red circles (Click to enlarge)
bottom of the winch assembly that need to be removed (again these are hex bolts) and I needed to spray them with penetrating oil to remove them.  Once the 3 are removed, you can remove the bottom plate and start to remove the gears.  Before you remove too many, you are also going to have to remove the screw and washer/spacer that is on the bottom of the shaft, without removing it, you won't be able to completely disassemble the parts.  Everyone has their own process of removing something so they know how it goes back together.  These winches are pretty forgiving and if you have the diagram you can use that as a guide.  Some people prefer to take pictures as they remove each part so they have a visual reminder when assembling.  Others like to place them in a line as they remove them so they know the order in which components were removed.  What ever works best for you is fine.  I personally like the method of being able to follow the parts diagram since there are going to be times when you have to refer to them for this project or others.    This link contains documentation and a parts diagram for the Barient 28 winch.  There are also links to many other winches and manuals at the the "Barient Winch Manual link"

I like to inspect each part as I remove them and put them in a small bucket (2 gallons) that has diesel
Cleaning each part with diesel or kerosene
or kerosene in it.  This is what I soak the parts in and use later to clean them.  In my case, I used Kerosene, because I had it more readily available than anything else.  You can also use Paint Thinner, but I found that the first 2 tend to work better.  Now it is time to scrub all of the parts.  If your winches had a lot of grease packed in them, you may find that there is hardened grease in the valleys of each gear.  I used a small screwdriver to scrape that out.  I don't think that would be a problem if these had been serviced
Cleaning each part with diesel or kerosene
regularly.  If you don't want the fuel on your hands,  you can wear gloves, but be sure to get the blue nitril gloves and not latex as the latex will melt when in contact with some of the cleaning solutions.  I used a tooth brush to then scrub each part thoroughly.   If you have a stiff bristled straight brush that would be better.  I found some at harbor freight that worked well and were cheap enough.  The stiff straight bristles can reduce the splashing that will happen using a toothbrush due to the angle of the bristles.

Be sure to be careful with both of the "double gears" so that you don't pop out the springs or pawls.   In the photo below, which I have left large to make it easier to see, you will notice that the inner gear has too "flaps" on it.
These are called Pawls.  These pawls can lift out of the gear and there is a spring behind each one that forces it into its extended position.
Pawls and Springs prevent the winch from turning in reverse It is important that you do remove these for cleaning and you will likely need to replace the springs.  They are inexpensive so it is worth doing it while you have it apart.  I think it was about $20 for a package of 10 at West Marine.  In the photo below you can see what these pawls and springs do.  They act as a ratchet allowing the gear to rotate in one direction but not in the other.  When it turns into the opposite direction, the ends of these pawls make contact with the outer gear 'steps' and prevents rotation.    The video below as well as on the "Boat Projects" page demonstrates how to remove the pawl without losing the springs as well as how to put the springs and pawls back in.  This winch has 2 gears like this so a total of 4 pawls and 4 springs on the Barient 28 2 speed self tailing winch.  I suspect that is the same for most 2 speed winches


When all parts have been thoroughly cleaned, I like to lay them all out on a flat surface and inspect them all one more time before starting the re-assembly.  I also would make sure you have the supplies you will need on hand.  I used winch grease that I was able to pick up at West Marine.  You will
Lay out all parts and supplies needed for assembling the winch
notice I am using Harken grease, they also sold Lewmar grease but it was a bit more expensive and I couldn't tell any difference in the two so went for price.  I also have a small bottle of Lewmar oil to put on the springs and pawls.  We don't want to get grease on these since it is too sticky, just oil those parts without grease getting in them and you will have smooth operation.  I also have the package of springs.  NOTE: Be sure to get the correct springs, you will notice this is a Lewmar bag, but they are specifically for Barient winches.  Not all winches have the same shape springs.  Surprising this is the easier part of the job now and the work gets easier from here.  I like to dry fit all of the parts first before I put grease and oil on them.  Go ahead and assemble the unit a few times without putting the final backing plate on, to get familiar with the steps and order that things need to go back in.  There is a specific order and it becomes pretty obvious as you start to assemble that you need to put the items that are lower in first (when holding the winch upside down).

When greasing the bearings, don't overdue it.  Just a small amount will do.  I tend to hold the bearing in one hand and while squeezing some out of the tube, I rotate the needle bearing so that I make a small bead all the way around the bearing.  I use about half as much grease as you might put on your toothbrush when brushing your teeth.  I do this for each bearing and also apply grease around the teeth of each gear being careful not to get grease on the surface where the pawls are.   Everything should fit together smoothly and nothing will have to be forced with maybe the exception of the final bottom plate.  That I tend to tap on with a rubber mallet and then use the screws to draw it in tight.
A few things to point out when assembling.
Be sure the gear tops are all at the same height if not, the outer gear may be upside down
There is a point where you are putting the last 2 speed gear on, and the outer gear can go on right side up or right side down.  It is important that when they are assembled, the outer gear and inner gear and pawls are all the exact same height.  If they are not, you likely have the outer gear on upside down, remove it and turn it over.  I have included a photo of this but the video will show it a bit more clear.  If you finish your assembly and you can't rotate the gears by hand by twisting the top of the shaft, you may have this piece upside down and the plate is putting pressure on it making it hard to turn.  Finish the assembly by putting the last 3 screws in and validating that you can still rotate by hand.


Now it is time to install the bronze winch back into the aluminum base.  This is pretty simple and just a reversal of what was done to remove it with one VERY large exception.  We don't want to repeat this "removal of corroded metal" again so we will take some preventative steps to prevent it from happening again.  This time before putting the winch into the base, apply a thin coat of "Lanacote" that can be purchased at West Marine fairly inexpensively and really should be something you keep on board your boat anyway.
This is designed to create a protective coating between dissimilar metal to prevent this corrosion from happening.  In addition to putting the Lanacote on the contact points between the base and winch, I also dipped each screw in it that was going to make contact with both the bronze and aluminum.

After the winch is mounted to the base, it is time to apply grease to the last 2 large drum bearings and put them onto the shaft.  When complete, apply a small amount of grease to the underside edge of the drum where the teeth are, and slide it down onto the shaft and bearings.     The last step is to add the self tailer line catch and then put that keyed nut in the top.  Like removal, the easiest way to do this is to tighten as much as you can by hand, and then put an old screw/bolt or hex wrench into the holes and use the winch handle in a clockwise direction to turn that inner locking ring until tight.

Now you have the pleasure of turning the winch by hand and hopefully you will notice a big difference if it has been a few years since these were serviced on your boat.  I know I was amazed at the difference and they were working like new for just about $50 in parts (springs, grease, oil and Lanacote)  and some of my labor.  I believe that moving forward, this job should take between 1-2 hours per winch and I will be doing this every year for all of them.  This first time sure did take a lot longer than that, but that was due to years of neglect and I suspect it had been many years before I bought the boat that they had been serviced as well.

Below is a full length video (20 minutes or so) that shows all of the steps we have taken as well as the tools and products used to complete this work.  I hope you find this useful and can pass it on to your friends or local sailing clubs, etc.

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  1. Tony Bonnic here. I have owned my 1983 Gulfstar 36' since 2006. I have hull number 3605. My boat's name is CHAMAELEON. I have been doing a major overhaul for the past 12 months now. I found your blog by accident. Thanks so much for the video and all the reference material. I feel more confident now.

    1. Tony,
      I am glad to hear you found it useful. Someone was very helpful to me when I first considered buying this boat and I wanted to be sure I passed it on. If you ever have questions I will be glad to attempt to answer them based on things I may have done on this boat. If you found this useful please share the blog with your friends that could benefit from it.