How to service a simple winch

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by Steve Freedman

This document describes the way (a way?) to overhaul a simple single-speed winch such as the Gibb jib sheet winches found on a Westerly Centaur. This is a job which I've now done a few times, and the first time I was trepidaceous. However, once I'd done it the first time I realised how straightforward it is.

You will need:

old cardboard box about 2 x 1 feet, or 600 x 300mm if you prefer

sticky tape

Stanley knife

large sheet of cloth such as a towel

a few clothes pegs

large, strong flat blade screwdriver

possibly a crowbar or other strong, thin-ended lever

flat, clean surface

newspaper or sheet of card

possibly penetrating oil (PlusGas is the best. NOT WD40)

lolly stick or medium flat-blade screwdriver

kitchen roll/paper towels

fine-nosed pliers, forceps or tweezers unless you have delicate fingers

old toothbrush

small glass jar

a little diesel or paraffin

straight edge (6" or 150mm long, or thereabouts)

fine sandpaper (240 grit or finer), or fine grinding paste

metal polish (optional)

Ramonol or similar marine grease

light machine oil (e.g. 3-in-1)

This is what you do:

Note: There are ten photos to illustrate this job, but I can't manage to upload them at the moment. Stand by....

For the time being, they're on my blog at

1. Cut up the cardboard box to make it fit round the winch, and stick together what you need to with the tape. Peg the towel to the rail outboard of the winch. (See photo.1) These are precautions to avoid losing small, crucial and very springy bits over the side when you take the winch apart. It might also be wise to plug the cockpit drains.

2. Cover your flat surface with newspaper or card to provide somewhere to put the dirty and greasy bits.

3. Remove the plastic cap from the top of the barrel and lay it on the newspaper. Use a screwdriver to lever off the retaining ring around the hole (photo. 2).

4. Peer down the hole thus revealed and you will see the head of the only screw you need to undo (photo 3). Apply the screwdriver and put it to use. If the screw undoes easily, all is well. If you can't shift it by intelligently applied brawn, squirt a few drops of penetrating oil around the screw head and hope it does its job while you have a cuppa.

5. Remove the screw (using pliers or tweezers if necessary) and place it on the newspaper (photo. 4).

6. Try to lift off the winch barrel. If you're lucky it'll come straight off. If you're really lucky, all the bits will stay in place, held by the old grease. If you're really unlucky, the barrel will come off quicker than you expect, showering pawls and springs in all directions, including into the oggin. That's why the box and cloth are there. Be careful. Be very careful. Those bits are not easy to come by. If it won't lift, use the big screwdriver or, in extremis, a crowbar, to lever it up bit by bit. It may help to wiggle it a bit using either the built-in handle or a top-acting one in the hole (photo. 5). Don't shove your lever in too far to avoid damaging the pawls.

7. What you should now encounter is shown in photo 6. The handle will be obvious. The three pawls and their springs less so - they're small and may be caked in grease, as in the photo. Identify all the bits and note (mentally or otherwise) the orientation of the pawls and springs. A photo or sketch will help.

8. Remove each component to the newsaper, taking great care not to drop anything.

9. Use the lolly stick or one of the screwdriver blades to scrape off the bulk of the old grease (together with its dirt and grit) from all components, then wipe with the kitchen paper.

10. Use the toothbrush dipped in diesel or paraffin to get in the nooks and crannies and degrease the big components completely, particularly the teeth of the ratchet around the bottom of the barrel and up inside the central cylinder. Finally, put the pawls, springs, washer (from the lever) and screw in the small jar and give them a good shake with the diesel/paraffin to remove the last of the old grease.

11. Lay out the nice clean parts on a clean sheet of kitchen paper (photo. 9). This doesn't actually achieve anything, but does engender a sense of satisfaction. It also keeps them safe and out of the way while you...

12. ...give the base and the spindle the same treatment to remove all the old grease, dirt and grit.

13. Critically inspect the spindle. Check with a straight edge to make sure it's true. If it's not, you have a problem, as straightening it satisfactorily is probably beyond the average boat owner's DIY skills. You might try sanding off the relevant bits. Also check the smoothness of its surface. Without a roller bearing here, that's what ensures the smooth operation of the winch. Apply fine abrasive and/or polish as required.

14. Apply a little grease to the spindle, put the barrel back on and check that it spins freely. If not, clean off the grease and carry on smoothing - inside the barrel too. If all is well, remove the barrel and reassemble as follows.

15. First replace the handle and its washer, with a little grease below and above.

16. Secondly replace each of the three pawls together with their springs, taking care to get them the right way round - consult your earlier photo or sketch. Apply a few drops of oil to each.

17. Smear a little grease on the ratchet teeth round the bottom of the barrel, and a little more on the spindle, especially at the top. See photo.10.

18. Carefully replace the barrel. Spin it clockwise - it should now spin freely and make a satisfying clicking sound. Check that it doesn't move in the opposite direction. Check that the handle works correctly.

19. Replace the screw and tighten. It shouldn't be necessary to use a barrier compound such as Duralac or Tefgel as both components are stainless steel. But it wouldn't hurt.

20. Replace the retaining ring and plastic cap, remove the box and towel, clean up and put the kettle on. Or pour yourself a gin and tonic - you've earned it.