Service Your Winches!

Yes, another blog post about winch servicing.  I don’t claim to be an expert, this is only my story…

What do I care about my winches?

Your winches are unsung heroes, performing their grunt work thanklessly.  But, imagine what would happen if a pawl were to give way under a heavily loaded genoa in 25 knots of wind.  The winch handle would spin around with enough force to break bones.  We’ve all been on boats where the winch action sounds horrendous, like chain free falling through a windlass…you don’t want to be that guy.  Be the guy with winches that operate smooth as butter and you will have people fighting over who gets to grind for you.  Service your winches!

How difficult is it?

Servicing your winches is easy to do, although it becomes more difficult if you don’t do it often.  The grease hardens over time, making it more difficult to remove.  I made it even harder on myself by performing the work when it was cold outside (think cold hard butter on cold metal).  The most time consuming part is cleaning off all the old grease, which becomes even more difficult if it has been a while since they were serviced last.  I think our winches had the factory applied grease on them – hardened green stuff that they even slopped all over the palws (for shame!).

What do I need?

Here’s what I used:

  • 3:1 oil
  • Tube of winch grease
  • Some sort of solvent.  Lamp oil, diesel, kerosene, etc…
  • A couple of buckets you don’t mind getting greasy
  • Toothbrushes
  • Tools needed for your specific winch.  I only needed a flat head and phillips screw driver for my winches
  • Rags, plenty of them
  • Gloves
  • Degreasing soap (Dawn)
  • Simple Green
  • Spare springs and pawls
  • Some sort of plastic protectant such as 303 Aerospace, Armor All, or whatever
  • Metal polish (3M Marine Metal Restorer)
  • Q-tips, toothpicks, and other devices handy for scraping crud and hardened grease out of crevices
  • Warm water
  • Container for used solvent
  • Exploded assembly view chart of your winch (should be able to find it on the world wide web)

How do I do it?

Four easy steps:

(1) Disassemble…

Refer to the exploded assembly view chart that you found using a popular internet search engine for your specific winch.  I only needed a flat head and a philips to completely disassemble my self-tailing Lewmar 52’s.  Take special care when removing the pawls as the springs are small and they like to go flying.   Take photos!

Assembly Diagram
Remove four phillips screws on cap…


Pull apart collet, remove self tailor and drum…
Remove bearings, pull out shaft and gears…

(2) Clean…

Use solvent and a toothbrush for really greasy parts such as the bearings and gears.  Lightly greasy parts can be cleaned with warm soapy water and/or Simple Green.  I also polished the chrome parts with metal restorer, and cleaned the plastic parts with the 303 Aerospace Protectant.  Examine your springs and pawls for wear and replace if needed.

(3) Lube…

Smear winch grease on all the moving parts, except the springs and pawls, those get 3:1 oil so as not to get gummed up.  A little dab will do you, don’t go overboard!

(4) Reassemble…

Refer to the diagram and photos you took, and revers step #1.  If you didn’t take any photos in step #1, you are probably now regretting it.


  • Locate an exploded assembly view drawing of your winch on the internet.  You should easily find it using the internet search engine of you choice.
  • Take lots of pictures while disassembling to refer back to.
  • Only do one winch at a time to lessen the confusion of mixing up parts.
  • Don’t use harsh solvents such as gasoline.   You want a lubricating solvent.

-over and out-

One thought on “Service Your Winches!

  1. Helpful hint: cut a hole in the bottom of a cardboard box the same size as the base of the winch. Place box over the winch and disassemble winch. Any small parts “that go flying” or bearing cages dropped go into the box rather than skittering across the deck.
    Based on personal experience, bearing cages don’t float. When a ham-handed (me) repair guy drops the bearing or center shaft, there’s about a 60% chance they will go overboard as opposed to merely landing on deck.


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