How to Choose the Right Boat Anchor Winch

Reeling in a heavy anchor from a few meters down can be tasking, no matter if it’s a small fishing boat, a bigger powerboat or sailboat. Having a winch installed makes all the difference. An electric winch does the heavy lifting so you don’t have to, saving you time and the strain on your back. If you’re moving your boat more often, then this adds up.


Most boats will have some type of winch. The basic distinction is between manual and electric boat anchor winches. There are obvious benefits to an electric winch besides using less muscle in getting the anchor up. First, there’s the added safety an electric winch provides. If you need to retrieve your anchor in a hurry, say when the weather suddenly turns bad, or a bigger vessel is coming your way, an electric winch can speed things up. You’re also less likely to have accidents in such cases, and be ready to steer out of the way. Next, is the ability to change locations much faster, like when fishing, and not missing that big catch. Lastly, there’s the convenience of a simple push of a button to get things done.

Different kinds of electric boat anchor winches can be installed on the bow. Depending on the size of the boat, including the overall length and weight, the weight of the anchor and the length of the rope or chain, you’ll need to specify a winch with the right amount of lifting capacity. You’ll also need to factor in the space in the boat for storing the winch and the rope and chain combination. Different electric winches are also available in terms of how they are designed, and hence, operate. Some will be more suitable for larger vessels, and others on boats with lighter anchor setups.

Types of Electric Winches

Capstan Anchor Winches


Also known as vertical windlasses, these winches are mounted vertically, with the motor usually housed under the deck. They retrieve the anchor rope and chain in a semi-circular horizontal motion around a sprocket, or gypsy, with the rope and chain freefalling into the anchor well below. The gypsy can handle different sizes of rope and chain combinations (also known as a rode), and pull the rope at any angle. Vertical windlasses need more space below the deck to house the motor and allow for the rode to freefall. This is why verticals windlasses are more common in larger boats, but the advantages are that the pulling assembly is always shielded from direct contact with water. However, they need more work during installation.

Windlass Anchor Winches


Also known as horizontal windlasses, these winches are positioned horizontally along the deck. The entire unit is above the deck, including the motor and gear assembly. The anchor rode is pulled around a chainwheel at a 90° angle and freefalls into the anchor well below. Less space is needed for the rode to be stored, making horizontal windlasses more suitable for small to mid-sized boats. The advantages of horizontal windlasses are that the rode can be specified in different widths, as the chainwheel and gypsy come in more variations. And with everything in plain view, horizontal electrical anchor winches are easier to install and service, but also more exposed.

Drum Winches


Drum winches are electrical anchor winches that don’t need space below deck, since the whole length of the rode is wound around a drum. This makes drum winches the ideal anchoring choice for smaller vessels with limited space. As with horizontal windlasses, the entire assembly is above deck, but can be positioned anywhere along the bow where the winch has a direct line to pull the rode over the bow roller.

Things to Look for in Electric Boat Winches

  • The motor pulling capacity. All electric winches are operated by geared motors that feed off the marine battery. Motors are 12V and are suited to different anchoring combinations. The winch needs to have enough power to quickly (and safely) retrieve a moored anchor and anchor rode from the ocean floor. Bigger vessels require heavier anchors and longer and therefore heavier rodes, so an appropriate winch with enough pulling power is what you need. Calculate the total weight of the anchor and rode and allow for a winch with slightly more pull, so as you don’t overwork the motor.
  • Anchor rodes require more consideration. It is recommended to get the right type of chain and rope combination, including the width and length of each, so they don’t get jammed. You can specify different types for different winches. Drum winches in this respect offer the most versatility. Larger boats will often have an all-chain rode, whereas smaller boats come with a rope and chain combo. For shallower water look to at least 10 metres of rope and 50 metres of chain, and double that for deeper water. Also consider the space below the deck for larger setups, as too little space hinders operation.

Winches are combined with other units in the boat. They are powered by a marine battery and operate by way of up and down switches on the deck, or from remote controllers. The rode line is fed through the bow roller, shielding the front when retrieving the anchor. Prices vary, with drum winches being the most affordable, whereas horizontal and vertical winches are generally priced according to pulling capacity.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.