Everything you need to know about electric winches

Why should I equip my boat with electric winches?
Electric winches make it possible to sail bigger boats shorthanded. Crew can perform any task onboard, regardless of their strength, size or physical condition. With the simple push of a button, small crew members can hoist large crew members up the mast, sheet the jib in high winds, or execute other heavily loaded tasks. Jobs such as grinding the mainsail are effortless. In marginal conditions, a single electric winch can make the difference between sailing and motoring.

What maintenance is required?
In addition to checking electrical connections and monitoring the battery charge level, service the winch like a manual one. Clean out dirt with a mild solvent and apply a light coat of grease. Oil the pawls and springs periodically.The gearbox and switch seals keep out water.

How do I size electric winches?
Always size electric winches to the highest load. For example, if you use the winch for both the halyard and genoa sheet, size the winch to handle the load of the genoa sheet.

Manual operationIs it hard or dangerous to drive an electric winch manually?
Inserting a locking handle when the winch is not under load automatically disconnects the electric motor gearbox for sailing without electric power. Switches are available with guard covers to prevent accidental starts.

What is the best location for a single electric winch?
Harken winch motors are small and come in horizontal or vertical positions to fit a variety of spaces. Cabin top mounted winches make sense for halyards. Smaller boats may find there is more room for the motor and gear box in the primary position. Lead halyards to these winches by running them to a snatch block mounted near the gunwale and then to the winch.

What systems should I power?
Electric winch systems commonly trim the genoa sheets and the main halyard. In many cases, it’s possible to lead the main halyard back to a powered primary winch.

What else can I power?
Electric winches can furl the genoas or mainsails, raise the anchor, or help dock the boat. You can also make a simple, effective rescue system by leading a line from a lifting block to an electric winch.

2 speed winchAre all electric winches powered in two speeds?
Some electric winches are two speed in the manual mode and one speed in the electric. Harken electric winches are two speed in both modes. The ability to choose a winch operating speed is always an advantage. For example, in light air you can sheet the genoa with the fast first gea and fine tune in 2nd. You can also use the slower second gear to raise someone up the mast.

For fast line speeds, winches from size 60 may be special ordered with three speeds. The third speed engages the same way as in a manual winch.

How do I switch gears?
There are two labeled switches for each winch. Press for the desired speed.

How do I figure my battery requirements?
Calculate the amount of electricity you need for all systems per charging period. Compare this number to your battery capacity. For optimum battery life and performance, your battery capacity should be three times the daily draw. For example, if electrical draw is 100 amp-hours per day, you will need 300 amp-hours of battery capacity.

How do two-speed versus one-speed winches affect battery drain?
A Harken two-speed winch drains less power from the battery because it offers the mechanical advantage of a second gear. A single-speed winch operates in the motor’s upper range and draws more amps. Because line speed slows dramatically in the upper range, time of use is comparable to two-speed, but amperage draw is greater.

What type of batteries do I need?
You need deep cycle-type batteries designed for deep discharges and repeated charge/discharge cycles. Gel batteries can handle deep discharges, are maintenance free and do not leak. Wet-type marine batteries are less expensive, but require maintenance. Premium version of wet batteries offer the longest life, but are the most expensive and require maintenance.

Should I have a separate battery for electric winches?
No. It is best to have a bank of batteries to run your electrical components. A bank of batteries allows a slow draw from a large electrical supply and provides better battery performance. An exception is the battery system that starts the motor. Since charging the system with the engine is so important, a separate battery system helps insure this capability.

Volts and amps
Does it matter whether I have a 12 or 24-volt system?
Check your system and specify voltage when ordering. Most boats in the USA are 12 volt. Boats using 24-volt systems are more common in Europe. Because a 24-volt system requires half as much amperage, the wire and circuit breaker (fuse) can have lower amperage. Larger winches, such as the 1110, 1120 and 1140, are available in 24 volt.

Anything Else?
You will need wire and a circuit breaker. Match wire size to the size of the winch, system voltage and wire length. Harken offers four high amperage, waterproof circuit breakers rated to 30 volts DC.

What is an amp-hour? How is is measured?
An amp-hour is the product of the amps multiplied by hours of use. For example, an electric winch that uses 100 amps for 12 minutes (.2 hour) per charging period consumes 20 amp-hours (100 x .2). To calculate your battery requirements, total this number with other systems on the boat.

How much electricity do electric winches use?
Although electric winches can consume as much as 150 to 200 amps, they do not run for long periods of time. A day’s worth of winch time might amount to no more than 10 minutes. Many measure the amp-hours used for each electrical device, calculate their total electrical needs, and match this to battery capacity.

How many amp-hours will an electric winch user per day?
Winch amp-hours vary according to voltage, winch size and frequency of operation between charging periods. If you have a 24-volt system, you will use 30 to 35 amp-hours per day. With a 12-volt system, you will use 50 to 55 amp-hours. Larger winches—66 and up—use 50 to 55 amps in 24 volts. Considering a winch can draw 150 amps, the amp-hours listed may seem small, but remember winches run for only a short time.

How do I check the system to see if my estimated amp-hours work with my battery and charging system?
Digital amp-hour meters will display the number of amp-hours consumed by winches and your other electrical systems, including charging sources. You can also buy voltmeters and meters for monitoring your battery and charging system. If your boat has no metering system, you can purchase one with all three functions in one meter.