Electric Anchor Winch Guide: How-To Select Safe Boat Control

Trying to buy a marine electric anchor winch for the first time can be overwhelming. If you’ve ever looked online, you know there are ton’s of options available. To provide you with the ability to make an informed decision, I wrote this buying guide. Before I move on to the electric type, let’s discuss boat anchor winches.

The Anchor Winch: What Is It & How Does It Function?

closeup photo of a Minn Kota Deckhand electric anchor winch

An anchor winch or windlass is a device that lowers and raises a boat’s anchor. It functions by manipulating a chain cable, via a notched spool called a gypsy wheel. Rotating this notched spool engages the links of the chain or rope. Which pulls up or pushes down the anchor.

Over the years, there was two traditional versions of anchor winches. One, a hand operated model for recreational boaters and two a hydraulic for large ships. Now for boaters who want to save time and effort there is a third type, the electric anchor winch.

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Table of Contents

What Is An Electric Anchor Winch?

This type of winch adds an electric motor supplied with energy from a marine battery to raise and lower an anchor. Like the tradition versions, it has a motor and a spool or spindle.

To use it, the winch will use two controllers either a wired switch or a remote control. Pressing the down switch/button will deploy/lower the anchor. Whereas engaging the up switch reels in the anchor.

 

Types Of Electric Anchor Winches

Which type you select depends on three factors. The first is where you intend on using it.

Location: Fresh Or Salt

Freshwater Version.

  • If you are boat on lakes, rivers, and streams, this anchor winch is the best option. Keep in mind though, using freshwater-rated motors in saltwater can void the warranty.

Saltwater Version.

  • For offshore boaters in the ocean, this is the better option. To combat rust damage, it will have anti-corrosive protection.

Method Of Operation

After you pick either fresh or salter water, it’s time to move on to which type of controller suits your needs.

Wired Switch:

selective photo of a black colored wired switch

  • As it sounds, this is a hard-wired switch. Either wired to a console or found on the unit itself. The toggle should have proper water sealing to protect from damage. Also look for tin-plated (marine-grade) wires, as these ward off corrosion.

Remote-Controller:

  • To increase convenience, this is a terrific option. As it allows you to be far from the unit, while still being able to operate the anchor. Options will include both corded or cordless versions. The latter is the best option as no wires equal almost no limit to where you have control.

The Boat Winch Orientation:

Which orientation you select depends on three considerations. First, how much space you have. Second, is the distance of chain fall needed. Then third is which appearance you prefer.

Horizontal Electric Anchor Winch:

This orientation has the electric motor and spindle sit in the horizontal position. The entire unit mounts above the deck which some boaters may find too noticeable.

Being above the deck, installation and maintenance is easier than a vertical unit. Also, it is better for boats with small anchor lockers.

Thus, horizontal models are great for boats with small or weird shaped anchor lockers. Another advantage is this type only needs a chain fall of 12-inches.

Other than the bulky appearance, it has one other disadvantage. A horizontal winch is less secure or powerful than vertical model. This is important if you boat in rough open waters as the chain/rope can dislodge from the unit.

a black colored horizontal anchor winch with blue rope rode

Vertical Electric Anchor Winch

As the name suggests, this type is about a vertical configuration. While the gypsy wheel is above the deck, the electrical motor gets mounted concealed below. Therefore its a great option for boaters looking for units much more sleek in appearance. Plus it’s more powerful than the horizontal version.

This type is suitable for boats with larger anchor lockers. But you need at least 18-inches of chain fall for a vertical anchor windlass.

Likewise, there are a few of possible disadvantages to consider. One is that installation and maintenance are going to be more complex. Two, is corrosion issues due to the motorized parts being in a potential damp locker. Third is snagging, because the chain/rope have to make more turns in this system.

blue and chrome colored Lewmar Vertical Anchor Winch

 

What’s Anchor Rode & Which Type Do I Need?

An anchor rode is a length of rope, chain or a combination of rope and chain that connects the anchor to the vessel. The type you choose depends the type of watercraft and location. For electric winches expect to use all-rope, or a combination. Full-chain rode is a better solution for serious ocean cruisers.

All-Rope Rode:

Most small fishing boats employ an anchor rode made of a nylon rope line. They use it because a full rope rode is lightweight, budget-friendly and easy to stow. While this type is strong, it lacks the abrasion resistance of an only chain rode. So if you anchor near coral, sharp rocks or locations with heavy wave action, this isn’t the anchor rode for you.

It’s also the most common material for electric anchor winches because they employ a drum. In a horizontal system like the Minn Kota deckhand, it gets wrapped around a drum. Then moves up and down via electric powered gear. So, no need to worry about tangles below in an anchor locker.

What length of rode do I need?

You can find the total length of anchor rode you need pay attention to the following ratios. The numbers denote the following:

Feet of line : per 1-foot of water depth.

  • 3:1 – Pontoon boat on a lake with little to zero current, wind or tide.
  • 5:1 – Small vessel on calm lakes, ponds, small sand bottom rivers.
  • 8:1 – Accepted standard for typical swells, winds or areas prone to storms.

For line diameter, this is the general rule of thumb:

Add 1/8-inch of diameter for every 9-feet of boat length.

Combo Rope-Chain Rode:

white rope attached to silver chain for boat anchor line

This is a combination of nylon line and galvanized chain. A combo is best for inland and coastal boaters. It’s also a terrific fix for electric winches that have issues of utilizing all-rope in strong currents.

The issue in question the boat shifting and the line lifting the anchor into a “stood-up” position. Which in turn makes the anchor slide across the bottom instead of stay in place. To fix this, boaters attach a length of chain to the anchor and the other end to the nylon cord. Doing so makes the chain take the weight shift instead of the anchor.

In general, there isn’t an equation to figure out how much length of chain you need. Most manufacturers recommended to have either one foot of chain for each foot of boat length. But in busy coastal areas or lakes this might not be plausible.

The disadvantage of a combination rode is extra weight in the boat. As well as less chafe resistance which means more maintenance.

Full-Chain Rode:

The usage of this type of rode is more common for big cruising boats. Due to it being strong, abrasion-resistant, and heavy so it stays on the bottom in harsh conditions. Disadvantages for it are for most small-medium sizes boats. The cumbersome weight, it needs a large anchor locker, its expensive, and drags up a lot of mud.

 

Benefits of Powered Boat Anchor Winches

Starting with the most obvious benefit, it makes anchoring effortless and in turn make your life easier. Hand throwing and retrieving an anchor isn’t easy. Imagine how much an anchor weighs and feeling the friction of the rope/chain in your hands. Not only does it sound pretty uncomfortable but also a recipe for muscle aches! Utilizing an electrical advantage keeps you away from the dirty heavy work of anchoring or docking.

The next benefit/feature is for the fishing enthusiasts out there. Think about stopping to fish your favorite spot. All you need to do is idle the boat, hit the down switch and you are ready to cast. The same thing is true when it comes to the end of day. With a simple push of a button or toggle you are ready to go home in an instant.

Are electric boat anchor winches safe? Absolutely, another bonus, is during retrieval the rope goes onto an enclosed drum. Thus keeping the line from scattering on boat surface becoming a trip hazard. By automating the process it also lessens hazard of needing to stand at the tip of the bow.

Drawbacks?

The main drawback for adding electricity to your winch is going to be the extra costs. First, high-quality boat anchor winches cost quite a bit, especially ones electrically assisted. Next you need to account for the energy source. Do you have enough juice in your deep-cycle battery to accommodate an powered winch. If not you may have to add a small amp-hour battery for it, which also add more weight to the boat.

 

Electric Anchor Winch Shopping Guide

a black electric anchor winch on a white boat in the retracted position

To help you buy the best electric anchor winch for you, here are the most essential factors.

Rode

As I mentioned before, most motor-driven boat winches you will look at have a pre-spooled line rode. Selecting a model with a built-in rode will always save you money and effort compared to buying a product without one.

Likewise pay special attention to the length, as it depends on water depth. Remember the 3:1, 5:1 and 8:1 rules I explained above. By following these ratios you’ll have enough allowance for safe anchoring. Most basic anchor winches come with around 100-feet of line.

Anchor Line Material

Aside from length, consider the material. Both braided nylon and polyester are common for anchor lines. While they are somewhat abrasion-resistant, overtime they are prone to water damage. Poor quality line compromises the functions of both the anchor and the winch.

The last feature about the rode is ensuring the unit has an anti-reverse clutch system. This prevents the rope from free-spooling, and deliver smooth operation. Without this feature, the gypsy wheel could jam.

Anchor Weight Capacity

Next it’s vital to determine if the anchor weight snap the structural strength of the rode. For example, if you have a rode with an anchor weight capacity of 30-pounds. Don’t match it with a boat anchors weighing more than 25-pounds. Because this is too near the maximum capacity especially if you boat in waters with currents. Try for a ten-pound buffer.

Winch Size Matters

For small to mid-sized watercraft most electric anchor winches will perform well. However, if you own a large vessel regardless of where you run it, you will need to search for a more robust winch system. Remember the correct size of the winch depends on three factors:

  1. The size of your boat.
  2. Length of rode.
  3. Rode diameter.

Next, the actual dimensions of the winch need to fit the available space on the deck of the watercraft.

What is an anchor roller, sometimes called a davit?

It’s a metal three walled component with a roller wheel (gypsy). Some anchor winches for small-medium boats will come with an attached anchor roller.

While others separate it from the housing, these a versatile for positioning anywhere. The purpose of an anchor roller (also called a anchor davit) is to guide the line and prevent snags.

If it’s a separate component, make sure the roller is compatible with the unit.

Durable Construction

Better quality winches will have a rugged construction. This is to give it the best chance to withstand many years of operation. Look for sealed membranes with rubber gaskets. This does a great job of protecting toggles, circuit board, and internal components.

Next take a look at the gears and gypsy wheel, if they’re steel this increases durability. For wiring, tin coated copper provides the most protection against corrosion.

Type of Motor

Expect most top brands to sell models with a 12-volt product. Such as the Minn Kota Deckhand. The best-in-class will rank energy-efficiency and strength over frivolous accessories. Look for models that promote long term reliability for dependable anchoring. A sealed case is a must to protect from water and sun damage.

Also pay special attention to the manufacturers listed maximum anchor capacity. Ignoring this puts excess pressure on the gears, leading to irreparable damage.

Pick A Controller

black, white and blue colored Lewmar remote control

Traditional wired models will have a manual toggle switches. It has options for up and down movements of the anchor. You can install this type at the boat’s helm or wherever is convenient for operating the winch. Most brands include coated cables, sealed switch and bezel plate. This means you have to drill holes in the vessel and repairs are more complex.

Or to provide activation of your anchor from anywhere on the boat, you can opt for a remote controller. Top-rated anchor winches feature intuitive controls, such as an automatic deploy function. The remote will either have a cord or none at all, most anglers prefer the cordless. As they can activate the winch even when casting from the opposite side of the boat.

What you choose is a personal choice. Yet understand remote controls are more expensive than wired options.

Anchor Speed

If you haven’t owned a boat before, take note of what to expect for anchor speed. With winches, there are two obvious movements, up and down. The speed the anchor drops into the water is faster than the speed-upward. Due to the winch not having to to exert as much effort. Whereas lifting up through water creates actual pressure. The water weight pushes against the anchor, the line, gypsy wheel and drum. Thus pulling the anchor back into the vessel becomes heavier and slower.

Expect Some Noise

Some winches tend to be a bit noisy, particularly if the set-up includes a chain. For fishing enthusiasts, having a quiet anchor winch is important. In this case an all-rope rode might be the better choice. I also recommend to keep the gears and gypsy wheel well-lubricated to reduce nuisance noises. Also before you buy, reading customer reviews is a great place to confirm if a how loud the boat anchor winch is.

 

In Conclusion:

By now you have a basic understanding for how to select an electric anchor winch. For the most part, price is an essential consideration when buying an one for your boat. While most of us would like to save money, this isn’t the product to cheap out on. Since it protects both the safety of your investment but also the onboard occupants.

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