Windlass Anchor System: What Is It and How Does It Work?

Did you know that the Ancient Greeks referred to anchors as “teeth” and they made these first anchors with buckets they filled with stones? We have come a long way from those times and nowadays there are plenty of anchor options to help keep your boat from drifting away. If you are considering investing in a windlass anchor system, you’re in the right place. 

Keep reading to learn what it is and how it works. 

What Is a Windlass Anchor System?

A windlass is a pulley or mechanical system that is used to shift large weights in either direction (horizontal or vertical). This system uses a pulley system to help it move the weights no matter how heavy they are. 

Basic Windlass Design

An anchor windlass has a barrel with a cable or a chain wound up around it and it is operated using a crankshaft or a belt. The shaft moves in a circular motion that is able to lift heavy weights without expanding the energy that is usually needed to haul it. 

This crank can be operated either with a motor or manually. The manual option is used for situations like drawing water out of wells and one with a motor is used in construction cranes. This crank is attached to the barrel allowing it to rotate around a central axis. 

The pulley design allows large weight to be lifted because it can distribute the load between multiple cables instead of with only one chain. This allows a heavy load to easily be raised without much effort. One thing that has to be kept in mind with this design is that there is a lot of strain placed on the chain or on the cable that is shifting the load.

If the operator has to stop the mechanism halfway through the operation certain steps have to be taken to prevent the cable from breaking under tension. 

Windlass Location

The windlass is at the fore of a ship in a location called the windlass chamber or the windlass room. A few ships also have it on the forecastle deck because it allows a higher degree of control while the device is being used. Having it on the deck also frees up the room or chamber to be used for storage. 

Having the windlass in a room keeps it protected from the elements which is a huge plus. Waves and water are unpredictable and even though the deck is high the windlass is exposed to nature when it is out. 

For windlasses that are located on the deck, they also have to worry about bow slamming. When a storm is occurring the fore of the vessel is sometimes lifted off of the water surface and then it comes crashing down at the base of the bow. This impact can have terrible effects on the system. 

Keeping the windlass on the deck has the pro that it is more accessible in case an emergency comes up. Workers aboard the ship can easily find it and operate it without needing keys to access the windlass chamber. 

How Does an Anchor Windlass Work?

In order for a windlass system to be used effectively, it is combined with a capstan which is the equipment that is used for vertical motion. This combination gives better control to the captain or the person manning the winch. 

The setup is able to either release, hold, or manipulate the anchor chain. This anchor chain is made up of metal links that fit onto grooves or notches on the central windlass barrel. 

To release the anchor into the water the head can fall freely or the anchor can be powered down. The powered option is most popular on ships and larger vessels where it uses the windlass to slowly revolve in a direction that pays out the anchor chain.

When the markers on the anchor chain show that the right length has been taken out then the crank operator is able to apply a braking action to the windlass barrel. The pro of using this option is that the heavy anchor will not suddenly put a large amount of force on the hull of the ship. 

Smaller and medium-sized ships use the free-fall option because they have a lower freeboard and it is a lot faster than slowly cranking a winch. Keep in mind that sometimes it can still cause a small amount of flooding on the deck or it can create large oscillations that can sometimes create a problem to the vessel’s stability. 

Parts of an Anchor Windlass

Windlasses are made of a mooring drum, a cable lifter, and a warp end. All of the components are rotating and they work together to help the anchoring process go smoothly. The cable lifter grips the anchor cable on the drum and the cable moves around the mooring drum. 

Feeling Like a Windlass Anchor Pro?

Now that you know the ins and outs of a windlass anchor system you can make an informed decision whether or not you want to spend the money on one. If you decide to move forward with buying a windlass anchor you want to make sure that you learn all about the safety protocols to use it safely and not cause any accidents. 

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