Saturday, February 21, 2015

Windlass Control

An anchor windlass is a very handy device.  Now that I have my new oversized Mantus anchor as my primary, it is even more important to have it help deploy and haul up the anchor. Unfortunately, for as long as I've owned the boat, there have been a couple issues with the windlass,

The first issue is that there is only a single control for the windlass.  It is a hand-held controller that lives in the windlass locker and is wired to the windlass via a coiled cord.  While the controller allows you to watch the anchor locker and anchor being deployed, the cord does not reach to the helm, so any attempt to anchor while single-handing the boat is not an option.

The second issue is that the up function would only intermittently work.  Usually after not using the system for a while, the windlass would run just fine when deploying the anchor but would fail run in the reverse wouldn't bring the anchor back aboard the boat.  Since it is fairly easy to deploy without the windlass and hauling the anchor up manually can be a real chore, the up function is the more important of the two. The coil cord on the controller is deteriorating and I suspect this may be part of the issue...but regardless it needs to be replaced.

The last issue I have with the windlass is that it will only operate when the starboard engine is running. I understand that the windlass can quickly run down a battery if an engine (and it's alternator) isn't running to provide extra energy. This "feature" was probably added to prevent charter captains from killing the boat's house battery with the windlass, but it also limits when the windlass can be used.  If you are running on only the port engine or if both engines have died, the windlass is inoperative.  And if both engines suddenly quit while near rocks, I want to be able to deploy the anchor quickly and easily.

In trying to figure out what to do about these issues, I researched adding a windlass control switch at the helm.  This would require running a three wire cable from the windlass control box (located in the cabinet under the galley sink) and out to the helm where I would have to mount and wire in a switch.  I also looked for a replacement coil cord for the controller, but was unable to find a proper 3-conductor coiled wire. The only option I found was an entire hand-held coiled controller that was over $150 (U.S.).

Then while searching for these things, I found a simple wireless remote controller on Amazon.  This controller is specifically designed for winches and windlasses.  The unit consists of a small control box and two remote controls.  The best part was that it was under $40 (U.S.).  This device could resolve both the coiled cord issue as well as allowing me to run the windlass from the helm.  So, even though it sounded too good to be true, I ordered one.

Everything in the package...nope, no instructions

The remote came today and so I just had to install it and see if it would work. Installing the control box was pretty straight forward even though the device came with no instructions.  There is a power (red) and ground (black) wire to provide power to the switch and the remote receiving radio.  There are also two other wires (white and yellow) that provide voltage only when the remote button is pressed.  And a small green antenna wire is also part of the mix. Hooking it up to the windlass control box only required a secondary ground so the radio would always have power.

Unfortunately the windlass control wiring on my boat did not match the boat's wiring schematics. I had to rewire the existing windlass control so it would match the schematics and allow me to install the controller box. The other disturbing issue with the wiring was that the control wires were not fused and a short could have easily caused other issues like fire.  I rewired the controller to match the schematics and added an inline fuse to protect the circuit. While I fixed the wiring, I also setup an option to bypass the oil pressure switch that was used to prevent the windlass from operating unless the engine was running. Now by swapping one wire on the terminal block pictured below, I can switch between the original functionality and the "always let it work" option.

New wireless controller at the upper right

After getting everything wired up, I gave it a try.  Other than having the two switched inputs reversed (so up was making the windlass go down and visa-versa), it worked well.  I switched the two inputs and now I have a windlass that can be operated from just about anywhere on the boat.  The only problems I've found thus far are that there is a small lag between pushing the button and when the windlass starts and one of the controllers had a near dead battery. Compared to the couple hundred dollars I could have spent, I think this modification is a win.


  1. Hi Mike, looks like a neat solution. Instructions are always overrated :)
    Has it solved the "up" intermittent problem?
    If you are still searching for a new curly cord, perhaps a truck tail gate lift supplier might have something.

    1. Who needs one reads them anyway, right? ;-) It seems to have solved the problem, at least when using the remote. Don't know if I'll keep the wired handheld or just rewire that to a simple switch as an emergency backup...I kinda like getting rid of common failure modes and those cords seem to be one. I did try looking at all sorts of places for the cord and everything I found had an expensive controller attached to the cord or the cord didn't have enough conductors...or in one case, way too many. But for now, I at least have a solution to that and the helm operation issues, so I'm happy.