Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Winch is not a Wheel Bearing

While freeing the motor from the dinghy, one thing I found was that the winch at the rear of the boat needed to be serviced.  It sounded OK, clicking and spinning as it was supposed to, but started complaining (squeaking) when under the load of the davit system.  So, what do you do when you need to do something and don't know how...consult The Oracle naturally.  A brief search found the following YouTube video on the subject.

Seems straight forward enough.  The cap was a little tighter than hand tight but came off with a bit of persuasion.  After removing the caps I tried to remove the collets.  Note how easily they are removed in the video...well, this winch doesn't appear to have been serviced in a while and the collets were stuck.  I couldn't even pull them out with pliers (something you should avoid doing with softer metals unless absolutely necessary).  I applied some penetrating oil and let it sit...for a day.

The next day I came back and the collets still would not budge.  A far cry from what you see in the above video.  I guess servicing a brand new winch on a table isn't the same as servicing a well used, and probably abused, winch on a boat.  I didn't find much information on sticking collets, so I guess this isn't a common occurrence.  In any case, I need to get this thing apart to either service it or replace it so these collets will have to come out one way or another.  In the end, I used a heat gun and vice grips and were finally able to get them out without too much damage to the collets.

From what I can tell, it appeared that dried grease was the reason that the collets were stuck. As I disassembled the rest of the winch, I found the parts to be just as in the above video, but in my case most were caked with grease.  Some older and dried and some that was in better shape.  But, if you watch the video above you will note that they say "lightly" oil and "lightly" grease...but this winch was treated more like a wheel bearing that was packed with grease.

It took me 4 hours and copious amounts of solvent (most of my supply) to clean all the grease off of the gears and other parts (next time I'll just use diesel).  It was a real pain to get this winch clean.  The picture below doesn't really do it justice, I should have pulled the gear stack on the right apart so you could see the gobs of grease caked inside and surrounding the pawls.

Clean on the left, dirty on the right.
After the thorough cleaning, I lightly greased and lightly oiled as it showed in the video (ok, I put a little bit more on than the video shows...but just barely coating surfaces) and reassembled the winch.  Since I didn't have spare collets, I used some jewelers diamond files to file off the burs made in the collets by the vice grips.  Everything went together just fine.

The real test was to winch the dinghy back up and, other than the broken stripper ring I still need to order (so for now this winch's self-tailing feature shouldn't be used), it worked flawlessly.  It raised the dinghy without complaint and sounded like a happy winch.  Going to have to do this to the rest of the winches, I do hope that the rest are not packed in grease...but I guess I better go pick up some diesel to use as solvent just in case.


  1. When we have that sundowner some day I'll have to tell you our steering bearing story. For some reason people who work on boats really like grease.

    S/V Kintala