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Old 24-01-2016, 00:02   #46
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Re: The hidden dangers of power winches

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Paul I think think actual issue is slightly different, the actual thought should be "Gosh...maybe having an electric winch on board and using it for this particular issue without thinking every outcome through isn't a good idea?"

I'd even say that winching someone up a mast would be perfectly fine and completely safe if the person at the winch has a fail safe method of instantly killing the power should the windlass misbehave. The fail safe method can even be an 8 year old at the breaker ready to pull it on command. And in keeping with everything else do about 10 dry runs with the 8 year old at the panel and the wincher at the windlass who yells "EMERGENCY STOP!" or something similar that the 8 year old knows is the command to trip the breaker. Once the young crewmember does it a half dozen times or so without a hitch I'd say it's safe to go aloft.

What you do not want to do is be in a situation that requires decisions that you have not thought about nor made preparations for.
How long does it take to move 20cms with a powered winch? A couple of seconds? 20cms is long enough do blow a fitting if at the top of the mast, or rip a body part off if somewhere below and caught. I NEVER put anyone on the end of a powered winch. I will steadfastly maintain it is very bad practice. Ready access to a breaker does not sufficiently mitigate this danger, as a catastrophe can occur EXTREMELY rapidly. A milwaukee or other power assist in place of winch handle is fine by me. All ascents should be done with a safety line. Trust me it is just as easy as doing it without one. I do it all the time. (a few extra seconds on set up is all). But putting a human up a height attached to a beast like a powered winch is just a catastrophe waiting to happen. Would you attach someone to the drive shaft on a geared down purchase?
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Old 24-01-2016, 00:48   #47
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Re: The hidden dangers of power winches

When leaving any boat, I don't ask which breakers need to be switched off. I ask which breakers need to be left on, if any, and then switch off all the others.
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Old 24-01-2016, 01:01   #48
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Re: The hidden dangers of power winches

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I got a call today from an old friend with a Valiant 47. The harbor had alerted her that there was a problem with her boat--someone heard a loud noise and the backstay was broken.

I went down (in the rain) and checked things out. Turns out the boat has a Harken power winch, which is used for the main halyard and mainsheet. The boat was put away with one end of the main halyard hooked to the stern pulpit, and the other end around the power winch, in the self-tailer.

Did I mention it rained? Well, as best as I can figure, the rain got into the cockpit control switches of the power winch and activated the low speed. It pulled on the halyard until something gave. The first thing to give was the stern pulpit, which is now a stern arch. The second thing was the halyard turning block at the base of the mast, which is in some pretty spectacular pieces. After the turning block blew up, the halyard no longer had a nice lead into the mast exit plate, and ripped through some stainless and the aluminum mast. Fortunately, the rip was sharp enough to cut the halyard, which ended the carnage. Unfortunately, the pulpit was sucked into the (no longer available) Navtec hydraulic backstay cylinder and bent the piston rod.

The winch breaker did not pop, but the winch had stopped by the time I got there. I pushed buttons and the winch still worked and shut off when I stopped pushing. I set about to finding ways to turn off the winch. First, I turned the house battery switch to off. Not only did the winch still run, it didn't turn off for about 10 seconds, which gave me my my final clue.

I gave her my estimate of about 5 big boat bucks for the damage, and we had a discussion about turning off the breakers to windlasses and power winches when you leave the boat. It doesn't take much current through a windlass or winch switch to turn on the controller, and they are both powerful enough to do a lot a damage.
Thanks Don so much for bringing this subject up. I've contributed a little to the conversation, but I've learned so much more. Everyone, please keep telling your stories. I'm an ageing sailor that is having to rely on more and more electronic animals. Power winches will keep me sailing for many more years (if they don't kill me!).
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Old 24-01-2016, 03:30   #49
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Re: The hidden dangers of power winches

Amazing there isn't a big red emergency stop button fitted nearby to any of this gear.
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Old 24-01-2016, 04:19   #50
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Re: The hidden dangers of power winches

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Amazing there isn't a big red emergency stop button fitted nearby to any of this gear.
My thoughts exactly but it would need to cut the main power (big wires) to everything to be an absolute solution because sometimes it's a relay that sticks and not just the button.
To be really sure of this fail safe it needs to be mechanical like a large knife switch and a rope or cable to pull.
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Old 24-01-2016, 04:52   #51
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Re: The hidden dangers of power winches

Yeah, tricky to install, but maybe something that trips an independent circuit breaker or relay, unlikely both will fail at the same time, and part of your SOP's should be a daily emergency stop test. The one emergency stop could cut power to every power winch and system onboard.

Given the amount of money the whole electric winch thing costs an extra relay and a few switches wouldn't break the bank. Every commercial workboat I've been on has emergency stops for most of the powered machinery.

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Old 24-01-2016, 05:09   #52
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Re: The hidden dangers of power winches

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How long does it take to move 20cms with a powered winch? A couple of seconds? 20cms is long enough do blow a fitting if at the top of the mast, or rip a body part off if somewhere below and caught. I NEVER put anyone on the end of a powered winch. I will steadfastly maintain it is very bad practice. Ready access to a breaker does not sufficiently mitigate this danger, as a catastrophe can occur EXTREMELY rapidly. A milwaukee or other power assist in place of winch handle is fine by me. All ascents should be done with a safety line. Trust me it is just as easy as doing it without one. I do it all the time. (a few extra seconds on set up is all). But putting a human up a height attached to a beast like a powered winch is just a catastrophe waiting to happen. Would you attach someone to the drive shaft on a geared down purchase?

Muck, I think not using the self tailer is a safe method for using the electric winch to haul up the mast. A few turns in the winch and the jammer on and it requires some pressure to put the halyard by the tailer. Releasing the pressure the winch will spin freely immediately. Maybe you think there's a chance of an over ride on the halyard?
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Old 24-01-2016, 05:28   #53
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Re: The hidden dangers of power winches

Yikes. I see I've been doing it wrong. My practice will change from now on. Don't know why this did not occur to me.

We have 4 Lewmar powered winches with the pneumatic switching. Never the slightest problem, which has led to complacency which I suddenly see is really dangerous. Thanks for that.

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How long does it take to move 20cms with a powered winch? A couple of seconds? 20cms is long enough do blow a fitting if at the top of the mast, or rip a body part off if somewhere below and caught. I NEVER put anyone on the end of a powered winch. I will steadfastly maintain it is very bad practice. Ready access to a breaker does not sufficiently mitigate this danger, as a catastrophe can occur EXTREMELY rapidly. A milwaukee or other power assist in place of winch handle is fine by me. All ascents should be done with a safety line. Trust me it is just as easy as doing it without one. I do it all the time. (a few extra seconds on set up is all). But putting a human up a height attached to a beast like a powered winch is just a catastrophe waiting to happen. Would you attach someone to the drive shaft on a geared down purchase?


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Old 24-01-2016, 06:32   #54
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Re: The hidden dangers of power winches

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A few years ago a wife lost nearly all fingers on one hand with husband aloft. Another cruiser nearby came to help and somehow managed to loose something like 7 fingers himself.

Clearly a horrible situation, I believe it was in one of the major magazines at the time. Somewhere in the Eastern Caribbean.
I meet the Woman in person , and their husband ... horrible history,,,,
Those early Lewmar electr winches dammm!!!! the couple is still cruising ,,,,
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Old 24-01-2016, 06:49   #55
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Re: The hidden dangers of power winches

On my boat the circuit breaker for the powered halyard winch can be reached while operating the switch for the winch. It's possible to have one hand on the switch and the other on the circuit breaker (circuit breaker has the large power wires for the winch)
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Old 24-01-2016, 08:51   #56
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Re: The hidden dangers of power winches

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Muck, I think not using the self tailer is a safe method for using the electric winch to haul up the mast. A few turns in the winch and the jammer on and it requires some pressure to put the halyard by the tailer. Releasing the pressure the winch will spin freely immediately. Maybe you think there's a chance of an over ride on the halyard?
Hi Monte,

Yes there is a chance of an override on the halyard. Rather a high one actually as you will need to be watching the person on the mast, operating the switch and tailing the winch all at the same time. Riding turns are common and will jam the line onto the winch and prevent free spin. Just consider carefully what the benefits and debits of doing this are. The debit would be severe injury or death… the benefit? Freedom from the mild discomfort of exercise... From your picture you are a reasonably young, fit looking guy. I climb the mast myself, with crew merely belaying passively. If there is a need to winch, you can use the low ratio… surely it isn't that hard?
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Old 24-01-2016, 08:53   #57
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Re: The hidden dangers of power winches

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Yikes. I see I've been doing it wrong. My practice will change from now on. Don't know why this did not occur to me.

We have 4 Lewmar powered winches with the pneumatic switching. Never the slightest problem, which has led to complacency which I suddenly see is really dangerous. Thanks for that.

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You are most welcome and as always very reasonable. I am glad you have considered this and agree.
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Old 24-01-2016, 08:59   #58
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Re: The hidden dangers of power winches

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Someone had told a story about the dangers of powered whinchs on CF a while back that has stuck in my head ever since...Something about someone being aloft and his wife was pulling him up the mast using the whinch when it jammed..I think the ladys arm got caught up in rigging line and when they yelled for help a man came over and ended getting his arm chewed up by the whole workings of the operation while the man aloft could only watch in horror..They can be very unforgiving of human error and mistakes.. Oh ok just read Boatguys post about the same story..
This happened at Jolly Harbor, Antigua a few years back. I was at the scene a day later, and I know the guys who had to help clean it up. She was putting her man up the mast using a powered winch, which jammed on, at the same time as developing a riding turn, which prevented release of tension. The breaker was of no use as solenoid stuck. She frantically attempted to clear the jam and in the process got first one, then another hand stuck, turning her whole body round and round. A neighbouring yachtsman (Norwegian as I remember) rushed on to help and ended up losing all eight fingers. The woman lost both hands and some forearm. The winch was stopped (was it a cable pulled, I can't remember?) by a thid person before the husband was killed as well. Very fortunately he was unharmed, but must have found it extremely traumatic, to say the least!
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Old 24-01-2016, 09:34   #59
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Re: The hidden dangers of power winches

Am I missing something, or is the solution for this to do something as simple as:

1.Don't leave the line on the winch, which you shouldn't do anyway?

2. When hauling someone up with the winch, hand-tail it instead of putting the line in the tailer

3. have a sharp knife at ready reach
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Old 24-01-2016, 10:02   #60
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Re: The hidden dangers of power winches

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Am I missing something, or is the solution for this to do something as simple as:

1.Don't leave the line on the winch, which you shouldn't do anyway?

2. When hauling someone up with the winch, hand-tail it instead of putting the line in the tailer

3. have a sharp knife at ready reach
Your post mentions line singular. Do you not use a safety line? If not, then cutting the halliard is not such a great idea. But moreover, how fast can you cut the halliard? Many are now spectra/dyneema, and they will be moving into the winch… have you actually tried this or are you just speculating. If you saw my above post you would realise that two seconds and 20 cms are enough for a catastrophe.
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