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Old 22-01-2016, 23:04   #1
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The hidden dangers of power winches

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.
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Old 23-01-2016, 04:10   #2
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Re: The hidden dangers of power winches

Thanks for the heads up, what a story!

Had a similar thing happen with a windlass on a boat tied up next to us in nukulofa. The crew were away in town and suddenly the windlass started heaving against the stern lines. I rowed over and found the breaker before anything too nasty happened.

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Old 23-01-2016, 04:45   #3
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Re: The hidden dangers of power winches

We had the same thing happen with our windlass. Fortunately, we we onboard when it took place and shut it off within 15-20 seconds. We've always turned off all electric winches, furling devices, fresh water pump and the windlass when not in use ever since.
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Old 23-01-2016, 05:07   #4
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Re: The hidden dangers of power winches

Perfect example of why you.... Never.... ever... ever... leave wires as big as a finger energized!!!

Love the "stern arch" comment!
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Old 23-01-2016, 07:58   #5
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Re: The hidden dangers of power winches

Good story. We often use the electric winch to sheet the mainsheet hard after sailing, but never leave it or any line on the winch. We do sometimes leave the jib furling line on the winch when sailing but I think I'll look at other options. It has a clutch but I don't really trust the furling line clutch. We also use the electric winch for hauling crew up the mast but never self tail it for obvious reasons.
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Old 23-01-2016, 08:03   #6
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Re: The hidden dangers of power winches

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.
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Old 23-01-2016, 08:11   #7
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Re: The hidden dangers of power winches

Our powered Lewmar 65 primaries have all switching below decks. The cockpit 'button' is a pneumatic diaphragm that energizes the winch by means of the air actuated relay below. That said, we never leave any lines on these big self-tailers.
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Old 23-01-2016, 08:20   #8
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Re: The hidden dangers of power winches

Wow, what a story! Thanks for sharing.
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Old 23-01-2016, 08:20   #9
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Re: The hidden dangers of power winches

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..
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Old 23-01-2016, 08:31   #10
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Re: The hidden dangers of power winches

Perhaps is was on here. I really have no first hand knowledge of it and it's a bit hard to imagine.
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Old 23-01-2016, 08:33   #11
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Re: The hidden dangers of power winches

Quote:
Originally Posted by monte View Post
Good story. We often use the electric winch to sheet the mainsheet hard after sailing, but never leave it or any line on the winch. We do sometimes leave the jib furling line on the winch when sailing but I think I'll look at other options. It has a clutch but I don't really trust the furling line clutch. We also use the electric winch for hauling crew up the mast but never self tail it for obvious reasons.
Why not self tail it for obvious reasons?? I self tail the halyard in the electric winch when winching someone up the mast to insure it doesn't slip and use the rope clutch as well. Just curious? I understand that you can't self tail it when bringing them down.
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Old 23-01-2016, 08:34   #12
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Re: The hidden dangers of power winches

It happened to my dad on his trawler with the dingy davit winch. At anchor, rain storm, middle of the night. The winch came on by itself. Dink was suspended out of the water and lashed to the side. Fortunately he woke up and got to it in time before it tore things up. Now the controller is only connected when the winch is in use.
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Old 23-01-2016, 09:43   #13
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Re: The hidden dangers of power winches

Wow. I have never heard of this before. Good reason to put on my going home list, turn off the electric winch breaker besides leaving windlass breaker off.
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Old 23-01-2016, 09:59   #14
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Re: The hidden dangers of power winches

yes good advice would also add should check condition of the rubber covers for switches that could leak
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Old 23-01-2016, 10:23   #15
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Re: The hidden dangers of power winches

We had one with our jib sheet wrap over top of itself and completely jam up. Because of the incredible amount of tension we could not get it free. Of course it happened at the worst time possible in rough weather. Finally had to cut the sheet to keep from damaging the sail or the furler.

Thanks for the heads up on the issues above!
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