Anchor & Docking

Vertical vs. Horizontal Windlasses: Which Windlass is Best for You?

Having trouble deciding which windlass you’ll use on your boat?

No worries, in this article, we’ll discuss the important factors of windlasses, what’s the difference between a vertical and horizontal windlass, and how can you properly take care of them. 


Boat windlass

Windlasses are mechanical devices that are usually located near the center of the foredeck (the deck, or flat part of the boat near the front) that grips the anchor rode, pulls it out of the water, and place the line/chain either on the deck or below decks in a special compartment.

You can operate windlasses in two ways, manually or powered by electricity.  When using a manual windlass, you need to use your muscle power to operate the mechanism. It’s simple and very traditional, but of course, it needs a lot of work, especially if your boat’s anchor is heavy.

On the other hand, a power windlass uses electricity (or hydraulics, on mega yachts and ships), rather than the sweat of your brow, to do the job. It’s easy — you just need to press a button to either raise or drop the anchor.

What Are The Benefits Of Windlasses?

The main benefit of windlasses is that they help you retrieve your boat’s anchor. Whether manual or motor-driven, windlasses will help you make anchor retrieval much easier.


Boat windlass

Winches and windlasses have their own similarities, both of them are used for pulling heavy objects to make your work easier and faster. But to be more specific, winches are used to pull in or let out ropes while windlasses have special features like a vertical/horizontal cylinder, crank, and winch to pull objects to the opposite end.

Why Are They Called Windlasses?

The word windlass was derived from the old Norse words, vindáss. The Vind stands for “wind” and Áss stands for “pole” which means winding pole to hoist the anchor.


Boat windlass

There are two types of windlasses that you can use, vertical windlasses and horizontal windlasses. Both of these will help you retrieve your boat’s anchor easily but they also have their own advantages.

Vertical Windlasses 

Vertical windlasses’ motor is located below the deck, this is one of their best features since you don’t have to worry about the weather affecting them. But the downside is, you may have to worry about the corrosion in the damp conditions of your anchor locker. Also, since the vertical windlass is partly below the deck, installation and access for service are more difficult.

Typically, vertical windlasses have180 degrees of chain wrapped around the gypsy, making them very secure compared to the horizontal windlasses that only have half the bearing area. Besides these, here are the other advantages of vertical windlasses:

  • Saves space since they are very compact
  • Has a wider range of feed
  • Can easily pull your anchor by using its winch handle

Horizontal Windlasses

Horizontal windlasses are installed completely above the deck, which makes them easier to install since they’re straightforward and can be easily accessed for maintenance. The only downside of this is that the motor is completely exposed to elements like sunlight and seawater.

They’re also required to be mounted on the bow roller since the rode must be directly in line with the gypsy. Horizontal windlasses also require less anchor locker space (minimum fall of 12 inches above rode pile) compared to the vertical ones.

Do Windlasses Use Rope or Chain?

Most windlasses can accept anchor rope made of pure rope, pure chain, or a chain/rope combination. Each windlass will accept a very specific rope and/or chain diameters, i.e. a popular combination is to accept ½” rope and ¼” chain. Check the winch specifications to know which size of rope and/or chain that particular windlass will accept.

Also, remember that if you’re using a rope/chain combination, the rope and chain will need to be spliced together and a shackle shouldn’t be used for connecting the two (that shackle can’t fit through the windlass gypsy!).

How Much Are Windlasses?

The price of windlasses usually starts from $600 to $2000. You also need to purchase wires and rodes that cost $200 each. If you’re looking for one, you can check these windlasses that you can purchase online:


Boat windlass

If you have free time every weekend, your weekly maintenance for windlass should involve lubricating all the plain bearings through the grease nipples and the gear teeth.

But for monthly or quarterly checks, it’s recommended for you to check the condition of brake linings and should be carried out depending on the frequency of use.

Make sure to inspect the chain wheel and clutch cone system from time to time. It’s important to clean them and grease the two clutch cones to maintain their condition. 

You can also polish all the painted parts by using mild soap and water to keep them clean. For the metal surfaces, you can wax and polish them to further protect them from corrosion.


Even though vertical and horizontal windlasses have a lot of differences, both of them will make your anchoring easier and faster. You just need to pick which one is suitable for your boat’s needs and size to figure out what’s best for you and your boat.

What type of windlass do you use? Share us your experience and comment below.

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