Electric winches have become somewhat common on todays boats in the 40+ foot size range. The benefits of these powered winches are lengthy from the ease of use to the saving of phiscal energy, but we must remember the dangers of electric winches and make sure we use them properly.
A 50’ boat is easily single handed today with the common installation of autopilot, electric winches, furling mains, and primary winches located near the helm. These new features allow one person to run an entire boat themselves and allows someone with less physical ability to enjoy sailing for many more years!
Simply engage the autopilot on a head to wind course, roll out the mainsail, direct the autopilot to fall off 20 degrees, roll out your headsail, and finally disengage the autopilot and sail off all in less than two minutes. When it comes time to tack, simply turn slowly though the wind, ease off the working sheet, and press the button on the winch to trim in the new sheet. No need to move winch handles around the cockpit, exert energy and strength winching in the sails, or jab your crew member in the back while cranking a winch handle. Amazing, right?!
Electric winches work great when used properly but you must always remember that electric winches have no feelings. They will continue to turn until you release the bottom with complete disregard for what’s on the other end of the line. They do not feel the line load up to unusually high loads, they will not stop because the jib sheet is caught on a midship cleat during a tack, and they will not stop if a mainsail is jammed as you roll it in our out. Electric winches are our best friends at times but can easily turn into our worst enemy.
When using electric winches, you must keep a sharp eye on what is being pulled… just like you would with manual winches. When tacking, you must make sure the jib sheets are running free, when rolling sails in and out you must have an eye out to make sure no jams are present, and you must maintain an overall presence of what’s happening aboard your boat. It’s our suggestion to never use an electric winch for the furling and unfurling of sails and use they primarily for the trimming of the sails.
Remember, electric winches have no feelings but are amazing features making the sailing experience that much better.