Beware of Electric Winch!

  • Posted on: 13 June 2017
  • By: Eve

When we were specifying Suwena and making decisions about various onboard equipment we were warned that electric winches are unreliable. Now in the seventh summer it finally happened!

After departing from Concarneau I was still coiling mooring lines and Andrus was eager to hoist the sails at the entrance of the harbour. For genoa sheets we have Harken 60 electric winches. The control buttons that we mainly use are made by Harken and are located next to the winches. In addition there is a second set of buttons on the control panel next to the helm that Andrus can use while steering Suwena.

We've had a couple of problems with the same panel while furling the sails. Andrus has opened it and checked all connections making sure that there is no moisture inside. However there have been no actual faults found.

Now however the genoa sheet winch stayed on and there was no reaction neither at control panel nor at Harken's own switches. It was terrible. The banging noise and cracking filled the air when the winch was pulling genoa tighter and tighter.

Andrus was on a way to shut down the power of the deck hardware but in a panic was unable to find the right switch. He only had time to shout to me: "Get out of the way quickly!" We both took a quick dive behind the pilothouse as everything happened only in a few seconds while the banging and cracking were continuing. The winch was pulling the sheet tighter and tighter. We were only waiting for which breaks first? Does the sail tear, sheet break, fuse blow or the winch turn into metal scrap? Finally the sheet let go with a big bang a few meters from the clew. Then finally Andrus found the right switch and powered down the madly rotating winch. The breaking load of our 16 mm genoa sheet is about 5000 to 6000 kg.
Sheet broken by electric winch in front of Concarneau in Brittany
It is a real wonder that nothing else went broken. Only the sheet was hard as a stone after such a stretch. Even if there is still enough length we have to replace the sheet.

It could have been much bigger accident as we could have been hit by a whipsplash from a breaking line. We only got frightened but I must say that we had a spaghetti legs for some time.

It is really a full truth that do never ever use electric winch for getting a person aloft!!!