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Electric Winch Conversion

By Craig Blazer, Technical Services Specialist

In this article

  • Converting manual winches to electric
  • Energy efficiency and space optimization
  • Electric winch safety facts
  • How to choose the right electric winch for you
  • Electric winches are becoming more popular because they make shorthanded sailing much easier, allowing crews to hoist and trim any size sail in all kinds of conditions, simply by pushing a button.

At first, conversion can seem a bit daunting. The prospect of drilling new holes in your boat, using more power, and taking up valuable space belowdeck can put people off. It doesn't need to. Modern winch conversions are making it easier than ever to shift from manual to electric operation.

Below is a list of common questions and pitfalls of winch conversions ensuring, that when the time comes, you'll have all the information you need to make the process as smooth as possible.

Can I convert my manual winches to electric?
This will depend on the model and age of your winch. Harken has two main winch ranges: Radial (2009 - present), which can be converted from 35.2ST models upward, and Classic, which can be converted from size 44 and larger. Call for the latest availability on Classic conversions.

Are some winches too old to convert?
Yes. Depending on what type of winch you're looking to convert, the years can vary. Generally, you should be able to convert any winch from 1999 onward. Please check with Harken to be sure.

Is a winch's service history important?
Absolutely. Winches must be in good condition prior to conversion. It can be harder with electric winches to detect whether a winch drum is becoming stiff, or is not spinning as freely as it should. It is essential that the winch is in good working order prior to conversion, and serviced regularly thereafter.

Why are electric winches so much better?
In short, they make life easier, enabling any crew regardless of strength, size, or physical condition to perform the tasks required. This makes high-load jobs easier (such as hoisting the mainsail when sailing short-handed) as it allows the user to look up at the main while hoisting to make sure there are no snags or hold-ups.

What does a conversion kit include?
Each conversion kits includes: winch shaft, motor and gearbox, circuit breaker, switches, and dual-function control box.

Improved safety features

With new technology constantly evolving, you might be surprised to learn about one Harken winch feature that has been around for years: the disconnect rod. This simple, yet unassuming, part disconnects the motor from the bottom of the center shaft when a handle is inserted in the winch socket. In the event of a power failure, this allows you to use the winch in manual mode, without the added resistance of turning the motor and gearbox. This safety feature also stops a winch handle from spinning if the button is pressed accidentally.

Additional design innovations throughout the Radial range have seen modern winches incorporate a stripper arm that completely covers the rotating winch top. This prevents fingers and clothing from catching in moving parts, a comforting thought when using automated winches.

Other safety innovations include built-in load controllers to prevent overloading, protecting both the winch and its users.

Space optimization

With horizontal (left/right) or vertical configuration options available for most sizes (Diagram A), it's easier than ever to fit an electric winch, with minimal space sacrificed belowdeck.

Need an example? Check out what we've done with the UniPower winch to reduce the space required.

Diagram A: Electric winches can be mounted horizontally (left/right), or vertically for optimal use of space.

Spacers are available if needed for use between the motor and the deck.

Evolving technology has enabled the new Dual-Function Control Box to incorporate a built-in load controller, reducing wiring and simplifying the circuit. The simplified wiring also allows more flexibility in where the control buttons can be mounted.

Enhanced energy efficiency

Another nifty advantage. Harken electric motors are the lowest profile on the market. By connecting directly to the central drive shaft, the motor uses the gearing to fully power the winch. This makes the motor more efficient.

Other manufacturers fit motors on the bias (see diagram B) and cannot fully utilize the gears. Therefore, when you need to go up a gear, the motor simply draws extra power, putting more strain on your batteries.

Innovations such as these have revolutionized the way we look at electric winches and their efficiency.

Diagram B: Central vs biased drive shaft - central mount optimizes gear power, reducing battery usage.

What type of electric winch should I choose?

We've got handy online guides that walk you through the process of ordering winches. You'll need to specify both power type and motor configuration when ordering. Click the link below for further information, or give Harken a call and we can talk you through it.

Click here for the how-to-choose winch guide

Let's talk…

If you'd like to talk about electric winches or anything else feel free to contact us:


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