Anchor Winches Explained
  |  First Published: August 2006

Without doubt, one of the most laborious tasks any boating angler faces while out on the water is laying and retrieving the anchor.

Some people view anchor winches as a luxury, if not a sign of being a bit soft in the physical department, but nothing could be further from the truth. With a few basic tools, the installation of an anchor winch is straightforward and probably costs less than you think.

My Set Up

The anchor winch runs off the 12-volt battery, which powers the electrics on the boat and is controlled by a small toggle switch mounted on the dashboard. It not only lowers and retrieves the anchor, but also acts as the bollard for where the rope is secured to the boat.

After the anchor has been laid the rope locks into place on the wheel of the winch, which means no more having to tie the anchor off in a strong current!

One other huge advantage of using a winch is that you can make micro (and I mean really small) adjustments to the rope length once the anchor is down, to position the boat exactly where you want. Very handy when fishing over submerged structure like drop-offs.

Bridle Rigging

Anchor winches come into their own when bridle rigging a boat, which is used to get the boat hanging in the direction of the tide.

This is a particularly useful technique when the wind is blowing in the opposite direction to the tide and the boat normally hangs sideways. Your fishing lines don’t go straight out the back of the boat and it’s a recipe for tangles and lost fish.

Bridling a boat usually takes a heap of practice to master. Invariably, you have to continually make adjustments to allow for the weakening or strengthening of tide. When fishing in an area like Port Phillip Bay for whiting or snapper, bridle rigging can be the difference between being able to fish and effectively and not.

The problem is, being such a pain to do properly, many anglers just can’t be bothered with it. With an anchor winch you can make adjustments from the helm so bridling becomes a piece of cake.


Installation is easy provided you don’t rush things and use a bit of common sense. Most winches are secured to the boat via long stainless steel bolts. Because the winch retrieves the rope through the top, then ejects it out from under the winch, you need to put some forethought into where you intend to secure the winch to the deck.

Solid Base

My winch was mounted directly over the anchor well. To provide a solid base for securing the winch, an extra piece of 3mm plate alloy was cut to shape then welded over the front half of the anchor well so that the rope was able to freely go in and out when the winch was in use.

For a fibreglass boat, installation is generally easier. It’s a matter of cutting a small hole through the top of the deck so that the rope can pass to and from the anchor well or rope box inside the bow, then mounting the winch directly above it.

Position, Position

Whether mounting a winch on an alloy or glass boat, you need to make sure that it is positioned far enough back so that the anchor can be locked back into position against the bow sprit roller for travelling. Remember, the anchor now lives on the bow roller when not in use.

The bottom line is this: take your time, don’t go drilling holes in the boat until you’re certain that’s where you want them and when all else fails – read the instructions. Actually, read the instructions first and use the template that you always get with a product like a boat winch for drilling the holes. It’s not rocket science.


The electrical side of things isn’t that difficult either. One thing to be mindful of is that anchor winches draw a fair bit of current, so if you need to extend wiring to the battery then use some heavy-duty electrical cable.

Basically, you have a switch, a positive and negative wire – a pretty straight forward to set up. Just make sure you have a heap of cable ties so that the wiring can be neatly hidden from view. Seal over any splices you make to the wiring with electrical tape to prevent corrosion.


Most winches nowadays use 8-10mm diameter anchor rope, so hopefully you won’t need to replace your existing rope. You will however, need to get some new chain because winches use short link instead of long link chain.

The anchor rope is attached to the chain via a splice rather than a D shackle. If you don’t know how to do this then most marine outlets would probably do it for free – if you buy some short link chain off them!


Most anchor winches sell new for $400+. If you want to hunt around it isn’t hard to find a second hand one at a better price.

The anchor winch shown in these pictures was bought second hand for $200 and included 5m of short link chain. The materials used to install it cost $20. All up, that’s about the price of a reasonable snapper reel these days.

Winches are a bit like mobile phones – once you’ve got one, you’ll wonder how you ever managed without it.

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