eWincher Electric Winch Handle Review—Part 3, Reliability and Summary

Thierry, my contact at Chrysadev, the company that developed and makes eWincher, who has patiently answered all of my questions.

You have probably figured out by now, given that I have already written 5000 words—Part 1, Part 2—that (despite my initial scepticism about electric winch handles) I have come round to the idea that eWincher is a revolutionary product that makes sailing safer and more fun, at least for those of us who are getting older, or those who have physical limitations.

But it's also an expensive product, so it would totally suck to buy one and then have it quit, and it would suck even more if it was a pain in the neck to get fixed.

Therefore, in this third and final (you will no doubt be relieved to hear) part, I'm going to share what I learned from grilling Thierry, my contact at Chrysadev, the company that developed and makes eWincher, about reliability and service.

And then I will wrap up with a summary that will help you decide if eWincher is right for you.

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Marc Dacey

Another consideration that occurred to me are the older, experienced couple who bring aboard a younger, less experienced crew, one who may have the raw strength/flexibility to work a manual winch, but may need instruction to get the techniques down, such as how to position the upper body to bring more oomph to the turn.

Another aspect concerns how my compact wife can sweat the mainsail halyard up because she learned how to do it racing, but “finishing it off’ is limited by her size. So there’s the opportunity for the older owners to use the eWincher in both ‘manual’ and ‘powered’ mode to demonstrate good techniques to those who would benefit from it. Similarly, we trim more readily now thanks to the purchase of a couple of those ‘one-handed’ Lewmar winch handes which are easier to use than the older style. But who knows what the future will bring?

Timothy Grady

Viagra. Perfect! Nice conclusions and scenarios. I saw them at the last boat show (Vancouver 2020 just before the crisis). I almost bought it there and then. It will be put on my list to get.
You mentioned Vesper. Do you think you will evaluate the Vesper Cortex? I need a AIS and was considering it.

Matt

At the risk of getting off-topic, I’d be inclined to argue the opposite – the Vesper Cortex might be a very good option for someone who sees the value of good systems integration between AIS, click-to-call VHF-DSC, AIS MOB beacon tracking, etc. but is *not* a marine electronics hobbyist and just wants to plug the thing in and have it work. Effectively, you’re paying Vesper for a thoroughly engineered, uniform take at the systems integration that would otherwise be hacked together for each individual boat. (The wireless handheld controllers are optional – they also come tethered like a normal VHF mic.)

Vesper obviously thinks that many users will want an independent backup VHF, and thoughtfully included a lossless VHF antenna splitter with the device so that said backup VHF can share the same cable & antenna. For the rest of its functions, I don’t see much downside to a marginally increased risk of losing the remote monitoring system and the AIS to a single failure, versus having to set up and maintain multiple independent systems for each function, each with its own redundant backup.

Systems integration is *always* the big risk point for cost, schedule, and reliability. That’s a universal truth for everything from a basic one-antenna VHF-DSC install, to a complete NMEA2000 network, to a car factory’s robots, to an F-35 fighter jet. The more of it you front-load onto the design engineering team, the easier everyone else’s jobs will be.

That’s part of what makes eWincher so brilliant. They took all the difficult, expensive, unreliable aspects of integrating a powered winch system on a one-off custom basis, and put them all into one little self-contained mass-produced box, so that integrating it with literally any sailboat is just a matter of “Plug in charger here, attach holster there, click winch bit into winch socket.”

Neil Ramsey

Amazingly it is less expensive in Canada! Rekord Marine (the distributor) lists them at $2835 CAD. They are even less at some of their dealers.

Ernest E Vogelsinger

Interesting – in Canada with Rekord Marine it is even lower in price than in Europe (difference is EUR 450,-, or almost CAD 700,-). Too bad they only ship to North America…
On the other hand, a spare battery pack is cheaper in Europe than in Canada.
Crazy world.

Ted Simper

Just checked Binnacle.com. They list the ewincher at $2,499.00.

Warren Cottis

Hi John
This has been a great analysis but because it has three staged time parts maybe you could add an edit for my question. I think others would be interested.
I am mature age but have always exercised a lot. So I can still winch a mainsail on a 64 footer to the center line setting up for a gybe. However the pushing away from the body movement gets a tad slower for the last 15 to 20% to the center line from a fully eased main when running.
If I’m still winching to the end of the movement… would ewincher have the grunt for that size boat (mainsail load) to speed up my failing speed for that last 15% of centering the boom?
Cheers
Warren

Eric Klem

Hi John,

This series of reviews has been interesting, it definitely seems like a product that is well thought out and offers significant customer value in the right use cases.  The use cases you outline make perfect sense.  We will likely not be buying one anytime soon but maybe when we are less strong or sailing a different boat.  I keep toying with the idea of building or buying a winch bit for a drill but only for the purpose of making going aloft easier and so I don’t need the waterproofing and other benefits of the ewincher.

As far as quality goes, one very quick check you can do in most industries is to simply see whether someone is ISO 9001 certified.  A very lazy google turned up a mention of 9001 on Lalizas website but seemed to suggest they were only following the standard and not certified to it (language barrier might be causing me to misinterpret).  The difference here is whether you have an outside organization auditing you regularly or whether it is only self-policed which usually leads to more corners being cut.  It is far from guaranteed that a product is good if the company has a 9001 quality system but it is a good first step.  This process is very light on design and focuses much more on manufacturing but if a design issue keeps popping up, then it will force it to be addressed eventually.  While it is far from perfect, it is kind of a universally accepted standard that unfortunately the marine world has largely ignored.

As to servicing, the sad fact of the matter is that as we demand higher performance and more features from products, the mechanics of servicing are forced to change.  Smart companies these days define the concept of a minimum replaceable unit or something synonymous.  This is needed as it often allows for cheaper initial manufacturing but it also makes what the techs have to learn to diagnose and repair reasonable.  It can be truly cringeworthy to examine repair work on complicated machinery and realize that often it takes multiple service calls to get to the proper diagnosis of the root issue.  To try to make this reasonable, the original design must take it into account and then the company must define the MRU for field service and for in-house service and stick to that.  From a purely economic standpoint, this means that with cheap stuff, it ends up being outright replaced and for expensive stuff, the service strategy depends on how expensive it is to ship it as doing the repairs in a service center is always better.  Because we can make such complicated things so cheaply and we haven’t figured out how to automate servicing, it has really skewed the cost equation.  From other standpoints such as environmental, having big complicated MRU’s is not good so I applaud companies like ewincher that try to have reasonable service fees.

Eric

Matt

The ISO 9000 series are popular largely because big corporate customers call for it as a contractual requirement often enough that, if you have a lot of B2B sales, it’s worth implementing just to tick that box.

As a quality program, it’s better than nothing, but it does have shortcomings. My main concern is that ISO 9001 is mostly an exercise in bureaucracy and paperwork. It’s a way of proving that you have formal internal processes for everything quality-related, they are documented, they are consistent across the company, and you follow them precisely. It has little or nothing to do with whether those processes, or the physical goods to which they apply, are any good.

There’s a very large difference in mindset between the kind of people who design and support good products, and the kind of people who are good at ISO 9001. If you can do the former, you’ll probably hate the latter, and vice-versa. So a company that moves fast and makes an innovative product often can’t do ISO 9001 on their own; they need to hire someone with a very different outlook and attitude to do it. Similarly, a team that goes straight for ISO 9001 right off the bat is likely to be very bureaucratic, procedure-bound, and have a hard time with rapid-feedback, rapid-iteration product development.

The overhead & cost, in the latest (2015) version, isn’t nearly as bad as it used to be, but is still onerous for a small team. It’s not something I would push for, or be willing to do, at the scale of the eWincher guys. For a larger outfit, on the scale of Lewmar or Spinlock? That’s where procedural uniformity starts to make more sense.

Eric Klem

Hi John,

The affordability is a totally fair question for small companies.  Note, this answer is coming from someone who designs new products and supports them through product launch not someone who has ever worked in a quality department or a manufacturing department.  Most of my work has been at either 9001 or 13485 (med device version of 9001) companies.

If you look at the activities that 9001 requires, for medium and large companies, they are generally stuff that you should be doing anyways from the standpoint of business, safety, etc. Companies making inherently safe products in a non-regulated industry may find that there is some extra paperwork but for people doing safety critical stuff or in a regulated industry, they probably need most of it anyways.  There is also some effort that goes into both internal and external auditing but without those sorts of things, most larger companies will fail to do what they are trying to.  A very quick google search shows that Yanmar, Perkins, Cat, Cummins, Deere and probably all other major engine manufacturers are certified.  For companies making those volumes of complicated product, they need a good quality system and so while they customize it to their situation, it follows the standard.

Like everything, people make a big difference.  Many people who run or are part of quality systems are quite good but there are some who really are not and substantially hurt businesses and also give rise to many of the complaints about being certified.  One example that seems to be somewhat common are people who only worry about audit risk which kind of misses the point of a quality system and instead just creates burdensome paperwork.  If you operate a good system, then your audit risk will be low but trying to lower audit risk doesn’t guarantee quality as it and can mean trying to hide activities or trying to avoid being at all prescriptive so that employees don’t actually know what they are supposed to do.  Another type that you run into is people who seem to feel their job is to say “no” to everything and they extrapolate what the standards say into crazy contortions just so that they can wield power and shoot down any proposal.  The people who are good know the standards well, know their own quality SOP’s well and then work with you to understand what you are trying to do and come up with a solution that works on all fronts.  With the right people at the helm, I don’t find 9001 to be overly burdensome for complicated or critical products.

The trick is that most things with significant overhead do not scale well to smaller organizations.  I know that it is possible for 2 person companies to be compliant in theory, I don’t know whether a single person one could be, that would take someone with better standard knowledge than I.  But with 2 people, it would take a significant amount of time to work with the system.  Also, the incentive structure is very different at this scale, especially as there is usually an owner involved.  If one of those people does not have a background in quality systems, it would be tricky to get one up and running, just sitting down and reading the standard would be confusion inducing at best as the standard is written to apply to a huge range of companies.  There are plenty of consultants out there to help get a system up and running.  Another service these people will provide is to do the internal auditing for you so that it doesn’t take your time and they can help with education.

In practice, the best way for a small company to deal with this is often to pay a certified contract manufacturer to build the product.  For anything short of super low volume products (ewincher probably falls into this category), you either need a significant internal workforce that requires a quality system or you need to outsource it.  Many (most?) of the contract manufacturers, especially in places like north America and Europe, will be certified to 9001 so you can say that your product is built in a 9001 facility.  What I don’t know about is how rigorous this is at getting input back to the designers when there is a design issue that needs to be fixed.  Because I design big capital equipment where it does not make sense to outsource anything larger than parts and basic subassemblies, I just have no experience with this.  Outsourcing is hard and requires good documentation, communication and oversight so that must be kept in mind too.

Eric

Marc Dacey

A related issue of regulatory compliance may be familiar to some readers in Canada, that of the Honda eu2000i (and now eu2200i) portable generators not being available in Canada in the “companion” version, the one that can be hooked into a “regular” generator to give nearly 30 amps of AC power and which have a standard 30 amp outlet.
The companion model, certified for over a decade in the U.S. with Underwriters’ Laboratories, was only recently passed by the Canadian Standards Association in Canada, purportedly (according to the Honda reps I would badger at the Toronto boat show every January) because of the high cost of submitting units for review and meeting the (nearly identical) standards in Canada’s smaller market. Nonetheless, Honda saw fit to obtain the certification this past year, and I sold my 12 year old Honda 2000 for $750 (they hold their value far better than a car) and bought two new ones. Until that point, I thought I would have to buy from a U.S. Honda dealer, with all the possible insurance implications that suggests. I’ve used them for power in the East River yard as opposed to running out 150 feet of 12 ga. cord to the nearest outlet and they work as advertised with the customary Honda reliability and comparative quiet.

Matt

Marc – having dealt with this professionally, I’m convinced that Canadian electrical codes, and the alphabet soup of agencies surrounding them, are an absolute nightmare of bureaucratic insanity. I’m generally inclined to blame too much privatization. We’ve outsourced the writing of the codes themselves, as well as the testing and certification of products and the field inspection of all but the most basic wiring jobs, to a small group of for-profit companies who, with essentially no public or governmental oversight, are heavily incentivized to milk as much money as they can out of the standards and certifications process.

Never mind that, strictly from a technical standpoint, the criteria to pass CE Low Voltage Directive or Underwriters’ Laboratories (US) testing are effectively identical to those for CSA, and AC power in Canada works exactly the same way as AC power in the States. No, they want you to bring your sample to one of the private labs in Canada, and pay anywhere from $10k to $50k to have it tested by Canadians.

And you can’t really argue about it, because (a) unless you’re an engineer at a company that needs them, you’re forbidden from looking at the codes and standards by copyright law, and (b) even if you could see them, how do you tell a politician that the system is stifling clever, innovative new products, when the other side can just say “Because Saaaaafety!” and keep levying their quiet private tax on anyone who wants to invent something new?

I’m not kidding about the copyright thing, by the way. Every PDF I get from ISO, CSA, etc. is individually watermarked, and some of them include phone-home code to report back to CSA whether I’m reading the thing in a manner that violates their licence agreement, eg. letting a technologist look at it in the lab at the same time as I have it open on my workstation.

Eric Klem

Hi John,

While we are at it, I thought that I would touch on how to ensure good design which is very different from consistently manufacturing the design to its specifications.  Unlike manufacturing where there is a single standard (9001) which is universally recognized even if not perfect, the design side has no single standard (and often very few standards at all).  And of course, all of this is done in an environment that usually has a lot of schedule and cost pressure.

The first trick is getting requirements right which is often done in conjunction with product management if the organization is large enough to have an equivalent department.  Often the problem that arises is that you get mutually exclusive requirements with common examples being the required feature list and the cost or the performance and the size/weight.  How well these are traded off is really important and very tricky as it is remarkably time consuming and expensive to do.  There are some standards for how to write these (IEEE has a common one) and with regulated products, some requirements are basically written for you but the rest must be developed by the team.

During design, there are 2 big things to get right, picking the right overall concept(s) to implement and then executing them well.  Getting the concept right involves a good job of generating concepts and then being smart about selection.  There are some tools to help in selection such as a Pugh Matrix but it really comes down to the people analyzing them right and running basic analyses to understand feasibility and performance.  It is very easy at this stage to overlook issues that will arise in detailed design or to be overly optimistic about how things work out.  Actual execution of the design, usually called detailed design, really comes down to the people doing the work and whether they are rigorous or not.  Larger companies often have design standards that include things that you must check but that doesn’t make up for people doing inadequate design.  Then there are design reviews where hopefully everything is checked followed by engineering change orders.  I have to say that an amazing number of designs get waived through this that never should be such as things that are indeterminate, overconstrained, underconstrained, etc.  It is worth noting that there are a few certifications for engineers.  Engineering schools can be accredited.  Also, there are some professional certifications such as the PE but they are usually very specialized and not required for most of the products you interact with.

Testing is an important component for checking your design but it cannot be the only one.  There are many standardized tools to use here in terms of test methods (HALT, ASTM tests, etc) and also in terms of processing the data.  Many organizations and regulatory bodies use testing as the ultimate backstop but it is flawed in that.  The trouble is that once you get more than a few components, it is impossible to actually test the bounds of what an in-tolerance set of parts would produce as test samples are usually from the same lot and if not, they are at least early units where molds are not worn yet, etc.  Tolerance stackup is just one example of something that you simply can’t test properly and therefore need to do it during design as an analysis activity.

The other thing you have to backstop some designs is regulatory submissions which are required in a few industries but largely not required.  These tend to be safety risk based and not business risk based so poor designs can still make it out the door.  Of course, in all of this, you can still have failures such as the recent 737 MAX failures which made it through multiple layers of protection but that is the exception and not the rule.

I hope this is helpful and not too long or off subject.

Eric

Marc Dacey

It is helpful, Eric, to understand the processes by which the products on which we depend come to market. Thanks.

Ron Eberle

All commentary re QA aside,
I’m curious as to any comparison between the performance of WinchRite ABT and eWincher.

Ron Eberle
East River Point NS

Barry Young

John do you know if the Ewincher is allowed to be carried on board commercial flights ?

Dick Stevenson

Hi Barry,
My experience is that large and heavy objects are not welcome in the cabin. I would think that large and heavy and also complicated and unusual and battery operated would also be suspect. I would contact the company as well as the airline. It might have to be sent separately which, in country, I have had good luck with, but country to country, I have had troubles with, so a tracking number was for me essential.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Dick Stevenson

Hi John and all,
Interesting (and wonderful) that they are getting so much work out of such a small package.
When I referred to large and heavy, I was thinking that, in my experience, anything that is looks like a club or could be used as one, and especially a complicated piece of kit, is frowned upon when going through security.
I would hope to be proved wrong as I would think that if you owned an eWincher, you would want to take it to where the boat is and buy locally as well as to take it when chartering or crewing.
But you may be referring to removing the lithium batteries from the eWincher and carrying it in the cabin and letting the “club” element travel with luggage. I am clueless about battery transport, in cabin or otherwise.
My best, Dick

Brian Russell

It’s good to know there is another viable option for electrifying winches. This fall I bought a 28v cordless Milwaukkee right angle drill and a Winchbit (total around US$550.), thinking it would be a good emergency use tool should I become disabled through accident or injury or sickness while at sea and my wife needed help with the winches. Recently we sailed double handed from Hampton, VA to English Harbor, Antigua, 1675nm and 13 days. It was a very challenging passage, as the trades were blowing from due E at 25-30 from about 36N on south all the way to Antigua at 17N, so making our easting was a constant battle. We were close reaching the last 10 days after riding te Gulf Stream ENE from the Chesapeake (I know, weird route).This was by far our longest passage and as the days and nights wore on, the squalls blew through and the genoa got reefed and unreefed multiple times a night, i found myself simply becoming physically exhausted. I am a big fellow, fit and 59, but after 7 or 8 relatively sleepless nights of bashing I turned to the Milwaukee to grind the winch when reefing. Nice and gentle, easy to control while sitting down on the cockpit seat. Fortunately we were on Po tack, with the furling winch on the Sb coaming, in this case leeward side, so no waves threatened the drill motor. The Milwaukee really relieved some stress from my duties and I found myself much more willing to make the short term reefs for squalls than I was otherwise, leading to a better, safer passage. I did not need to use it at the mast as we generally kept 2 reefs in the battened main the entire trip. It’s reliablity in wet conditions is the big issue. The eWincher sounds like the real deal and I highly recommend offshore sailors have some sort of electric solution for emergency use.

Mike Thrower

I’d finally decided that an eWincher was the way ahead on my Boreal 44 especially for raising mainsail……went to the website and discovered that an eWincher 2 is being launched on 15th feb 2021…10 more Nm, 20more RPM and 15% extra running time…..just wondered if you’d had a foretaste of the new version ??

Mike Thrower

Thanks John….price has gone up of course but some deals on the first version….a decision to make !

Devon Rutz-Coveney

Hey John, Per my previous contribution on the Ewincher subject: I got one for Christmas 2020…. We have been in contact with ‘Philipe’ at Ewincher… great/prompt customer service. The Ewincher does what the promotional materials say it does. We have been very pleased. I wish I had known about this product (had it been available then) before we bought the compact motor for our Andersen winch. This was a huge investment for us then. The Ewincher will definitely fulfil the ‘grunt’ requirement on our winches going forward. The price compared to getting/installing electric winches throughout the boat makes it quite an easy decision. We bought an extra battery with our system just in case, but so far, sailing hard with the unit in conditions requiring frequent sail adjustments, the battery has never been an issue.I am really amazed at the power… the other great point is you can ‘feel’ what is going on with the line you are adjusting… not always the case with electric winches. IMHO a good investment.

Rich Morrow

Hi John,
In the past year I have followed your wise counsel of a few things (re-powering with a BetaMarine 50 rather than attempting further fixes on my aged Yanmar; the set up of my preventer lines, and running backstays) and enjoyed a fair bit of confirmation bias on other matters where we agreed. I just picked up the eWincher 2 – it’s got to be the best “geezer-gadget” out there!. After the first day on the water with it I am sure that it will materially improve my enjoyment of my boat and extend the years that I can safely and comfortably handle it. Trimming and furling my 450 sq ft genoa had definitely grown a little daunting with (humble admission) advancing years but this device tackles the hard pull superbly.

Iain Dell

We took a ‘brave-pill’ and forked out just under £2000 for the EWincher2 at the start of the season; it went from new-gadget status to valued crew member in quick time.

Recommissioning a boat stranded because of the CV19 response 4500 miles from our home for many months involved numerous trips up our tall mast. Not having to grind meant I could observe my (much lighter!) wife the whole time without straining my neck and knackering myself. When we got to sea, the facility to effortlessly wind in miles of string, particularly that attached to the asymmetric, again reduced tiredness and prevented over-heating when wearing foulies. It meant that both of us could trim the sails all-day long without effort and of course, if something is easy to do you’re more likely to do it then if it’s a pain, which it literally can otherwise be.

As well as the physical assistance, I appreciated the immense saving on the batteries over a powered winch and, something I regard as particularly important, the instant feedback the handle gives you should something snag. It sits securely in the winch and I haven’t ever found it’s size to be an issue. As for battery life, well, in a lengthy and very active cruise in some strong winds this year we’ve needed recharging far sooner than the device ever has. As you do with anything you buy, I’ve now mentally written off the purchase price and wouldn’t like to sail without it.

Many thanks to you and the others who provided such useful comments.

Stein Akre

We opted for the e-wicher this spring, and on the most part it is a useful piece of kit. We did however have a malfunction this summer after a wet gale on the Swedish coast. It basically just froze up. We delivered it for repairs and ended getting a replacement after two months. Although the service was OK, the feedback from the manufacturer was an eye-opener. It turns out it is far from waterproof. The manufacturer suspects the thing haven fallen into water, which to my knowledge is not the case. It has though hung on the main mast winch during a gale with occasional deck spray hitting the masthead area. All in all a rainy and wet day. I suspect this is what got into it. I did not think much of it at the time as the brochure boasts it can handle spray. So in the future I will; 1. Be careful with it in wet conditions. 2. Not make myself dependent upon it. Had I known what I do now I might have installed a primary electrical winch in the cockpit area instead.  Here is by the way the answer from the manufacturer, it might be an interesting read for those considering buying one, and as a reminder to those who already have:
 
« …After a complete diagnosis of your customer’s Ewincher by our technical department, we would like to share our observations with you.
 Indeed, as you mentioned, the crank didn’t work at all, even with a new battery.
When we opened the Ewincher, our engineers found that all the internal components were completely rusted, and we found water inside.
The presence of water was not enough to say for sure that the crank had fallen into the water. So, we will proceed to the replacement of this Ewincher crank body for free.
 However, can you ask your customer how this situation happened?
It is important to mention to your customer that Ewincher is IPX6 rated, it is splash proof but not fully submersible. 
Also, to prevent this kind of situation from happening again, it is strongly advised notto leave Ewincher on the winch day and night, because with prolonged exposure to humidity, infiltrations can be created and deteriorate the good functioning of the product.