The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Q&A Winch Service Intervals & grease.


Member Courtney asked:

In this whole set of articles on rigs/spars/lines and the bits and bobs that make the sailing happen I see no mention of the service schedule or recommended sundries for winches. I found your suggestions for a water-based degreaser, but no suggestions for the grease (And there’s sooo many, and they all claim to be the best. Ugh). With 10 winches on the to-do list for spring, does anyone have a tried and true winch grease?


You hear all kinds of recommendations for winch service intervals, with the most common being every year, or every season.

But like you, we had a bunch of winches on our McCurdy and Rhodes 56 so servicing them every year would have been a crazy use of time that could be used more profitably in other areas—there’s never enough time to do everything that ideally should be done on a cruising boat.

So we found that servicing all our Lewmar winches every three years was just fine.

And I have to confess that several times over the years the interval was longer than that.

Anyway, we never had any trouble with our winches as a result of this service interval. I think the key is doing a really good service, when we do it, with close attention to checking for any wear and immediately replacing any parts that show even a little.

That said, in nearly 30 years, we have only replaced a couple of spindles —worn teeth.

As to which grease, people get terribly worked up about this on the forums, but we found that our favourite Lubriplate 130-AA works fine and lasts well over the above interval.

In theory we are supposed to use a light oil on the pawls, but we have always just used the same grease and had no problems with sticking.

That said, when I serviced the Harken winches on our J/109 last year I used Harken grease and Lewmar winch pawl oil as an experiment. So far, there has been no discernible difference.

One thing I would caution against is using a lower quality or thicker grease than the 130AA on the pawls, since if they stick in the retracted position the winch can spin and really hurt someone.

Particularly beware of forum posts touting cheaper lubricants from doubtful sources, which, these days, includes Amazon and eBay—both are riddled with counterfeits of other stuff, so I’m guessing the same applies to lubricants.

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Dick Stevenson

Hi John and all,
A rigger I consider very skilled, thoughtful and observant reported that an owner had bought winch covers. The rigger cleaned and lubed his winches every year, but after the winch covers, his work was minimal. He felt covers over the winter made a big difference, especially if the boat was uncovered.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Eric Klem

Hi Dick,

Interesting. Did he state what the difference was? None of us put enough cycles on our winches to wear out the grease by breaking it down. Grease does dry out over time so maybe it is possible that covers could slow this process down? The other thing that comes to mind is that our winches are not sealed so it could be keeping dust out which would certainly make a difference.

We actually just went through and cleaned and regreased all our winches on Sunday. I probably shouldn’t admit it but I use trailer wheel bearing grease as it is very good in wet applications and doesn’t dry out quickly.


Dick Stevenson

Hi Eric,
It was a long time ago, but it was clearly my impression that it was dirt and salt air and dust that accumulated and had nothing to do with the lubrication needing replacing. So, with the covers, the winches were just a lot cleaner. And, if memory serves, I think the focus was on the winter.
I have over-wintered in places where the air quality was pristine and in places where the air carried dust and I can attest that the winches knew the difference.
My boat is frequently uncovered in the winter. I have painter tubs in various sizes that cover the winches.
My best, Dick

Eric Klem

Hi Dick,

Thanks for the info. I hadn’t thought about the salt air, I don’t know what impact that has on grease. Our boat came with winch covers but I promptly got rid of them as I didn’t want 1 more thing to do every time we use the boat. Then again, we do cover for the winter as we always haul in the same spot.

Maybe next time I will try Lubriplate as John suggests. Certainly if we were sailing in really cold weather I would want something less viscous.


Marc Dacey

I use Lubriplate with success, but I also like the tube of Selden waterproof grease that I got, unopened, at a marine consignment place years ago. Lubriplate is quite reasonable: I bought a large tube of it (say, 300 ml) for $20 at Baddeck Marine in Nova Scotia. That’s good for literally years of service.

Marc Dacey

We just did our annual service of our Vari-Prop with this yesterday. It works well to judge by the last three seasons.

Brian Lockett

Consider putting a large towel on the lifelines and down to the deck when doing maintenance on cockpit winches. Stops the small bits from going overboard.

David Barker

A tip (I think from Drew Frye). Cut out a circle the diameter of your winch in the bottom of of a cardboard box. Place box over winch, disassemble winch, no lost bits!

Dick Stevenson

Hi all,
My MO for winches is to take them apart on deck as little as possible and put the chunks in a large painter’s tub and do the job somewhere comfortable with a big drop-cloth around*. This, if memory serves, ensures that you do not have to deal with any of the fussy/springy parts on deck. Put the cleaned and lubed “chunks” back together and return to the spindle where, again, the chunks go back together with a minimum of chance something will spring away.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
*Back in the day, when I had a home, all winches, each in their separate tub, would go home with me and I would have a winter’s day marathon doing the cleaning and lubing in front of some sporting event on tv with a fire in the fireplace.  And, if there is an adolescent side of you, it is very satisfying to throw the paraffin-damp and dirty paper towels in the fire as they get used.

Terence Thatcher

Practical Sailor did an article on winch maintenance in January 2023. In another article in 2018 (search for “pawl lube”) they recommended a high quality bicycle chain oil for pawls. I have started using it, but cannot give any report yet. And I only used it so far on mast and boom winches, where water is less likely to be an issue, I think. as opposed to more exposed sheet winches.

Marc Dacey

WD-40 make an OK bike chain oil, but I use Tri-X, which is the chain oil I use on my biicycles.. It’s not cheap, but a tiny bottle is going to lubricate a lot of pawls at able three drops per service interval.