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Sometimes I think that manufacturers, in their misguided attempt to protect the less-smart members of our society, implement “features” that are not so well thought out, sometimes with potentially dangerous consequences. An example of this on our boat would be the inability to operate the electric anchor windlass without the port engine alternator running. I first mentioned our run-in with this feature back in March but we recently had it rear up and bite us again while on charter. How did it come about?

A couple of weeks ago, while motoring east up the Sir Francis Drake Channel, our port engine tachometer dropped to zero and the engine charging alarms came on to signal that the engine was not charging. I initially thought that the engine had stalled but when I backed off the throttles, I could see that it was in fact still running. I asked Rebecca to open the hatch to inspect the engine and she reported back that she could see coolant all over the bottom of the locker. We immediately killed the engine and swapped places, her taking control of the helm while I went to check out the engine. Almost immediately I noticed that the lid from the coolant overflow bottle had come off. Assuming that that was the problem, I topped the coolant bottle back up and replaced it, hoping that all would again be well. When we restarted the engine we saw that it wasn’t. While the engine would start, the tach was still reading zero and the charging alarms were still on. Off again went the engine.

Back in the engine locker and no longer distracted by the coolant, I could then see that the alternator belt had shredded itself. That had to be the problem! Fortunately, I had a spare (several, actually) but rather than fix it while underway, I figured that we’d continue to our destination using only one engine and make the repair after we anchored. Can you guess where this is going?

A short time later, as we neared the entrance to the bay that we planned to stop at, I asked Rebecca to ready the anchor to drop just in case we experienced any drama while navigating behind the bay’s barrier reef. As soon as she tried to do so and it failed to work, we both remembered about the port alternator and how it was somehow linked to the windlass. No alternator, no windlass.

Now, a friend of mine told us that if we simply turned the key part way on that the windlass would work. Nope, it wouldn’t. I even briefly tried to see if it would work with the engine running. Nope. No alternator, no windlass.

OK, so if we couldn’t power down the anchor, I’d let it free fall. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get that to work either. Obviously that is a totally separate issue but it did force our hand, we’d have to switch the belt before entering the bay.

With the help of one of our guests, Ron, an experienced mechanic, I swapped the belt in relatively short order while Rebecca slowly piloted the boat around in a large circle. Once it was switched and the alternator started turning again, all was right again in the world: the tach started working again, the warning lights and alarms went out and the windlass started functioning as it should.

Thanks to our “assistant mechanic,” Ron.

All’s well that end’s well, right? Wrong. That stupid feature is, in my opinion, extremely dangerous! In shallow waters dropping the anchor is one of the first actions to implement when you experience engine failure. While this situation turned out OK, what if we had lost both engines while on a lee shore in bad weather? Some might say that we could raise sail and that’s true but IMO, that is not the first course of action to take.

Since this occurred, I have had that feature bypassed. In the comments on the post I linked above, you can read how others have done the same. I also spoke to some friends of ours who operate 4600’s and they too have had it bypassed. Will we be stupid and run the windlass without the engine running? Of course not! I do, however, want to be able to drop that anchor whenever I need to, regardless of the state of our engine’s charging system.

24 Comments

  1. That is a bummer!

    I’m surprised just turning the key on didn’t activate the solenoid, that trick works on our L47.

    Eric

  2. This why you need to have your kedge anchor ready to use at any time. Hence the importance of the bow roller you were puzzleing about. You would not be able to use the rope drum on the winch, but you can always anchor.

    This is a much used fall-back solution.

    Glad you have solved it anyway.

    Mike

    • This is two different things entirely.

      As for a secondary anchor, we have a delta virtually ready to go in a box locker, and a fortress disassembled in a bag in the same spot. The bow roller in question is not meant to carry an anchor full time.

  3. Beneteau has that “feature” on many of their boats as well, but at least we on my have to have the key on. No engine or alternator required. Your boat should really have some emergency backup switch at the helm for just the reasons you describe, but it sounds like you have taken care of the issue.

  4. Sacre Bleu! Incroyable!

    Sounds like a classic case of someone who has never actually sailed for any reasonable time drawing up the plans.

    Have you been able to review how to let the anchor free fall?

  5. Absolutely crazy design! Always nice to have a second anchor ready to deploy. Maybe a light weight Fortress with a short length of chain then nylon rode. Would make it easy to handle without the use of a windlass.

  6. Our Lagoon did the same thing. We by passed it also. We bought it out of the BVI charter trade, and was told it was set up that way to keep charters from running the batts down. With the engine running no chance of doing that.

  7. We have the same windlass “limitation”, except with the starboard engine (and we don’t have a key, just a start button and a switch). I can somewhat understand that the designers didn’t want folks to burn through the power in the house bank trying to raise the anchor without the alternator helping out (especially when it was a bareboat charter boat), but disabling down definitely feels to me like a safety issue…can’t easily deploy the anchor if you lose the engine. I’ve been thinking of what I should do to rectify the problem on my boat. Wonder if I can just remove the solenoid/switch that prevents use when the engine/alternator isn’t running…or at least come up with some sort of quick override switch. Need to research it further…let us know if you decide to make any changes to the system and if so, how they work.

  8. Another stupid idea thought up by non-sailors to try to keep the pocketbooks of corporations safe at the expense of sailors. If the engine dies, you want to get an anchor down STAT!!! So, or course, you make it so that if the engine dies, you can’t drop the anchor. :Let the lawyers explain the relative costs of replacing batteries and boats, let alone paying claims for wrongful death or injury resulting from being unable to anchor in an emergency!

  9. But do you have a secondary anchor ready to deploy? If not it’s senseless. Windlass’s are great but to have to rely on it …….

  10. I am only commenting on the “assistant mechanic” , my long time pal Ron. I had the pleasure of experiencing his mechanical prowess about a year ago when we were out on the Chesapeake Bay. I was driving an ‘o6 SeaRay 320 and we had issues with the port engine in port (while drinking port).. sorry…

    Anyway, we pulled out and when it came time to get up to speed, the port engine would not rev higher than 1200 or so… it coughs, spits etc.. but no power. This was a mid week excursion or “mental health day” and we were not going to be thwarted by a recalcitrant mechanical device. So we putted along and ended up at Cantlers Crab house. After a lunch fit for… well, us, we left and Ron, the aforementioned assistant mechanic, said… “raise the engine hatch, I have an idea” so he tinkered for a bit and said try it now. Vroom… lot’s of power. We were able to get back under full power. He’s on the short list when looking for crew for outings.

    Cheers to all…

  11. a. I’ve had 2 engines fail between jetties; quick anchor deployment made it into a story instead of a disaster.

    b. I can’t think of any good reason why the engine needs to be on. Yes, it is technically better to have the alternator holding the voltage up, but unless you are pulling under full load (not motoring up) for an extended period (something you should never do), I’d bet my boat it makes no difference at all. Even though the amps are high (pulling–not dropping), it’s only minutes or less. And how much are those alternators doing at low idle anyway? Almost nothing. Perhaps a running engine would matter if the windlass lead wire was undersize and the engine was reved, but I think it’s complete nonsense. Maybe it’s just a clue to bareboaters to start the engine first, since they may have killed the batteries over night with the lights, and they figure they are going to use the windlass hard.

  12. I did not see this mentioned but I was told this was a feature intended primarily for bareboat charters, so they did not drain the batteries. It is a feature I intend to bypass in the near future as well. It wasn’t any fun hauling the chain/anchor back aboard after I end for ended it, while on the hard.

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