How to Attach Cables to Boat Winches

How to Attach Cables to Boat Winches

Explore America's Campgrounds

When you attach an anchor cable to your boat's winch, you make the physical connection to the winch and roll the cable onto the winch, which is a straightforward process. After a couple of years of use, your anchor cable may require replacement because rust has weakened it or its coils have rusted together. You can avoid this problem with some preventive maintenance when you attach the cable to the winch.

Items you will need

  • Strip of cloth

  • Box-end or combination wrench

Tie a strip of cloth around the cable, 6 feet from the end that will go onto the drum last, which is the end to which you plan to attach the anchor. Dip an old washcloth in waterproof marine grease. Wrap the grease-laden washcloth around the cable at the end that goes onto the winch first and grease the cable to a point 6 feet from that end.

Look at the winch drum's side plate for a bolt or pair of bolts holding a metal compression strap. Remove one or both bolts with a box-end wrench or combination wrench, allowing the compression strap to swing free.

Insert the cable through the hole in the winch drum side plate, from the inside to the outside. Pull enough cable through the hole in the winch drum side plate to ensure the cable's end will pass under the compression strap.

Move the compression strap over the cable. Tighten the bolts that hold the cable in place with the wrench.

Don leather gloves and wrap the grease rag around the cable. While holding the grease rag around the cable, operate the winch, pulling the cable onto the drum. Tend the cable so that wraps are in even layers, a process called "tailing the winch."

Stop the winch just before the cloth strip indicating the end of the cable is pulled onto the drum. Remove the cloth strip that marks the end of the cable. Wipe the grease rag over the last 6 feet of the cable and attach the anchor.


  • Do not grip the cable tightly when greasing it: Even new cable may have broken wires, called "fish hooks," that snag the grease rag and pull it from your hands. Wear gloves to minimize the risk of injury. If the hook is near the farthest ends of the cable, cut off that section of the cable with a cutting torch. If there are broken wires in the main body of the cable, it should be replaced.


  • Tie one cloth strip around the anchor cable at 90 feet from the anchor and two cloth strips at 180 feet from the anchor. Tie three cloth strips around the cable at 270 feet from the anchor to signal when you're nearing the end of the anchor line. If you're in 50 feet of water, you should ideally have 250 feet of cable out. The length of cable you let out when anchoring, called the "scope of the anchor cable," equals five to seven times the water depth. These strips give a ready visual indication of the scope of the cable you have out.
Gone Outdoors