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Fishery Ecology, Diet & Zooplanton Program

Development of the Sidewinder Winch for Deploying Instruments at Sea

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Figure 1. The Sidewinder block winch, showing aluminum housing of the drum below the (left to right) planetary reducer, brake, line guide, motor, and lifting handles above.

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Figure 2. The Sidewinder block winch suspended from a davit on a 24’ research vessel.
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Figure 3. A Bongo net being retrieved by the Sidewinder block winch suspended from a midship boom on a 165’ vessel. The remote control operator is partially visible at right, and the net is retrieved through a “barn door” by the scientist below in the hardhat.

Scientific research on shallow marine nearshore processes in recent decades has spawned many new developments in mechanical and electronic equipment used on small vessels. However, typical winches available for deploying oceanographic instruments and nets do not allow flexibility of use among vessels. The Southeast Coastal Monitoring project (SECM) is one research project that formerly used NOAA vessels exclusively and now conducts annual surveys using a variety of charter vessels of different sizes. The SECM project recently collaborated with Markey Machinery (Seattle) to develop the “Sidewinder,” a new block winch that can be used on vessels as small as 24 ft and that eliminates the need for semi-permanently mounted hydraulic winches used with small gear.

SECM researchers conduct annual surveys to sample juvenile salmon, their predators, and associated zooplankton and oceanographic features from May through August in northern Southeast Alaska. Sampling stations are within a few km of shore and bottom depths are typically 50-300 m. During this work, a variety of small oceanographic instruments and nets are deployed from both NOAA and chartered vessels ranging in size from 24 to 165 ft. Vessel configuration varies widely, and sampling operations must be adapted to vessel layout, space limitations, and permanent machinery.

Fish trawling requires large winches and reels typically located midship, while oceanographic sampling requires small winches that are typically mounted on one side on an upper deck. Some vessels do not have a winch of the appropriate size or location to conveniently deploy small instruments according to standard specifications. While the SECM project has a small hydraulic winch with a separate electronic display showing meters of line out, the equipment is nonetheless relatively heavy and non-portable and requires a semi-permanent mounting location near hydraulic lines. In addition, this winch is inconvenient because several staff are needed to monitor its operation and coordinate with vessel power to meet specific sampling gear requirements such as deployment and retrieval at defined speeds and line angles.

The Sidewinder was designed to address the limitations of these hydraulic deck-mounted winches. Its block design is relatively lightweight and portable, with overall size of approximately 34 × 37 in and a weight of 150 lb. The drum and internal level-wind are protected by an aluminum frame below the enclosed electric drive 3-HP motor, reduction gear box, and brake (Fig. 1). The entire water resistant unit can be suspended over the side of the vessel from a sturdy davit or J-frame on a small vessel (Fig. 2) or from a boom on a larger vessel (Fig. 3). The drum has 400 m capacity for lightweight “Spectra” soft-line. Gear mechanics are chain-driven and allow the terminal end of the line with instruments attached to be at 90° angle to the turning drum (Fig. 3).

The Sidewinder is 24-V battery operated, connected by cable to two 12-V deep-cycle marine batteries monitored by a programmable battery gauge. Another cable connects to the remote control box, which features a joystick, emergency stop, and displays for speed (0-2.0 m/sec), line scope, and line angle. The winch is capable of 200 lbs continuous pull at full drum. An optional manual override with ratcheting pawl allows line retrieval using a standard socket wrench in case of drive or battery failure. Operational safety is ensured by the completely contained mechanics, having the working line and load out-board, the built-in overload slip clutch, and by using the remote control box.

The Sidewinder has been especially useful in extending SECM capability to deploy Bongo plankton nets (~100 lbs) in double oblique trajectory to 200-m depths from small vessels.

By Molly Sturdevant, Gary Nishimura, and Joe Orsi


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