What Is A Winch, And What Types Are Available In The Market?

A winch is a mechanical device used for pulling, lifting or hauling. It can be used to draw/lift other vehicles, tree logs, Medium Density Fibreboard (MDF), and for dropping or lifting fishing nets in boats.

The winches are typically mounted on the rear end of vehicles to maneuver other vehicles and things. Its build mechanism has helped users to use the winch for other different procedures.

There are different types of winches available in the market. Some winches are operated manually while some use a power source. Despite the difference in the operating system, the winches are more or less made of the same parts.

Parts Of A Winch

Understanding the different parts of winch will let a user know its functionality and the functional area of a winch. Although various winches have similar elements, most of them differ in build mechanism, type, quality, and strength.


Winch Cable

The first thing that comes into the mind of anyone when we speak about a winch is the cable. A cable wire, with a hook at the end, is the one that pulls (or drops/lifts) the things. The diameter and build quality (steel or synthetic) will decide its strength and drawing power.

Winches have either steel or synthetic cable. Galvanized steel is the most popular metal used in winches. Metallic ropes have high tensile strength thereby enabling the user to use it for lifting heavy weights.

Synthetic fiber is also as good as the steel one. It also can withstand rusting and can be used in different weather conditions. The synthetic fiber is made of a special material known as ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene (UHMWPE). This is commercially known as Dyneema or Spectra.


Winch Drum

A drum is a part of a winch to which the winch cable feeds. The drum rotates with the help of a motor and enables the cable to wound or unwound onto itself. With the help of a manual switch (discussed later), the drum can stop spooling and can hold the wire in the desired position.

The drum (along with the motor and gear train) will determine how easily the winch rope can be spooled.


Winch Motor

The motor of the winch is like the backbone of it. While all other parts help in pulling things, motor drives them. An electric winch uses a DC motor which is either a permanent magnetic motor or series wound motor.

The coils of a motor called as the armature, are enclosed in a set of magnets (permanent magnetic motor) or inside another set of coils (series wound motor). The enclosure formed by magnets or other coils is called the stator.

When electricity is passed, the stator produces magnetic fields and rotates the armature. Permanent magnetic motors use a lot of battery power which may result in its quick draining. They are suitable for pulling medium or light weights.

Series wound motors rotate at maximum speed (torque) and are very efficient in pulling heavyweights. The drawback is that it has more mechanical wear and tear than a magnetic motor.

Gear Train

Winch Gear Train

A gear of the winch will control the speed of the motor and so of the drum. The gear reduction ratio increases the efficiency and pulling power of the winch. There are three types of gears used in a winch:

1. Planetary Gear

Planetary Winch  Gear

Planetary gear system has a system of gears which are designed like a planetary system. The gears include two or more outer gears (planet gears) which revolve around a central gear (sun gear). These are the most efficient and widely used in most winches.

2. Spur Gear

Spur Winch Gear

The spur gear system includes gears whose gear teeth are aligned parallel to each other. These gears have similar efficiency as planetary gears.

Spur gear system has two gears which are aligned perpendicular to each other but the gear teeth of upper gear (worm) overlap or meshes with the other one. The upper gear is usually in for a screw while the lower one is circular.

3. Worm Gear

Winch Gear Train

Each gear system has its advantages and disadvantages. The planetary and spur gear system tends free spooling and hence there must be a need for the braking system. Worm gear trains are the strongest of the three, and it has the ability of self-braking when put under heavy load.

But the worm gear must require a clutch system to enhance free spooling. They are also slowest gears in the list.

Fairlead Mechanism

There is a high chance of lateral movement of the rope when it is pulling things. This might injure the users around it or can even be fatal. To prevent the lateral movement, the fairlead mechanism is installed on the winch.

A fairlead will also prevent the mechanical wear of the rope and enable free and smooth spooling. The fairlead built type will vary depending on the cable used. For a steel cable, a roller fairlead is used, and for synthetic cable hawse, fairlead is used.


Winch Battery

A battery is used in electric winches. Usually, an electric winch uses the inbuilt battery as well as the battery of the vehicle to operate. It uses both batteries independently depending on the condition.

Other Parts

Depending on the type of winch, gear system and the manufacturer, a winch may or may not have the following parts:

  • Wireless remote for smooth operation and to maintain a safe distance
    Remote with cable lead
  • Braking system depending on the type of gear used
  • Clutch system also depending on the type of gear used
  • 2 (planetary gear system winches) or 4 (series wound gear winches) solenoids
  • Waterproofing or all-weather tolerance system

Understand that a winch is primarily used for pulling but not lifting. The device used for lifting is known as a hoist.

Even though the winch is not designed for lifting, within the maximum stress or weight conditions, it can be used for this purpose as well.

This understanding has led to the development of specific winches which are used to lift nets in fishing boats.

Different Types of Winches

There are different types of winches based on the mechanism they operate, built mechanism, and the power source.

Air Winch

Air winches are powered by air pressure and are super powerful winches. They are frequently used to lift hefty items and are often used in construction sites. It is also known as air-hoist or air-tugger.

They are also very safe compared to hydraulic or fuel (diesel/petrol/LPG) powered winches.

Watch The Video: Air Winch Selection And Use

Capstan Winch

Capstan Winch

This winch is designed for use on boats. It uses a vertical axle for lifting things on a boat and hence known as vertical-axle or vertical-axis winch. It is used to suspend nets, sails, and cables in boats.

Glider Winch

Glider Winch

Powered by fuel such as diesel, petrol or LPG, the glider winch is used for launching a glider or a plane. The super powerful winch can pull cables of a whopping length of 1000 to 1600 meters.

The glider winch is attached to a plane or glider and pulled up for a distance of 600 to 800 meters, the sufficient height required for gliding.

Lever Winch

Lever Winch

The lever winch has self-gripping jaws instead of a spool. It has a handle for cranking and can be used to lift very high loads. Along with the air winch, the lever winch is widely used in construction sites.

Snubbing Winch

Snubbing Winch

The snubbing winch is an ideal winch for small sailing boats. It has a vertical spooling system and a ratchet mechanism like the conventional winches but it lacks the hand cranking system.

The tail line is used to pull the cable. An operator around the ratchet is designed for controlled release of pressure when it is under load.

Wake-Stake Winch

Wake-Stake Winch

Also known as wakeboard winch, it is popularly used for watersports. Mounted on the back of the boat, it will pull the person on a wakeboard. These winches are used typically for water skating.


A winch is very useful in day to day life. It is helpful in numerous applications and can be used with utter ease. Before you buy a winch, you must understand the need for it. You must also know how a winch works and how various parts of a winch will impact its functionality.

The winch can be used for pulling, lifting or holding things in place. They can be used on large trucks, SUV’s Jeeps, boats, terrain vehicles, for pulling tree logs and are used in construction sites.

Their simple design and versatility will make your job less stressful.

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