How to Use a Winch on a Sailboat

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Last Updated on June 23, 2022

One of the greatest outdoor activities is sailing. It is characterized by the clear blue sky and a gentle wind of wind. You will experience the best moments of your life while sailing. People prefer sailing for passing their vacations as it gives them the best experience.

However, apart from the enjoyment, you need to do pay some hard work. With the assistance of the right tools and your practice, you can find your sailing is more enjoyable. For this, you need to have proper knowledge about winching.

You may get confused about winching. Basically, winches are used in your vehicle as an external attachment. When your vehicle will get stuck, you will be able to recover your vehicle easily. This is not the end. You can use your winch for your other purpose. You can count sailing as an example.

Winches are an important, yet slightly complicated part of sailing. They are not difficult to use however, and with a little practice can be very effective when sailing.

Here, I am going to tell you the detailed steps following which you can use your winch on a sailboat. I will also provide other necessary information as well.

Winches for Sailboats?

Basically, winches on sailboats are used to offer a mechanical way to handle your halyards, sheets and other lines. You will be astonished to hear the pulling force of your sailboat. The small sailboats of length 30 to 40 feet have 2 tons pulling forces. It depends on the wind condition though. 

Besides, winches are also useful to provide the force that is needed in order to control the heavy sail hoists and sail while going through strong winds.  

The working mechanism of a winch is not a difficult science. Usually, there are ropes you will see wrapped around the winch drum. The ropes are held together using friction. The best way to use your winch is by following the tailing method.

In this method, one person needs to hold the rope and another person will be operating the winch. It is not mandatory to use this method as there is a need for two persons. Operating a winch by a single person is also possible.

Choosing the Right Winch for Sailboat

Before moving into the core section, it is better to have the proper knowledge about sailboat winches. You need to know which winch to purchase and which one to avoid. The line pull can be strong if the wind is strong. 

You need to take this issue into your account that your winch has enough capability to handle this. The factors you need to keep in mind while purchasing a winch:

Your Purpose: You will find different winches to satisfy your different needs. There are some winches that are designed for heavy use for instance sailing for leisure or sailing for sports. You need to decide which type of winch you need. Basically, there are two types of winches. They are-: Self-tailing and plain top.

  • Self-tailing: Self tailing winch is the most popular type. They are basically used for sheet halyards and control lines and in yachts.
  • Plain Top: This type of winch is basically used for sports activities. They hold more speed and also offer efficiency in casting ropes. 

Sailing Area: You also need to keep your sailing area in your mind. Because your winch size will depend on your sailing area. So, pay heed to this issue.

Sailboat Length: Your sailboat size is also an issue to consider. You need to have the specifications of your sailboat to find out the best winch for you. You can go to the winch manufacturer and show the specifications, they will manage the rest.

How to Operate a Winch on a Sailboat

Winch on a Sailboat

Now, let’s move into the core section of your article. In order to use a winch on your sailboat, you need to follow some steps. Here, I will be describing all the steps in detail.

Step 1: Wrapping the ropes around your winch

Well, your first step towards operating your sailboat winch should be wrapping the ropes around your winch drum. You should start wrapping the ropes from the bottom part of your winch drum and then moving upwards. So, wrap the ropes around the winch drum following clockwise direction.

Step 2: Number of wraps around the winch drum

I have already told that ropes are remain wrapped around the winch drum and they use friction to hold together. You need to wrap your ropes around the winch drum a few times. Three or four times would be better. It depends on the diameter of your rope actually. If your rope holds a small diameter, then you will need more wraps. It will also help in preventing your rope from slipping.

Besides, you need to ensure that the ropes are stacked neatly with each other when you are wrapping them. It will help to avoid the ropes from being tangled and jammed.

Step 3: Inserting the winch handle

Your next task is to insert your winch handle at the top part of your winch. Then use this handle to make the rope tighten. While doing this, you need to be careful about safely installing your winch handle. To make sure that you have installed it safely, you have to jerk it around. 

As a result, it will avoid unexpected accidents and mistakes that can happen if your winch handle pops off suddenly.

Step 4: Cleating the rope

Once you find the rope is wounded, you need to start cleating the rope. This is actually done to keep the rope under tension.

Step 5: Grinding and tailing

Well, grinding is basically rotating your winch and pulling and tightening the rope is called tailing. You have to make sure that you are doing both of these actions at the same time. It is important to do so. Because doing both the actions at the same time will allow the winch to pull and tighten the line around your winch drum. 

You may do this task alone if you are experienced or expert. However, if you have a mate, then it is better to take help from him. It will depend on the situation. If there are two-person doing this task, then the person who is grinding the winch is the grinder and the person who is pulling is the tailer.

Step 6: Removing the winch handle

You are in the last step. If you have followed all the above-mentioned procedures, you are done with using your sailboat winch. Now you just need to take off your winch handle. That’s it.

Winch Accidents

Well, even the possibility of getting injured while using the winch is lower, still you need to be prepared well to avoid any kind of accidents. It is important to have a safe winching operation.

While using your winch, you should not take your hand too much closer to your winch drum. If you take your hands closer to the winch drum, the line may suck your hand into the wraps, twisting, crushing and mangling your hands and fingers.

Apart from that, the grinder can take revenge by grinding your hand for pulping in your winch drum. I hope you will pay heed to this issue and be careful about your hands while using the winch.

There are several ways for avoiding your hands from getting stuck into the winch. The important thing is how you are holding the rope. The safest way is to hold the rope using your thumbs and then pull hand over hand. Thus, you will be able to avoid injuries.

Winch Maintenance

It is always recommended to take care of your winch. It will help to increase the durability of your winch. For proper maintenance, you don’t need to spend much money.

You can wash your winch using mild soap and water for keeping sand and salt out of your gears. 

Apart from that, it is better not to cover your winch. It can be the reason for promoting corrosion and rust on your chrome, aluminum, bronze or stainless steel. However, if you own carbon or other composite types of winch, then it will help to increase the durability of your winch.


  • Winches are always turned following a clockwise direction.
  • For avoiding a riding turn, pull all the slack before loading your winch.
  • When you load a winch, try to perform at least three turns of a rope around your winch drum.
  • Always try to keep your hand facing the winch drum in order to save your hand from being injured.
  • If you forget which way to follow while turning, then make a quick turn using your hand before by putting a rope around it.

About the Author: Brian Silvestro

Brian Silvestro is the founder and chief editor of OffroadersArena. He spends his free time tending to his BMW iX SUV and explaining its merits to anyone who'll listen.

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