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Winch Selection Guide

18 Dec 2018

Deck winches are an essential piece of kit on board yachts of all sizes. They provide the power for handling high line loads associated with heavy sail hoists and trimming demands during high winds. The right winch will make the sailing experience more efficient and therefore very much more enjoyable.


There are a great many different sailing yachts and catamarans on the market. Each sail plan will place a unique demand on its winches and crew. Furthermore, owners will all have different sailing aspirations and preferences. So which type of winch should I choose?

The most common winches can be broadly categorised as snubber, plain top, self-tailing or electric. Although each type has variations, the category is broadly determined by design features which assist specific applications.

Snubber winches

Designed to increase sheet holding power on dayboats when the sheet loads are not yet big enough to require a mechanical advantage. The bulk of the sheet is pulled in hand over hand before putting a turn or two around the snubber. The snubber has a ratchet system that freely allows more tension to be applied to the sheet but locks to provide increased friction on the line to assist holding. Tension must be maintained on the exit line to prevent easing. The Barton Snubber Winch is shown below.


Plain top winches

Generally available for all yachts from dayboats upwards. Plain top winches are a versatile upgrade to the snubber winch for short terms use applications. Additional power is provided by manual winch handles which fit the central top sprocket. They are most effective with two sets of hands to operate as tension will need to be maintained on the exit line during winching. These winches are available in a variety of sizes and gear ratios. The larger options often have multiple speeds to allow for fast or slow powerful trimming. Can be used with halyards when they are led through a clutch first and for all types of sheets. Cruisers who may be spending a long time on one tack will either need to make off the free end to a cleat or look at a self-tailing option. The picture below shows a Lewmar 8 which is similar to the Harken Classic Plain Top


Self-tailing winches

Offer the same manual power advantages as the plain top version but have an integrated stripper arm and rope jammer on top of the drum. This allows the winch to be operated by a single person. With the line led up over the stripper arm and then held in the spring-loaded jaws of the gripper, the winch can be worked with a handle to tension the line with the line ‘self-tailing’ onto the cockpit floor or deck. To release the line, the free end is simply unwound from the jaws and manually paid out. The internal ratchets ensure the drum does not unwind at the same time, thus allowing for controlled easing. Self-tailing winches are essential for short-handed sailing or for longer cruises when a sheet or halyard can be set and locked off in one place for long periods of time. Jimmy Green offer a range of self tailing winches from brands such as the Harken Radial, Lewmar Evo and Karver.


Electric winches

Increasingly common on yachts as a solution to a variety of cruising and racing needs. The basic principle is the same as a self-tailing winch except that a 12V or 24V motor mounted underneath the deck drives the drum. Larger yachts are coming ever more popular in the cruising and racing markets. These larger boats carry more sail area and are increasingly sailed slightly shorthanded. The electric winch greatly reduces the effort required to trim and hoist these larger sails. They can be operated from the safety of the cockpit or next to the helm providing safer sailing for those on board. Extra consideration needs to be given to head space below deck and battery power but the rewards are generally worth it. There are models available with ‘rewind’ additional easing functionality which have a double stripper/feeder arm installed to ensure the line travels smoothly in both directions.


Shop for Winches

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Author: Jimmy Green

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