What’s in a Winch?


Early History

The earliest literary mention of a winch being used can be found in Greece, in the account of Herodotus of Halicarnassus, in the Persian Wars, where he describes how wooden winches were used to tighten cables for a pontoon bridge over the Hellespont in 480 B.C. Winches may also have been employed even earlier in Assyria. By the 4th century BC, winch and pulley hoists were regarded by Aristotle as the norm for a whole range of architectural use.

In More Recent Times

The American yacht Reliance, which was the defender of the 1903 America’s Cup, was the first racing boat to be kitted out with modern winches below decks, at a time when her rivals relied on pulley systems (block and tackle).

How is it used?

Winches are mechanical devices utilised to wind cable and rope. They range in construction from a simple, hand-cranked spool for rope, to huge hydraulic devices used for industrial-strength wire. Winches are used in various applications (especially sailing and recovery), construction, repairs, towing, and shipping. Ships and boats of all sizes use winches to expedite the rapid winding and unwinding of rigging cables, and building site construction cranes use winches to lift and suspend enormous loads. On the lookout for mobile winch hire in the UK? Make sure to use a professional, qualified, experienced and affordable outfit. Many road vehicles use front or rear mounted winches to pull a heavy weight or to provide additional towing options.

Gears in Action

Fundamentally, a winch consists of a set of gears that help to provide the user with a mechanical advantage. In a simple hand-cranked winch, the crank is attached to a very small gear. This gear integrates with a larger gear inside the winch that directly or indirectly rotates the spool. Each rotation of the crank equals one turn of the small gear, but only a fraction of a turn of the larger gear and spool. This means that you might turn a winch about fifty times for each coil of the rope. This ratio of gears allows an operator to use the effort exerted over a long period of time, into the force necessary to coil rope under a heavy load.


In maritime usage, stainless steel winches are often the most preferred, although there are other materials used for different applications. For example, stronger steel alloys (sometimes zinc-plated) are employed for industrial winch frames and drums, and synthetics are applied in low weight operations. Winches are typically driven by manual, hydraulic, electric or pneumatic power, each of which has its own advantages and disadvantages, depending on the circumstances. All are rated by line pull weight, even though their capacity decreases as the wire wraps around the drum, as well as gear ratio.

Baths and Shapes

Many winches incorporate bearings to facilitate component motion. Some winches actually contain gears encased in an oil bath which then provides continuous lubrication. And when it comes to drum shapes, they can be concave or flat, depending on the winch design. Bet you never knew winches were so universal!

Leave A Reply