Types Of Winches – 2021 Guide

| Last Updated: April 26, 2021

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Winches are mechanical devices that pull in and let out a cable or a rope. They're used for towing, elevators, steam shovels, etc.

There are various types of winches with their own pros and cons, such as electric, hydraulic, air, or even the most basic, hand winches. The winching mechanic has been utilized for centuries, and it still helps us today.

A winch is an essential equipment part for marines, sailors, farmers, heavy-duty workers, and those who want a well-equipped truck.


Different Types of Winches

Let's take a look at which type of winch is the best for what application and make your purchasing decision easier!

Winch Type

Best For


Excellent for short periods to pull semi-heavy loads.


These winches are great for pulling extremely heavy loads without a hassle.


Perfect for dangerous applications where electrical hazards can happen, and construction.


Excellent for pulling and holding light loads. Snubbing winches can also support the main winch in heavy-duty applications.


These winches are utilized in many different industries to move heavy objects with precision.


Wakeskate winches are used for sports, more specifically snowboarding and waterskiing.


Used only by glider clubs to launch gliders into the air.


Primarily used on large boats to secure the boat to the shore.


Capstan winches are a great tool in every industry, they’re extremely versatile.


Hand winches are excellent for personal use around a house or a farm, and they’re a great addition to your vehicle’s equipment.

Electric Winch

Winches essentially have the same purpose. They only differ in how they are powered. Electric winches consist of a motor that uses electricity to turn the drum and spool the rope. An electric winch is usually connected directly to the truck's electrical system, and it draws power for its motor from the battery.

These winches are most usually used for towing heavy loads and pulling others out of snow, so they require a lot of power, meaning that they will drain your battery quickly. You will need electrical upgrades and wiring harnesses made for winches if you plan on towing extremely heavy loads.


  • Electric winches are easy to install because they can simply be connected to the vehicle.

  • You can transfer an electric winch from a vehicle to another vehicle with ease.
  • Electric winches are excellent for pulling heavy loads with minimal effort and to top it all off, they're affordable and low maintenance compared to other winches on the list.


  • Electric winches can pull heavy loads, but if you need a winch to pull large loads consistently, an electric winch won't be the best option.

  • We have established that the electric winch drains power from your vehicle. Your vehicle won't be able to provide that power due to restrictions, overheating, or battery draining.

Photo credit: carbibles.com

Best For

Electric winches are a borderline essential addition to every truck. The advantage of being able to disconnect them and use them only when you need to makes electric winches an excellent addition to your equipment. They're primarily used in towing applications, where you can winch (pull and let out) a load onto your trailer or onto the tow bed. 

Electric winches are also utilized by farmers to pull heavy machinery and they're used by sailors to pull in boats. Lighter model electric winches can be used for many other purposes if you have a powerful battery.

Hydraulic Winch

Hydraulic winches, as the name suggests, are powered by a hydraulic system and a pump. These types of winches are heavy-duty, they have much more power, but they also have many more components. A hydraulic winch isn't as simple to operate, and it most often comes with a control panel display, buttons, and switches.

Hydraulic winches are used to pull very heavy equipment, and unless you need them for work, you should look at another type of winch on this list. However, if you use a winch often, a hydraulic winch might just be the best option.


  • Hydraulic winches are long-lasting and durable with proper regular maintenance. As long as you replace worn-out components on time, you won't have to worry.

  • Hydraulic winches have an incredible lifting capacity. They are used for tough jobs (on-shore and off-shore) to help workers move extremely hefty loads.

  • Hydraulic winches can be used for long, continuous, periods.

Photo credit: winchmania.com


A hydraulic winch is a reliable machine that can pull very heavy loads. To do so, it needs more equipment that can get costly in comparison to other winches. And the winches themselves cost more in general.

  • They're complicated to install, and they require ongoing maintenance to function well for a long time.

  • If you fail to properly care for a hydraulic winch, it will start malfunctioning very quickly.

Best For

Hydraulic winches are used in heavy-duty situations by sailors, dock workers, marines, and anyone else who needs to pull heavy loads. They're an excellent addition to a heavy-duty working environment, as they're reliable, durable, and have great capacity. Hydraulic winches can be used for long periods (as long as the engine is running), which makes them great for continuous work.

This type of winch shouldn't be used in simple applications such as loading heavy equipment onto a truck or pulling others out of snow. - Instead, they should be used for work primarily.

Air Winch

Air winches work on compressed air, which makes them flexible as you can attach them to a larger air compressor when you need to. They aren't limited by electricity or other power sources, which means that their capacity depends on the compressor. 

Another benefit of air winches is their quickness. You'll be able to pull/lift heavy loads quickly simply because the compressed air isn't affected by the rate of winching. These winches are used in oil and gas industries, maritime industry, construction, etc.


Photo credit: labchemicalsupply.com

  • Air winches have a higher-rated pulling capacity. Their capacity depends mostly on the power of the compressor.

  • Air winches can load/pull much quicker compared to other winches. They will not get damaged like a motor would on other types of winches.

  • An air winch has several components that can be placed in different locations in a way that allows you to pull loads in tight spaces.


  • Because of multiple heavy components, they aren't an easy unit to move around like an electric winch.
  • Their installation and operation will require special training.

  • An air witch requires an air compressor to function, and its power depends mainly on the compressor.

Best For

Air winches cannot cause electric shock hazards, and that makes them excellent for applications in every environment, dusty or wet conditions, and use near explosive materials. They do not need special treatment, and there isn't a risk of hydraulic line leakage.

The air motors don't burn out, even if they're stalled for long periods. That makes air winches excellent for lifting and holding heavy loads in the air. Most often, these types of winches are used in high-risk applications and construction.

Snubbing Winch

Snubbing winches have a vertical spool instead of a regular drum and a crank handle or any other form of mechanical drive. Most often, snubbing winches are wrapped around the spool by a worker, or they're held lightly with friction.

These winches aren't used for heavy-duty applications. They're simple, and they should be used to load an equivalent to pulling strength of one to few people. Snubbing winches are quick and easy on the retrieval. To operate a snubbing winch, you should use the "heave and hold" method. In other words, pull perpendicular to the load with one hand, while you grab the slack with the other.


  • These types of winches are extremely easy to operate by a single person or a few people.

  • Snubbing winches don't require electricity, compression, or a hydraulic system to function.

  • The system of the snubbing winch allows for quick line retrieval without much hassle.


Photo credit: gfycat.com

  • Snubbing winches cannot be used for lifting/pulling heavy objects, as they're operated by 'muscle power'.

  • A snubbing winch cannot withstand too much stress; it's designed for small loads.

Best For

A snubbing winch is most often used for pulling in and holding small boats, and more rarely, mid-sized boats. They're much better for personal use rather than a work environment. However, a snubbing winch can be and is often utilized as a support system to the main winch in extreme heavy-duty conditions.

These winches don't require electricity to function, so they're most often used by sailors and boat owners. They're also used to control sheets, as well as other lines on a boat.

Lever Winch

A lever winch is used to lift and move heavy objects without machinery. These types of winches, or hoists, can lift items in every direction, and they can hold them in place due to the self-gripping jaw design. They're also equipped with a top swivel connection that will allow you to lift loads with ease.

The ratchet lever at the side of the winch helps you place the chain/rope in a neutral position. Once you do that, you can put the load on the hook and lift the load with tension. To do so, all you have to do is crank the lever until you've reached the desired height.

Photo credit: hoistuk.com


  • The lever winch is equipped with a unique pulling system. You won't need electricity or any other mechanical devices to operate the winch.

  • Lever winches can move in different directions and positions. - Horizontally and vertically.

  • These types of winches are easy to operate without much danger.


  • Lever winches can pull and hold heavy loads, but if you constantly hold heavy loads in the air, the lever winch won't last long.

  • Lever winches aren't flexible; They cannot be moved around often from place to place.

Best For

Lever winches have many, many uses. They're excellent for industrial areas where heavy equipment is moved around thanks to the lever winches movement. They're also used on construction sites for the same reason. Due to their compact design, they can be used in tight spaces, such as the underside of a vehicle.

Their applications are installation of conveyor belts, rails, pipes, moving heavy objects with decent precision, tensioning utility lines, pulling vehicles, and pulling tree stumps. They're also great for dangerous applications with a risk for an explosion as they can be moved around carefully, and they don’t require a motor to function.

Wakeskate Winch

A wake-skate winch is most often used in sports such as water skiing and snowboarding. The wakeskate winch propels the board across the water with a winch that consists of a frame, a spool, rope, and an engine. The engine is most often gas-powered and the winch sometimes utilizes a simple transmission with a torque converter. The entire system costs quite a bit more than other types of winches.

The wakeskate winch is movable, but it can be mounted to a boat, a vehicle, or tied to a tree. The winch can pull at about 25mph (40 km/h) with a decent pulling capacity.


  • Installing a wakeskate winch is no hassle at all. In fact, the process is extremely simple.

  • A wakeskate winch can surprisingly pull decent capacity at a good rate, especially if it utilizes a good motor and a transmission.

Photo credit: wikipedia.org

  • A wakeskate winch can be mounted to the ground, or tied to a tree.


  • Wakeskate winches are almost non-affordable. Unless you plan to water-skate or snowboard often, it's not a worthwhile investment.

  • The wakeskate winch consists of a motor, and often a transmission. Once certain parts break down, replacing them will cost you a lot.

  • You won't be able to use a wakeskate winch for applications other than water skiing and snowboarding.

Best For

A wakeskate winch is used for two purposes; snowboarding and waterskiing. You won't find many applications for it besides those two. Most often, wakeskate winches are purchased by skiing resorts and resorts near an ocean, instead of an individual. The installation is simple and straightforward, so you won't have much trouble mounting the winch to a vehicle, a boat, or the ground.

If you do purchase a wakeskate winch, you can expect great joy and a fun winter/summer vacation.

Glider Winch

Glider winches are used only in aircraft, more specifically, to launch a glider. They're utilized in most gliding clubs as a cheaper aerotowing alternative, and they're mounted onto a trailer or a truck.

There are various glider winch types, electric, hydraulic, and those with gas or diesel engines. The rope/wire is made of steel or synthetic fiber cable, and it's 3,000-5,500 feet long (900-1700 meters). 

The glider is attached to a truck with a winch that has a powerful engine able to drag a glider into the air.

Photo credit: youtube.com

Pros / Cons

There's no significant pros or cons about these. Either they're necessary for the task (running a glider), or they're not.

Mooring Winch

Mooring winches are primarily used on large ships. They're used to fixate the boat to the shore and secure it. Most often, they're used for shipping boats so those dock workers can transport the cargo from the shore onto the boat without danger. The mooring winch cable can be adjusted in length to compensate for draft and tide.

There are automatic tension mooring winches, they're designed to heave-in once the tension falls below a certain value. Manual tension mooring winches do the same as the automatic ones, but as the name suggests, they're operated manually by a worker. 

Photo credit: winchmachines.com

Non-split drum mooring winches are utilized on medium to large ships only. They're difficult to pull in, so they can't be used on larger ships. These types of mooring winches can get damaged easily if there's too much tension on them. Split drum mooring winches are more suited for larger boats, as the winch drum is divided into two sections; tension section and line storage section.


  • Mooring winches can be used on small, medium, and large-sized boats.

  • They're adjustable, and they fix the boat to the shore very well.

  • Mooring winches can handle a lot of tension depending on the model.


  • Mooring winches don't have many uses outside of the boating industry. They're used only to secure the boat to the shore.

  • The winch rope can get damaged easily if it's pulling/holding more than it's designed to.

Best For

The only use for mooring winches is to secure the boat to the shore. They're used mostly on large scale boats, so if you have a small to the medium-sized boat, you should look at snubbing winches.

Whether you purchase an automatic tension mooring winch or a manual doesn't matter as much, unless you plan on leaving the boat near the shore for long periods. We advise you to carefully choose between a non-split drum and a split drum mooring winch. - You don't want your boat sailing the sea without you.

Capstan Winch

Capstan winches are designed to pull and move heavy weights such as trees, cargo, or various materials. These types of winches can be electric hydraulic, and manual, and they can pull at high speeds depending on how much you're willing to spend.

Capstan winches have a vertical drum that allows you to pull objects horizontally, but the drum rope can be released at any angle. You can switch the drum and the drum rope on a Capstan winch if you need to perform multiple different tasks. These winches are very versatile, they can be used in many different industries, and they have a lot of applications.

Photo credit: runpotec.com


  • Capstan winches are extremely versatile. They can be used in almost any industry effectively, and you won't regret purchasing one, as it will prove itself useful.

  • Capstan winches are lightweight. - You can move them from a location to a location with ease.

  • Capstan winches come as manual, electric, and hydraulic, which once again makes them versatile. They aren't designed to pull extremely heavy weights, but they can with a hydraulic system.

  • These types of winches are easy to install and maintain. Some of them don't require any installation; Just hook them up and you're ready to pull!


  • A capstan winch isn't designed to be mounted in one place.

  • Pulling capacity of a capstan winch is decent, but it isn't for extreme heavy-duty applications.

Best For

Capstan winches are used in many different industries, including Forestry, mining, boating, and industrial. They're also used by individuals, most often farmers, to pull various objects around a farm. Dockworkers use these winches to pull heavy loads onto a boat, and they're even used in the automotive industry to pull vehicles out of snow.

Capstan winches can be fast, they can pull heavy loads, and they're movable, which makes them useful in most situations. Purchasing a capstan winch for personal use will be a decision you won't regret.

Hand Winch

Hand winches are small, portable, and they'll help you move a light to somewhat heavy objects. Hand winches have a drum and a ratcheting crank that pulls the cable onto a drum. Surprisingly, if you keep the line straight from the object to the drum, you might even be able to pull objects as heavy as one to a few tons.

These winches are excellent in wet conditions, but they're beginner winches, and they're not utilized in many industries. 

Photo credit: e-rigging.com

However, for personal use, a hand winch will save you money while it performs the job you need it to well.


  • Hand winches are handy! If you need to pull a heavy object from one place to another, just use a hand winch and perform the task without much hassle.

  • These types of winches can be moved around from a location to another location with ease, and you can utilize them in wet conditions.

  • Hand winches are extremely cheap, and they're an excellent purchase if you're uncertain about your decision.


  • Hand winches require muscle power to pull in heavy loads.

  • Even if you were strong enough, hand winches aren't made out of extremely strong materials, and they can't handle heavy loads.

Hand winches surprisingly have many applications. They're easily movable, and they don't need fuel to function; only muscle power. Most often, hand winches are used by single individuals instead of multiple workers. However, they can get very tiring if you use them continuously. 

Having a hand winch around will prove useful every time you need to move a relatively heavy object from one place to another. They can also be a great addition to a vehicle, especially if you drive in snowy or muddy conditions. Purchasing a hand winch won't break your wallet, and you'll thank yourself one day.

Photo credit: wiki.ezvid.com

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Winch

Here's the main questions you need to ask yourself:

How Will You Power The Winch?

Various winches utilize electricity, gas or diesel, air compressors, a hydraulic system, and of course, muscle power. There are advantages and disadvantages to each system, such as pulling capacity, ease of installation, applications, etc. 

Hydraulic winches, for example, have a limitless source of power, and they can pull heavy loads, but they're not as easy to operate nor install. Electric winches, on the other hand, usually drain their power from a battery, so they can't be used for long periods. 

Photo credit: gifer.com

How Powerful Should Your Winch Be?

Each winch has its capacity rating, which you need to closely consider before you purchase a winch. Do you need to pull extremely heavy loads or just a light load? 

These ratings might not tell the entire story, but you can't purchase a small, light-duty winch to pull multiple tons of weight. Most usually, winches based on 'muscle power' will have a lower pulling capacity compared to hydraulic or air-powered winches. Look through the winches on our list, and choose a winch that's powerful enough for your application.

What Type of Cable Does Your Winch Need?

A winch cable is a key component of a winch. It can decide the speed of pulling, pulling capacity, durability, and a few other factors. Synthetic cables are somewhat prone to damages, so they're not the best if you plan on holding heavy objects in the air. Steel cables might be more durable, but if you exceed the load capacity they can break, which can be incredibly dangerous. Regardless, always make sure to keep proper maintenance when it comes to the winch cable, as it can be dangerous if you don't.

Do You Need to Mount a Winch or Move It Around?

Before you make the purchase, decide whether you need to mount your winch in a single place, or do you need to move it around often. This is important because movable winches usually have a lower capacity and fewer components. If you plan on purchasing a winch for your factory, a few of each might just be the way to go.

Mounted winches can be a hassle to install, but once you do, you don't have to worry. On the other hand, winches with transportation capabilities are much more versatile, but they usually won't be able to pull and hold super heavy objects.


Winches are an essential part of most industries, a farm, or a truck's equipment. They will be useful no matter the application. With these mechanical devices, you'll be able to pull in hefty objects with ease!

People Also Ask

There are so many types of winches, making it difficult to decide which one is right for you. Hopefully, we were able to assist you in your decision.  Down below are the most common questions we get, hopefully, you find them useful!

What Type of Winch Do I Have?

Take a look at your winch and determine how it's powered, that will help you understand your winch the most. Next, look at the components of the winch and compare them to what's in this article, and you'll be able to precisely answer what type of winch you have. The best way to determine what type of winch you have is to go through our list.

What Type of Winch is Good For Towing?

Most often, electric winches are used for towing, pulling hefty loads onto a trailer or a truck bed. A good alternative to an electric winch is a hand winch, however, they will be harder to operate because you need muscle power.

What Kind of Rope Goes on a Winch?

Synthetic and steel ropes, or cables, are the most common. Synthetic cables are more prone to damages, and they aren't as durable, but they're a bit cheaper. Steel cables are much more durable, however, they still require maintenance. If you disregard the maintenance on a steel cable, they will break, which can be very dangerous.

I used to work in construction and landscaping, so I've seen my fair share of ratchet straps, winches, and similar rigging gear. I started Winch Central because I've seen some nasty accidents due to crappy rigging or poor practice. I wanted to be able to recommend good equipment that's SAFE and also provide resources for how its used. I handle the research side of things here as well as product selection for gear reviews.