As a boat owner, you know that unloading the boat into the water and loading it back onto the trailer can be a struggle, especially when you’re relying on your muscles only. Having a good trailer winch makes this task quicker, easier and safer. Here, we have reviewed some excellent boat trailer winches to help you find the right one for your needs. 

There are two types of winches available – manual and electric. Manual winches are operated using your hands, while electric winches connect to your car battery. To learn how to choose the best boat trailer winch for your boat and trailer, be sure to go through the buying guide further down. We’ll be explaining the two types in more detail, as well as the features and specs you should look for when buying.

How To Choose A Boat Trailer Winch – Buying Guide


Types of  WinchesManual Winch

While there are different manual winches, the operation principle is the same – you have a drum with a line, and a hand crank. Cranking the handle pulls the line into the drum, and your boat with it. A ratchet lock prevents the line from going in the opposite direction due to the pull of the boat weight.

It can have a single speed, or a gearbox to increase its efficiency. Changing gear multiplies your strength, so you can load a much heavier boat. Gear ratios range from 1:1, 3:1, 5:1, and the best boat trailer winch has 16:1 or more. For example, 5:1 means you need five cranks for one drum turn. This makes it easier to load your boat because a much smaller amount of strength is required.

Electric Winch

An electric winch is generally easier to use and has a larger capacity. However, it’s also more expensive. There is an electromotor inside which pulls the line in. Because it doesn’t depend on your muscle power, it can pull a much heavier boat. The line is usually a low stretching steel cable, which adds strength. In addition to pulling the line in, it’s a plus if the winch has reverse, so you can control the descent of your boat.

It’s advisable to keep the vehicle running while you’re using the winch because it can be a significant drain on your battery. In some situations, it may completely drain it, meaning you won’t be able to start the car. Also, always set the parking brake and have someone behind the wheel (if possible). This minimizes the chance of a trailer pulling the tow vehicle into the water.


Some electric winches come with a cable controller, while others have a wireless remote control which is powered by batteries. Having a remote control allows you to operate the winch from a safer distance, and have better flexibility. A wired controller sometimes has limited cable length so you need to be closer to the winch.

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Winch Capacity

Winches are rated for the amount of weight they are able to pull up a ramp and onto your trailer. Range goes from several hundred pounds (good for inflatables and smaller vessels) to over 10,000 pounds on some power electric winches.

Make sure the winch you get has adequate pulling capacity for your needs. Boat trailer winches need to have a larger capacity than your boat. You need to take into consideration that you will have gear on board, like an outboard motor, marine cooler, or extra batteries.

Capacity should exceed the weight of your fully-loaded boat. This way you will be safer while operating. You will also get a solid performance from the winch in more difficult conditions – when the ramp is steeper or in rough water.

Strap or Cable

Your winch can either be equipped with a nylon strap or a steel cable for pulling the boat onto the trailer. Steel cables are generally tougher and handle a heavy load better. On the other hand, straps are used for lighter vessels. They are usually found on manual winches. Polyester/nylon straps are much softer on your hands, compared to cables that can slice them.

Whichever type you choose, make sure it’s durable and resistant to saltwater damage (if you’re taking your boat to the sea or ocean). Many winches have special corrosion-resistant coatings. It’s also important to simply rinse off your winch cable with fresh water when you get home. Steel cables should be lubricated from time to time.



Q: How Do You Size A Boat Trailer Winch?


Boat trailer winches capacity should be at least 50% greater than the boat’s total gross weight (fuel, outboard motor and gear taken into account). To determine what size boat trailer winch you need, add the weight of your boat, motor, fuel and gear and multiply it by 3/4.

Q: How Do You Mount An Electric Winch On A Boat Trailer?


Electric trailer winches are usually larger than manual winches and will require a larger footprint for installation. A standard winch top may not be roomy enough for the electric winch and you may have to bolt on a plate extension. Since winch assemblies and mounting styles differ among brands, its best to follow the instruction manual your winch came with. 

Generally, the process of installing an electric winch is as follows:

  • Remove the old boat trailer winch. Spray the nuts and bolts with lubricant and leave it to set for about an hour. Disconnect the wires connecting the old winch to the boat. Release the lock and pull out the line. Remove the clip and nuts and then lift the winch and bolts from the trailer tongue.
  • Run the cable along to the winch, and then pull the power cable until you reach the winch. Wire the winch in place by connecting it using a bolt, a washer, and a nut. Make sure the electric winch is on the center of your trailer then hook up the snap on the winch and tighten it down.

Q: How Do You Change A Winch Strap On A Boat?


The first step is to loosen and remove the locknut holding the current winch strap and then remove the old line. To install a new strap, insert the bolt through the holes in the spool and loop on the new strap. Fix the nut on the end of the bolt. Apply tension on the strap and winch it onto the spool to wind it. Hook it onto your boat and winch it tight. 

Q: How Does A Boat Trailer Winch Work?


Boat trailer winches are equipped with a drum spooled with line. One end of the line is attached to the bow eye of your boat, while the other is on the drum. You lift the boat onto the trailer by reeling the line in, either manually by winding the hand crank or with an electric motor. With a manual winch, cranking the handle pulls the line into the drum, and your boat with it. With an electric winch, there is an electromotor inside which pulls the line in.

Q: How Strong Should My Winch Be?


The general consensus is that the winch should have a weight capacity 1.5 times the combined weight of your boat, motor, fuel and gear. The heavier your boat is, the stronger the winch you use should be to give you the pulling power you need.   

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A quality winch on your trailer is an excellent investment. It can make loading and unloading easy, so you’ll have more time for fishing and enjoying the water. We hope our boat trailer winch reviews and choosing guide will help you get the best boat trailer winch for your needs. 

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