A winch is an integral part of a sailboat. It will help you raise the sail and also your anchor. Doing both these things might look like a simple task, but if the winds get high to underwater currents rage, you can do some real damage to your equipment and boat if you do not have a winch built from high-quality materials and is strong enough to get the job done.
When choosing a winch for your brand new boat or to replace one in an old boat, you have to consider the materials it is made of, the appropriate size for your boat, how many gears you need and what will power the winch.
Don’t stress though, as we have scoured the market and brought you two of the best winches available. Here are our picks for the best sailboat winches in 2021.
How To Choose A Best Sailboat Winch – Buying Guide
Winches give you the leverage you need to trim your sails. When winds are light, you can easily sheet a sail by hand, but when the wind picks up, you will need much more force to control your sails, force that comes from the gearing in winches. Winches act as a force multiplier, amplifying the force you put into them to give you the power needed to trim your sails. Think about when you have been walking into a strong wind and how it has blown you back. Now, imagine that with a sail (material constructed to catch the wind)! If you are going to be sailing into strong winds, or any winds at all, you are going to need a winch with gears. The same is true if you are using a winch to raise an anchor, also called a windlass. Depending on the depth of the water, the currents, and the size of the anchor, you will need to have gears to aid you. Anchor rode and the anchor itself are very heavy and you not only need to pull them off the bottom, but all the way up to your boat. Having gears makes the process possible in any conditions.
You have two main options at your disposal: one-speed and two-speed.
One-speed winches are cheaper. They give you leverage to manipulate your sails, but I would recommend them for smaller sailboats or special tasks on larger sailboat (such as for winching the reefing clew lines on the boom). When you turn the handle in one direction, there is power but when you turn the winch in the other direction nothing happens. This lets you crank the winch and then position the winch arm to a position that is easiest for you to crank again. The little number on the top of the winch is the force multiplier of the winch, so what you see is what you get with this type of winch. A #20 winch will multiply every pound of force you put in by 20, so if you exert 10 pounds of force on the winch arm, the winch will pull the rope with 200 pounds of force!
Two-speed winches give you more control and more power over a sail especially. You crank the handle in one direction, and you get one speed (the faster speed with the force multiplier of the number on the top of the winch). When you crank in the opposite direction, you get the second speed (the slower speed, but at a much higher force multiplier). This is great for when you need power. You can raise a sail quickly with fast speed, and then use the slower speed to get all the luff tension you need at the end. It is also very useful for sheet winches, as the sheet can be adjusted quickly but then trimmed to perfection with the slow speed.
As with most products, the better the material, the better the product and the more expensive the product. Winches come in a variety of materials:
- Anodized aluminum is lightweight, and it is durable. It is also a cheaper option, making it a popular choice for sailboats.
- Stainless steel is one of the most durable materials you can use for a sailboat winch. You will pay a little more, but the longevity will pay that investment back. They also look great because they will stay shiny with minimal maintenance.
- Chromed bronze is another material which is extremely durable. The chrome gives a modern look, not unlike stainless steel. Chromed bronze will cost a little more, but it will also last for a long time since bronze holds up better than stainless steel in a marine environment. The downside is that any areas where the rope rubs will eventually rub off the chrome plating and reveal the bronze which at first will be a beautiful golden color, but with time will develop a green patina.
- Composite materials are becoming more popular and easier to manufacture. They can be expensive, but you may never need to replace them due to corrosion issues which plague all metal winches. They are also significantly lighter since they are able to shed all that heavy metal and use modern materials which weigh almost nothing.
Sometimes you want some help on your sailboat. It can be hard work captaining a boat by yourself and taking care of everything without any help. Electric winches take the hard work out of operating a winch, and they provide a seamless and powerful service which is hard to replace by human labor.
Most come with a button which can be pressed to activate. An electric winch will have more parts than a manual winch, and there is more of a chance that they will need to be repaired, but with advances in technology, electric winches are becoming more and more durable.
The only downsides with electric winches are that they will typically cost you more and they need power to run.
If you are unsure as to the size of winch that you need, you can find winch size charts on most winch manufactures websites or with a quick google check. Generally, the larger your boat, the more powerful a winch you will need. The size of the winch is represented by a small number on the top of the winch. This number relates to the winches force multiplier, so the bigger the number, the more powerful the winch will be.
Q: How Many Winches Do You Need?
Ideally, you want to have a winch for the mainsheet, and two winches for each headsail (one on the port side and one on the starboard side). These winches will control your sheets. For your halyards, you want one for each sail, so one for the mainsail and one for each headsail. As you can see, the more sails you have, the more winches you need. Then you want at least one windlass mounted on the bow to manage the main anchor, but it is also nice to have a second windlass on the stern to manage the stern anchor (or secondary anchor). Some boats, in an effort to reduce the number of winches needed will have a clutch bank which allows the line to be locked off before it reaches the winch, letting you remove the line from the winch and then use the winch for a different line. This would let you have one winch manage all your halyards.
A lot depends on how many winches you currently have and the condition of those winches. When it comes time to replace winches, you may do so for different reasons. After time, older winches will start to break down and will not work as they should. You may also want to replace older winches with self-tailing winches.
If you are replacing all of the winches on your boat, then simply count the winches you have. If you have a sailboat with some rarely used winches, then you will not need to replace them all. Once you have replaced the winches on your boat with newer winches, you may never need to replace them again.
Most small sailboats will only need between three and seven winches in total.
Q: Do You Want Self-Tailing Winches?
Self-tailing winches can be a great addition to your boat, no matter if you are sailing alone or with a large crew.
When trimming a line on a sailboat, you will turn the winch while at the same time pulling on the loose end of the rope to maintain the tension. While this is not a difficult procedure, you will find that you are using both hands and have to complete the task without being able to do anything else at the same time. You will also only be able to winch in as much line as you can pull with your tailing hand before you have to stop winching to reposition your hands. If you have to sheet in a lot of line, this becomes a very annoying interruption. Self-tailing winches will allow you to operate the winch with only one hand, freeing up your other hand, as the winch does all the work of tailing the winch for you, allowing you to focus on cranking the handle as much as needed while freeing up your other hand.
On large boats with a large crew, you do not need to worry so much about this. One person can crank the winch while the other maintains the tension; but if you are sailing short handed, a self tailing winch is a valuable investment.
I would recommend using self-tailing winches wherever you can (and wherever you can afford it). The benefit of being able to use the winch with one hand far outweighs the extra you may pay for the winch.
Globo Surf Overview
Sailing is a pastime which is enjoyed the world over. Without a winch, you will literally be left high and dry. With the correct winch, you can make your sailing experience safe and enjoyable. There are many winches out there, but we have chosen the ones which will enhance your sailing experience. With an eye on safety and functionality, we want you to enjoy sailing as much as we do.
More Sail Reviews:
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- Outboard Motor
Do you have one of our sailing winches? Tell us how they have worked for you in the comment section below.