Getting Hitched: Should You Choose A Manual Or Electric Winch For Your Boat Trailer?

Posted on: 5 February 2018

Using a trailer to transport your boat over dry land can be considerably cheaper and more convenient than sailing from port to port or paying boat transportation companies to move your boat. However, without a winch that can safely pull a floating vessel onto your trailer, your trailer won't be much use. As such, you should put as much time and effort into choosing your boat winch as you do your trailer and even the boat itself, and this means deciding whether to opt for a manual or electric winch.

Manual winches use a hand-cranking system to slowly, steadily drag your boat onto your trailer, while electric winches use battery-powered motors to achieve the same thing. Both of these winch types have their own advantages and disadvantages, so consider your needs carefully before deciding on a winch model.

What are the pros and cons of choosing a manual boat winch?

The average manual boat winch is a very simple piece of equipment, consisting of a ratcheted winch drum that rotates as you operate the hand crank, a simple array of gears, and the strap, line or cable that does the actual pulling of your boat. While this simplicity may seem primitive, in most cases it is a positive; with no electronics and a minimum of moving parts, there is not a lot that can go wrong with a manual winch, and many owners of electric winches keep a reliable manual model on hand in case of mishaps.

Simplicity also equals lower prices, and even the most sophisticated manual winch is generally much less expensive than a battery-driven equivalent. This also makes them cheaper to repair in the unlikely even they do malfunction.

However, the main disadvantage of manual winches is that their overall pulling power is limited by the strength of the operator. This is not as big a limitation as it sounds, as the simple gearbox can provide a range of different ratios designed to make the winching of heavy boats much easier; however, there is still an upper limit to what they can achieve, even with a bodybuilder working the crank, and owners of large or heavy boats (particularly vessels with metal or timber hulls) should probably opt for a powerful electric winch.

What are the pros and cons of choosing an electric boat winch?

Electric winches work on the same principles as manual winches, but their chief advantage is that they take all of the effort out of winching a craft onto your trailer. They can be activated at the push of a button, and their gears can be switched remotely to provide more or less pulling power when needed. Some winches will even switch gears automatically depending on the load they are bearing.

While this may seem like a simple matter of saving labour, it can also be a boon to your personal safety. Since you do not need to be near the trailer to operate the winch, you can stand at a safe distance and avoid accidents caused by slipping boats, poorly directed towing vehicles and other mishaps caused by human error. 

Unfortunately, these positive boons come at a heavy cost, and electric winches tend to be expensive to buy and difficult to repair if things go wrong. You should also take the possibility of your winch's battery dying halfway through a landing operation into account; some winches can be run from the power provided by your tow vehicle's battery, but hooking them up to your vehicle's power supply can be fiddly.

Contact a company that sells boat winches for more information.


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