How to Choose a Boat Trailer Winch

Trailer Winches

Launching and retrieving your boat can be the most stressful part of some boating trips. Between the water conditions, a slippery ramp, a vehicle, trailer and boat plus dealing with all the other people in-line behind you waiting, it’s no wonder there can be some tense moments. The trailer winch you choose for your boat can add or remove some of the stress. There are two kinds of boat trailer winches - manual (muscle power) and electric (12v) - to choose from.

How to Choose a Boat Trailer Winch

Why Choose an Electric Winch

The cost of an electric winch compared to a manual one can be significant so what are the main advantages of choosing an electric winch?

  • Length and weight of a boat prohibits it from being manually winched
  • Boat owner doesn’t have the strength to winch a heavy boat manually
  • The boat owner is no longer young enough to use a manual winch
  • It’s often quicker to recover a boat using an electric winch
  • Safety - the risk of accident and hull damage can be minimised by electrical winching

Manual Winch

The hand-cranked manual winch method and components have changed little in the past few decades. The crank pulls the line in to be stored on the drum. The capstan, a vertical-axled rotating machine, maintains maintains tension while the ratchet lock prevent slipping and a gearbox allows for winching at different speeds or ratios.

The gearbox has three main speeds. The 1:1 ratio is for winding up the line once the boat has been launched into the water. The middle-speed ratio is 3:1 for lighter loads or for pulling a heavier boat onto the trailer then the slowest 5:1 and above is for the heaviest load and when you don’t have the assistance of the water because the boat is completely on the trailer.  

Electric Winch

Instead of a crank handle and muscle power the electric winch is hooked up to a 12-volt battery and uses variable speed high gear ratios.   


We stock all types of Trailer Winches to help make trailer handling a breeze.

Browse our Range of Trailer Winches or Call us on 1300 308 161


Trailer Winch Capacity

Choose your trailer winch based its Safe Working Load (SWL) capacity and the weight of your boat including the motor, fuel and equipment.  

There are some factors to consider when deciding on the winch. If you usually launch on a steep ramp, you will need a bigger capacity winch than if you were on a gently sloping ramp. Your trailer has an impact on how much your boat slides and therefore how hard your winch has to work. If you are using rollers, there is less resistance than carpeted wood bunks so a smaller winch will do the job.

Regarding cranking resistance, lighter boats can use a manual winch with a 3:1, 4:1 or 5:1 gear ratio. For a 3:1 ratio you turn the handle three times for the drum to rotate once.

For heavier boats, a two-speed winch may be required to give you the option of a quick pull-in ratio and a second low speed with a ratio around 16.2:1 for increased mechanical advantage. Once the two-speed manual winch isn’t strong enough, it might be worth moving to an electric winch that has variable speed and high gear ratios.

Maintenance Checks

Your winch is one of the hardest working parts on your boat and trailer. Winches and their accessories are fairly easy to maintain and replace so remember to check on the following every few trips to ensure your winch stays in good working order.

  • Is the winch slipping gears?
  • Has the winch rope, strap or cable frayed?
  • Is it getting harder to turn due to an aging winch?

Other Boat Winch Parts

Some components are the same whether it’s a manual or electric winch. Here is a brief list of the parts you will need -

Winch Rope - high strength, low stretch fibre

Winch Straps - 50mm wide webbing available in three lengths

Winch Wire and Snap Hook - galvanised steel cable and snap hook for manual winches

Trailer Winch Handle Storage Pocket - PVC pocket mounted with a strap or screws

Also make sure you select cables straps that are longer than the length of your trailer. If you have any queries about the right winch for your boat, don’t hesitate to call the team at Boat Accessories Australia on 1300 308 161.

Category: Trailer Winches

Related Articles