Our Tips for Boat Trailer Winch Selection and Maintenance

By Steve George

November 29, 2023Industrial Equipment

While boat and PWC owners love the freedom that goes with being able to trailer their crafts to different locations, having the right winch on your trailer is the only way to ensure that launching and loading don’t become the low points of your day. A rugged, heavy-duty winch is the most important piece of trailering equipment that you’re ever likely to invest in; and make no mistake: after spending a long day on the water, you want retrieving your craft to be as effortless and stress-free as possible.

Not all winches are the same, though; and while cost is often the main factor in deciding whether to go with one style of winch or another, the differences go beyond just dollars and cents. Everything comes down to weight and power – the weight of your boat, and how much power you need to load it on a trailer – and these are a few tips about what to consider when evaluating winches.

Choosing the Right Trailer Winch for Your Boat and Budget

man transports his boat from the water with a boat trailer winch.
source: boataccessoriesaustralia.com.au

Here’s a fact: size matters when it comes to choosing between a manual or electric trailer winch, and in more ways than you might imagine. A budget-minded, mechanical winch with a 1:1 gear ratio may seem like the perfect solution for loading a 1500kg runabout, but it’s going feel like anything but a bargain if you’re trying to retrieve a 40-footer on an unexpectedly steep ramp. That means you have to give careful thought to a host of non-cost-related variables when you’re trying to decide which trailer winch for sale is going to offer the most value.

There are 3 main factors that you have to consider when you’re looking at your boat winch options, and all of them involve overcoming frictional resistance.

  • Your boat’s dimensions. Most trailer winches are rated according to capacity; and for safety, your winch should never be rated for less than ½ to ¾ of your boat’s gross weight. An even higher rating may be required to overcome the resistance that a longer boat would incur.
  • Your trailer’s setup. The ease with which a boat trailer winch can be operated is related to whether you trailer is outfitted with rollers or bunks (slides), especially if you’re not able to position the trailer in the water as conveniently as you might like to.
  • Your ramp expectations. Launching and loading from steeper ramps has the effect of adding to your boat’s gross weight. That requires boat trailer winches to also be strong enough to overcome the friction factor that would be created by an increased angle of incline.

It’s also important to understand that all of these factors are related. Unless you’re adept at motoring your boat onto the trailer, trying to physically muscle the same 1500kg runabout solo onto it with high-friction bunks can be a backbreaking activity; that’s why you only want to look at boat trailer winches for sale that are going to make your launching and loading safer and easier.

Get to Know the Difference Between Manual and Electric Winches

There are 2 types of trailer winches for boats to choose from manual and electric. And while the price difference between them is anything but negligible, the differences in convenience and capabilities are unmistakable.

Manually operated boat winches are geared, hand-cranked apparatuses rated for capacities between 350kg – 1200kg, and have been the cornerstones of affordable winching for a long time. Australian-made trailer winches are regarded among the best in the world because of their sturdiness, and they boast a typical range of features that include:

  • Corrosion-resistant 304 stainless, or EDC-coated high tensile alloy steel construction;
  • A choice of either galvanized steel, or UV-protected nylon rope winch cables; and,
  • Single, or switchable multi-gear ratio drive options usually at 1:1, 5:1, and 12:1.

12V electric winches for boat trailers, however, receive their power from your tow vehicle, are suitable for boats up to 5200kg, and are designed to make both launching and loading as quick and effortless as possible. These steel cable-equipped winches prioritize physical safety over everything else, and feature:

  • Wireless remote control, or control cord operation with manual override;
  • Remote power-in/freewheel-out functionality; and,
  • Average 10FPM line speed, with fixed gear ratios of 225:1 or 450:1.

Most electric winches for boat configurations even allow for double line and vertical lift capabilities, giving you the added pulling torque that can make a big difference when you’re retrieving during rough or windy conditions, or at severe ramp angles.

Make Protecting Your Winch From the Elements a Priority

boat trailer winch close up
source: ridetheducksofseattle.com

Regardless of the type of trailer winch for boats you buy, a regular inspection and maintenance schedule is an essential part of getting the longest use out of your equipment. And although maintenance requirements will differ between winches used in either salt or freshwater, the time spent taking care of your apparatus will still be significantly less than the cost of having one fail prematurely.

  • Always be cable-conscious. Winch cables are the muscle behind every retrieval, and relying on a frayed or worn cable under load can have potentially lethal consequences. You want to inspect your cable or rope assembly regularly for any signs of wear, and make replacing it an imperative before you go out on the water again.
  • Make fresh water hose downs a priority. Getting your cables wet is practically unavoidable, but allowing salt and moisture to accumulate on them can quickly shorten their usable lifespan. Although freshwater trailer hosedowns are a standard part of boating, extra attention should be paid to hosing down steel marine boat winch cables after every trip. Nylon ropes should also be hosed down, stretched out and allowed to fully dry before being rewound.
  • Keep your winch covered. While manual winch bodies, along with their gears and bushings can be reliably protected by high quality marine greases and lubricants, you can buy boat trailer winch covers for electric winches to put an extra layer of protection between their sensitive electronics and the environment.

The Final Word

At the end of the day, while cost certainly has a part to play in which type of winch you choose, it’s not the only attribute you need to look at. The size of your craft, along with the amount of energy you’re willing to put into operating a winch has to be considered, especially if you own a large boat, or aren’t comfortable with manually loading it yourself.

With the right trailer winch, you can take full advantage of the freedom that comes with being able to conveniently move your boat or PWC from one body of water to the next in comfort. And not having to worry about back strain or ramp angles when it’s time to retrieve your craft is going to make the time you spend on the water a lot more enjoyable.