How to know which winch is right for you

electric winch hooked up to front truck bumper Photo by Sasithon-sj/Shutterstock

If you need to get something unstuck, lifted, or loaded, an electric winch can save a ton of back-breaking work. The hardest part may be deciding which one you need. Winches are commonly available with either a 12V DC or a 110V AC motor. For fixed operations, such as a marine railway, a 110V winch works well because it can be plugged into an electrical outlet. For portable applications or use with a vehicle as the anchor, a 12V winch is the way to go. These units can be hard-wired into a vehicle or simply hooked up to a battery. The next consideration is capacity—what weight rating should you look for? As a general rule, take the maximum load that you expect to winch and multiply it by 1.5. The weight rating is based on the first wrap of the cable around the drum. With each layer of cable, the pull capacity actually drops, so when in doubt, go larger.

Always stay well to the side of a working winch, and always drape a heavy jacket or tarp over the line. If a cable breaks, the heavy material will help absorb the energy of the taut cable as it snaps back, and reduce the chance of injury.

If a load outweighs your winch rating, remember those high school physics lessons about pulleys and mechanical advantage. You can double the pulling capacity by “doubling” the line. Run it through a snatch block attached to the object you’re moving and then back to a fixed object. Twice the capacity, however, equals half the pulling speed.

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