How to use a winch

Whilst winches look easy to use, there are a few things you can do to use them most efficiently, prevent problems and wear and tear. Ensuring sheets can be quickly released from a winch is very important when sailing a multihull in strong winds.

Here are our top tips:

Unless you have custom winches, lines always run around winches in a clockwise direction. So the line passes on the right side of the winch initially. Looking forward, the line passes on the outboard side of the winch on the starboard side and the inboard side of the winch on the port side.

Start pulling in the line with one or two wraps around the winch, then add additional wraps when tight.

Don’t pull on the line between its fairlead and the winch. You may think you are helping the person who is winching, but as you are changing the lead in angle of the line, you will likely cause an override.

Start winching as soon as you can no longer pull the line in easily.

When heavily loaded, make sure you have enough wraps on the winch to prevent slipping. The number will vary according to winch drum grip and line type – but on our boat it is at least 3 wraps and sometimes 4.

If you get an override – stop winding immediately.

Get above the winch to enable you to wind it most effectively. Winding from the side is much harder work, and slow. Use a winch handle that allows you to use both hands, as these enable greater force transfer.

With multispeed winches, wind as far as you can on one speed before reversing direction and winding in the other. Alternating between speeds puts extra load on the winch and may wear it out more quickly. If you are winching someone up the mast, try to stay in the same gear to keep the hoist speed constant speed.

Don’t leave a line in the self tailing mechanism – it can’t be released quickly if required. Put it into a cam cleat instead.
Take the handle out of the winch when finished winding in – it can get in the way if you need to rapidly reduce the number of wraps.

Don’t ever allow another line to cross over the line leading into the winch. This line can easily be dragged into the winch and cause a real mess. This also includes things that may dangle from your clothes (lanyards, straps etc.), or long hair – you really don’t want to be dragged into the winch.

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