When looking for a trailer winch, it’s very important to remember that they are rated by weight capacity. Unless specified otherwise, the weight rating for a trailer winch is the amount of weight it can pull when loading a boat, ATV, or other vehicle onto a trailer - not what it can lift. Compared to an off-road winch, the load object is free to roll or float, and is therefore considered a rolling load. The trailer winch does not need to work as hard as it would, for example, if it were trying to free a Jeep stuck in the woods.
Once your car or boat is winched into place, it needs to be secured in place on the trailer by using proper trailer tie down equipment. Do not rely on a winch to hold your boat down. This will create undue stress on the winch itself, and is simply not safe.
In the scope of this article, we'll help you select the best winch for your trailer loading needs. We will review the different types of winches we offer in the Trailer Winch section of our website. As a rule of thumb, we recommend selecting a winch with a capacity rating of 75- to-100% of the total weight of your boat (including engine and gear). For a car, you need to factor the GVW (gross vehicle weight) of the vehicle, and the ramp's slope or angle. For a 10% grade (the ramp rises 1 foot for every 10 feet of length), a trailer winch can pull approximately five times its RLP (rated line pull). Obviously, the steeper the ramp, the less the winch can pull. The best decision here is to, at a minimum, purchase a winch with a load capacity equal to the car's weight.
Winches designed for lighter boats or cargo will typically have one fixed speed with a single gear ratio. This gear ratio number represents how many times a handle must be cranked to turn the winch drum one revolution. A ratio of 15:1 means the handle is cranked 15 times to complete one full revolution of the drum spool. Similar to gears on a 10-speed bicycle, a higher ratio number represents a "lower" gearing. A higher ratio (lower gear) number will take longer but require less grunting on your part, and a lower gear ratio number will result in a faster pull with more effort.
In our Trailer Winches section, you'll find manual crank winches (for example, the Fulton 2-Speed Winch) with 2 speeds that are rated for heavier loads. Use the fast speed when first getting the boat into position, then switch to the slow speed when more power is needed to drag the weight over and up onto the bunks. Should you prefer winches that automatically prevent rollback when the handle is released, look for "locking" winches. We also offer electric winches which run on 12 volts supplied by a battery or by your tow vehicle.
Hand Crank Winches
We offer hand crank winches designed for a variety of load ratings in both single-speed and 2-speed gearing configurations.
For best value, the Fulton Single-Speed Trailer Winch offers load rating choices between 1,100 and 1,800 pounds. There are models with and without straps. Should you prefer a modern, slick-looking cover on your single-speed winch, The Fulton F2 2000 lb Winch with 20' Strap comes with a 20-foot strap as standard equipment.
The Curt Hand Winch offers single gear sidewinding configurations of 900, 1,200, 1,400, 1,700, 1,900, and 2,100 pounds. The 20-foot strap, rated at 4,000 pounds, is available separately in the Product Options menu. If space to mount your winch is tight, some configurations offer shorter crank handles.
Moving up a notch, we've got single-speed winches with built-in brake arms which automatically hold a load in position once the handle is released. These are known as "brake winches." For example, the Fulton Brake Winch comes in a choice of 1,000-, 1,500-, and 2,500-pound versions. Or choose Fulton's Deluxe version in 1,000 or 1,500 pound configurations if you prefer heavier-duty construction and larger overall dimensions.
2-speed jacks offer both a low gear cam and a high gear cam. Using the low gear requires more cranks of the handle in order to create higher torque needed to reel in heavier objects. When weight you're pulling isn't so heavy, switch to the high gear to reel the load in faster with fewer cranks. For starters, we've got the Fulton 2-speed Winch with 20' Strap rated for 3,200 pounds. If you're looking for a 2-speed winch with built-in brake, the SeaSense Seacoat 2-Speed Winch With Strap is rated for 2,500 pounds.
For bigger boats and heavier loads, we’ve got power winches that run on 12-volt electrical systems. Usually, these winches are designed to be permanently bolted or welded in place. For example, Powerwinch offers their trailer winch in 6,000-, 7,500-, and 11,500-pound configurations. We’ve also got the Dutton Lainson Electric Winch that’s available in four configurations rated from 4,000 to 12,000 pounds.
If you prefer the convenience of power operation but don’t need to pull a lot of weight, the Warn 500 lb Portable Drill Winch starts at a low price and comes in a lightweight, portable package. Instead of its own electrical motor, power is supplied by standard electric power drills. Warn’s 1,000 lb Powered Cordless Electric Pulling Tool comes with 2 rechargeable batteries as a power source, and is rated to pull 1,000 pounds.
A winch may not be very glamourous, but it's one of those tools which pays for itself many times over. Whether it's your boat, the family ATVs, or a classic collector car, a trailer winch allows you to safely and securely load and unload your precious cargo.