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What Is a Power Winch?

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  • Written By: Lori Kilchermann
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 14 September 2016
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    Conjecture Corporation
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A power winch is a device that uses electric power to wind steel wire cable around a spool, pulling an object toward the winch with ease. Typically used to pull a boat or a vehicle onto a trailer, the power winch uses an electric motor in place of the hand crank commonly used on a manual winch. The typical power winch uses a 12-volt battery as a power source to operate the powerful winch motor, however, if the winch is lacking power or having difficulty in winching the vehicle or boat onto a trailer, the cable can be doubled by placing a block pulley on the cable, virtually doubling the winching power available.

To release cable from a common power winch, the braking mechanism on the winch spool must be released and the cable must be physically pulled from the winch. Once the cable has been pulled out far enough to hook onto the boat or vehicle, the braking mechanism must be once again tightened on the winch. The typical power winch uses a control button to activate the electrical-motor and retrieve the cable onto the winch spool. As the cable is wound onto the winch spool, the object being winched is drawn toward the winch and onto the trailer.

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Steel wire cable is the primary retrieval material used on a power winch, however, many winches are equipped with a flat nylon strap instead of the wire cable. The use of the nylon strap prevents kinking and fraying of the wire cable that is often present on older winch cables. Broken cable strands can lead to injury to human hands when running the cable through a closed grip. The flat strap also winds smoothly onto the power winch drum, allowing the strap to be easily unwound without kinks or catching and binding.

The most common type of power winch allows for the use of a hand crank in the event of a dead battery or other malfunction. The steel handle is fastened to the winch drum assembly and cranked in a circular motion. As the winch is cranked, the cable or strap is wound around the drum. Even though the winch is a powerful device and is more than capable of winching a vehicle or boat onto a trailer, it should never be used as a primary tie-down device. The vehicle being winched onto the trailer should be secured to the trailer with ratcheting straps or chains and turn buckles. The power winch can, however, be left tightened to function as an emergency tie down in case a strap or chain works loose.

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