What are the Different Types of Hand Winches?

Dee S.
Dee S.

Hand winches are great tools that are used to raise, lower, or pull heavy objects. Anything from pop-up camper tops to boats to cars to industrial equipment can be lifted up, lowered, or pulled using a hand winch. Picking the right tool for the job is important. It is important to know the options that are available before purchasing a winch for a project or job.

Woman with hand on her hip
Woman with hand on her hip

First, hand winches are designed to lift heavy objects, yet not all are designed to lift the heaviest items. Some are suitable to lift objects weighing approximately 500 pounds (226.8 kg). Others can lift much heavier items, such as those weighing around 5000 pounds (2268 kg). Consequently, it is important to determine what weight capacity will work best for long-term use.

Next, some hand winches are best equipped to pull an object, such as a car. Conversely, others are designed to lift an object, such as a camper top. Few hand winches can do both well. If a user wants a winch to pull and lift, an electric winch may be the best option.

Many hand winches come with brakes, which are often automated. The purpose of the brake on the hand winch is to prevent the object attached to the cable from falling, especially if the load is heavy. The brakes can be designed to hold the item in any position. They should also be covered with a case to prevent dust from collecting or to stop them from becoming weakened due to extreme rust or corrosion.

Most winches should be made of heavy gauge steel, particularly if they will be lifting or pulling heavy loads. Unfortunately, even steel can rust, corrode, or become weak. Consequently, many winches are plated or coated with materials such as zinc or enamel. Such zinc plating or enamel coatings are ideal to resist corrosion or rust, keeping the winches strong and dependable.

It is also important to consider the gear ration when choosing a hand winch. This can come with a small gear ration, for lighter loads, or a large gear ration, for heavier loads. Again, it is important to research what kind of gear ration will be best for a particular project before purchasing a winch.

Lastly, it is important to grab the handle of the winch to see if it feels comfortable and if the crank turns easily. Some handles may be too small for the user, others too large. Some may feel too flimsy or inadequate for larger loads.

Dee S.
Dee S.

Dee is a freelance writer based in Colorado. She has a B.A. in English Literature, as well as a law degree. Dee is especially interested in topics relating to medicine, legal issues, and home improvement, which are her specialty when contributing to wiseGEEK.

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Discussion Comments


It's amazing what you can do with hand tools if they are set up properly. I have seen hand winches pull cars and trucks out of the mud and move things far beyond their rated capacity, depending on who was doing the cranking (and with the right setup it can be several people at once).

The Army has a procedure to get a stuck five-ton truck out of the mud using only rope, pulleys, hand winches, and a bunch of people. If you have ever seen this kind of truck, you know how big it is, and they can get it out of the mud using only human power. I was very impressed when I saw that.


My first boat dock had a hand winch. Well, really it had two hand winches. If you wanted to pull the (small) boat out of the water, you lined it up on the two sling straps and just started cranking. Took two people, but it wasn't too bad and it didn't take all that long.

Once we went to a bigger boat, we left it in the water but still pulled it out for Winter. We had to get an electric lift installed, since the hand winches weren't designed to lift that kind of weight and it was really quite unpleasant to try and crank it up. We did it a few times, but it was definitely worth the money for the power lift.


I like simple tools for simple jobs. Less to break and easy to use. My camper has an awning that is powered by a hand winch. Using it is a snap, you just unfold the handle and crank it out. It takes less than a minute, and it has never broken in the time we've had the RV.

A lot of newer campers have a powered awning, which can be great, but to me it's just something else to break to add to the already high cost of keeping this thing on the road.

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