What Is a Marine Winch?

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  • Written By: Lori Kilchermann
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 08 October 2019
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A marine winch is a large device used to hoist freight and equipment onto a ship. The marine winch can also be used to bring large fishing nets and cages up from the depths of the sea and onto the deck of a vessel. Consisting of a large spool or drum and a hydraulic motor, the common marine winch is equipped with a gearbox or transmission that also allows the winch to power the cable, net or rope out and away from the ship. The most common location for the winch to be mounted is on the rear of the deck, and typically behind the control or Captain's house.

While most ships are loaded by large dock cranes hoisting freight up from the dock and lowering it onto a ship's deck or into the hold area, some freight is loaded by the marine winch running a rope up and over a tall outrigger or tower on the ship's deck. The winch is used on smaller or remote docks where a large dock crane is not available. In this case, the marine winch takes the place of the crane and the ship's crew is tasked with loading the ship for sea travel.


Once at sea, the marine winch is used for several functions, each revolving around fishing and working. When using large nets to gather fish, the ropes connected to the nets are attached to the winch spool and the winch is used to haul the heavy nets out of the water and onto the deck of the boat. When lobster or crab fishing, the marine winch is used to not only set the large net cages or pots, it is used to raise them from the depths of the ocean as well. A rope, commonly connected to floating buoys on one end and to the pots on the other, is placed in the winch and raised up to awaiting crew members on the deck.

This type of marine winch does not spool the rope around a spool, rather this winch design simply pulls the rope and piles it up on the backside of the winch. Crew members commonly place the rope into a barrel to maintain order and prevent tangling as it exits the winch. The marine winch is also used to lift and place heavy hatches on the ship's decks as well as to arrange and stack fishing gear on the deck or in the hold of the ship. The winches are also used to unload the ship's catch when it returns to port with a full hold.


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