Boats are extraordinary vessels that allow us to truly connect to nature. But they live in harsh environments and many of their components have to take enormous loads just to sail. Winches are one of the key parts of a boat that take the strain so it’s important that you choose the best sailboat winches for you.

Just by closing your eyes it’s easy to feel the wind on your face as your sailboat begins to heel over. As the sails catch the wind and the boat accelerates forward, it’s time to ease the sheets a little. This is where the winch takes over. Weak, undersized or seized winches can spell disaster. If yours are getting old, it could well be time to replace them.

We’ll help you sort out what’s good, what’s not, and what the difference is. Keep reading to find your perfect sailboat winches.

 

 

 

 

QUICK ANSWER – THE BEST SAILBOAT WINCHES

  1. Lewmar Two-Speed
  2. Harken Radial
  3. Andersen Two-Speed
  4. Harken Two-Speed
  5. Lewmar Evolution Electric
  6. Antal Two-Speed
  7. Lewmar Two-Speed Non-Self-Tailing
  8. Andersen One-Speed
  9. Lewmar One-Speed
  10. Harken Single Speed

 

 

 

 

SAILBOAT WINCH REVIEWS

LEWMAR TWO-SPEED

Check out the latest price on:
Amazon

BEST FOR: Lightweight primary winches

SELF-TAILING: Yes

MATERIAL: Anodized aluminum

PROS: Lightweight for those who want to keep weight down, sleek in black, long warranty, very simple to take apart and put back together for maintenance

CONS: Not as hard-wearing as bronze, black winch gets very hot in the tropics

 

 

 

HARKEN RADIAL

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Amazon

BEST FOR: Heavily used primary winches

SELF-TAILING: Yes

MATERIAL: Chromed bronze

PROS: Very durable and long-lasting, easy to maintain and take apart, upgrade/convert to electric with ease, grippy surface lessens friction

CONS: Quite pricey, short warranty, much heavier than the Lewmar Two-Speed

 

 

 

ANDERSEN TWO-SPEED

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BEST FOR: Primary winches looking to impress

SELF-TAILING: Yes

MATERIAL: Stainless Steel

PROS: Extremely beautiful to look at, lightweight, durable

CONS: You’re paying extra for the impressive full stainless steel look, not as durable as bronze

 

 

 

 

HARKEN TWO-SPEED

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BEST FOR: Primary winches using different size lines

SELF-TAILING: Yes

MATERIAL: Anodized aluminum

PROS: Spring-loaded self-tailing jaw secures different size ropes, shaped drum holds rope without friction, very simple to maintain and put back together, easy to mount, lightweight, convertible to electric

CONS: Very expensive for added extras that may not be necessary

 

 

 

LEWMAR EVOLUTION ELECTRIC

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BEST FOR: Older sailors wanting easy-to-use primary winches

SELF-TAILING: Yes

MATERIAL: Anodized aluminum

PROS: Easy to install below-deck motor, choice of finishes in alloy black or chrome, long warranty

CONS: Quite heavy including the motor, pricey if you don’t absolutely need electric

 

 

 

ANTAL TWO-SPEED

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BEST FOR: Hard-wearing primary winches

SELF-TAILING: Yes

MATERIAL: Chromed bronze

PROS: Very durable in chromed bronze, reasonably light for bronze, spring-loaded jaws to take different size ropes, easy to maintain

CONS: Paying extra for chromed look yet still lacks the wow factor of Andersen’s full stainless steel winches, short warranty

 

 

 

 

LEWMAR TWO-SPEED NON-SELF-TAILING

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BEST FOR: On-mast or racing winches

SELF-TAILING: No

MATERIAL: Chromed bronze

PROS: Bronze construction offers exceptional longevity and durability, grippy drum, two speed offers greater flexibility for use

CONS: A little pricey for non-self-tailing although great materials, short warranty

 

 

 

ANDERSEN ONE-SPEED

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Amazon

BEST FOR: Eye-catching racing and on-mast winches

SELF-TAILING: No

MATERIAL: Stainless Steel

PROS: Looks incredible, smooth drum allows rope to pass easily, easy adjust sheets while racing, aluminum and bronze plates inside for extra durability, great price

CONS: Short warranty, some sailors will prefer a grippy or shaped drum as opposed to smooth

 

 

 

 

LEWMAR ONE-SPEED

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BEST FOR: Bargain on-mast or racing winches

SELF-TAILING: No

MATERIAL: Anodized aluminum

PROS: Very affordable, good for older yachts with on-mast winches, excellent Lewmar construction

CONS: Not as hardwearing as Lewmar’s bronze version, short warranty

 

 

 

HARKEN SINGLE-SPEED

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BEST FOR: Primary winches for smaller sail areas

SELF-TAILING: Yes

MATERIAL: Anodized aluminum

PROS: Great price for a self-tailer, radial drum gives grip on rope with needing friction, very easy to maintain and put back together, spring-loaded jaws for holding different size ropes

CONS: One-speed is ideal for smaller sail areas but you may struggle with larger sails, lightweight but not as durable for primary winches as bronze

 

 

 

COMPARISON TABLE – THE BEST SAILBOAT WINCHES

PICTURE
WINCH
BEST USE
SELF-TAILING
MATERIAL
PRICE
RATING
PICTURE
WINCH
BEST USE
SELF-TAILING
MATERIAL
PRICE
RATING
Lewmar Two-Speed
Overall
Yes
Anodized aluminum
$$
4.7
Harken Radial
Overall
Yes
Chromed bronze
$$$
4.9
Andersen Two-Speed
Overall
Yes
Stainless Steel
$$
4.4
Harken Two-Speed
Primary winch
Yes
Anodized aluminum
$$$
5.0
Lewmar Evolution Electric
Primary winch
Yes
Anodized aluminum
$$$
4.5
Antal Two-Speed
Primary winch
Yes
Chromed bronze
$$
4.3
Lewmar Two-Speed Non-Self-Tailing
Mast
No
Chromed bronze
$
4.1
Andersen One-Speed
Mast
No
Stainless Steel
$
4.0
Lewmar One-Speed
Budget
No
Anodized aluminum
$
4.4
Harken Single Speed
Budget
Yes
Anodized aluminum
$
4.6

 

 

 

HOW TO CHOOSE THE BEST SAILBOAT WINCHES

1. HOW MANY WINCHES DO YOU NEED?

Well made winches can last for many decades but can need replacing for several reasons. Winch technology has moved on and you may want to replace non-self-tailing winches for self-tailing ones. Or your winches may simply be corroding or weakening through age.

It’s often easy to find out how many winches you need by simply counting the existing ones on your sailboat. Rarely used winches may be in much better condition than the same age highly used winches. This allows you to retain rarely used old winches and put the saved money into buying better quality new winches. While that liveaboard boat you hung out on may have had ten winches, chances are, a small yacht will only have two to seven.

Knowing how many winches you need allows you to stick to your budget more closely. You probably won’t need every winch to be the same either. With self-tailing winches ideal for cockpit primary winches, winches on the mast often don’t need to be self-tailing. Further savings can be made from understanding what type of winches you need.

 

2. DO YOU WANT SELF-TAILING WINCHES?

For short-handed sailors, self-tailing winches are all but essential. In fact, having primary self-tailing winches regardless of your crew size will make the cruising sailboat an easy place to be. Of course, if you have a really big yacht, you can use two-way radios to give winchman instructions!

On sailboats where some lines are lead back to the mast and not to the cockpit (i.e. many older sailboats), you don’t need self-tailing winches on the mast. Often you can just get away with a non-self-tailing winch and a cleat nearby.

Sheet winches should ideally be self-tailing while halyard winches can be non-self-tailing.

 

3. GEARS

Winches give you leverage with which to pull in the sails but in particularly strong winds or racing conditions, extra leverage is required. Geared winches provide this extra leverage. With one to four gears, geared winches are also excellent for taking the load for hobby sailors, older sailors and even enthusiastic children!

For an ordinary cruising sailboat (even those who do a spot of club racing), you’ll be choosing between one-speed and two-speed geared and non-geared winches. Three- and four-speed winches are only used by powerful racing boats.

 

ONE-SPEED

One-speed winches that aren’t geared are the cheapest type of winch and only suitable for small sailboats or as on-mast winches.Each turn of the winch handle equals one turn of the drum, making these unsuitable for large loads.

Geared one-speed winches offer greater mechanical leverage and the handle is ratcheted when turning in the opposite direction. This gives you more power for less movement when cranking up that sail to windward.

 

TWO-SPEED

Two-speed winches allow the handle to travel in either direction at different speeds. This is great for fast winching with one speed and then switching winching direction for a lower speed as the sail comes in. Two-speed winches typically are geared in one direction and not in the other.

Geared two-speed winches are the same except they are geared in both directions. For the average cruising sailboat or daysailor, geared two-speed primary cockpit winches are the best option. This is especially true for single- or double-handed sailing.

 

4. MATERIAL

Winches come in different materials. The differences are primarily based on weight, quality, and price.

 

ANODIZED ALUMINUM

Super lightweight and affordable, anodized aluminum winches are a popular choice on sailboats.

 

CHROMED BRONZE

Bronze is extremely hardwearing, making it a good choice on sailboats. Bronze was the traditional material for winches but it looks outdated on modern yachts. Chromed bronze makes the most of the durable bronze but adds a modern look with a chrome outer layer. These are pricey but excellent winches.

 

STAINLESS STEEL

If you’re looking for the best and most durable winches, stainless steel is the way to go. It also looks great and it’s extremely strong. If you look after your stainless steel winches, you may never need to replace them.

 

COMPOSITE

Composite boat parts are increasing every year although many traditional sailors prefer metal. Composites are actually very strong, very durable and are impervious to corrosion. The main composite material used in winches (and seacocks) is Marelon. Expensive, but you’ll probably never need to replace them.

 

 

5. ELECTRIC WINCHES

Manual winches work by human strength combined with mechanical leverage. For small sailboats, the average sailor will be perfectly happy with manual winches. However, electric winches are becoming more popular and can certainly be of benefit.

Electric winches have a motor placed above-deck or below-deck. Using buttons, electric winches grind the rope for you and some will even release it for you as well.

The main downside of electric winches is their power consumption. As a sailor, you obviously don’t want to be forced to run your engine often just to charge the batteries for your winches! Always check your house battery capacity and work out how much power the winches will use on your typical sailing trips.

Electric winches also have the capacity to act as manual winches in combination with a standard winch handle. This is important because if your batteries or electrical system fails, it’s imperative that you are able to still operate your winches if you’re under sail.

 

CONVERSION OPTION

Some sailors want manual winches but would like to have the option to convert those winches to electric. Winches can last many decades and as sailors age, having the option of electric conversion can be reassuring.

 

6. SIZE

Size is another important consideration and is based on boat size and sail area. You can often determine your winch size merely by your existing winches but the main providers also provide charts. Lewmar winch size chart is an excellent resource as is the Harken winch size guide.

 

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