Select Page

Winches are drum shaped mechanical devices used to handle halyards, sheets and control lines. One of the important crew skills to learn is winch handling and knowing how to operate a winch correctly.

The sails of a large yacht exert considerable force on the ropes which control them. As a result, hauling the ropes tight requires considerable physical effort. Knowing how to operate a winch makes the task much easier.

The average cruising yacht has several winches in the cockpit area.  Some yachts also have winches on either side of the mast.

How winches work

A winch works by applying friction to a rope, gripping it tight in the process. If possible it is best for two crew members to operate a winch.  One person works the winch and the other pulls on the end of the rope, known as tailing. 

Some winches have a jaw-like device called a self-tailer. A self-tailing winch grips onto a rope and prevents it from unwinding, which makes it possible for one person to operate the winch.

How to operate a winch

1.Beginning from the bottom of the drum, wrap the rope around the barrel of the winch in a clockwise direction.

2. Wind the rope around the drum three or four times.

3. Insert the winch handle into the top of the winch and use it to wind the rope tight.

4. Cleat the rope when it is wound in to keep it under tension.

5. Remove the winch handle. 

Riding turn

It is very important not to overlap the turns of the rope as this will cause them to cross over each other and jam. When this happens it is known as a riding turn.

Easing a sheet

The skipper might ask for a sheet under load on a winch to be eased a little. This may happen when a jib sheet has been over tightened. This is done as follows:

1. Uncleat the sheet.

2. Keep the sheet tight to prevent it slipping.

3. Press the heel of your hand over the turns on the winch.

4. Allow the sheet to slide slowly around the drum, releasing some of the tension.

5. Re-cleat the sheet when it is eased enough.

Tips:

  • Winches turn in a clockwise direction.
  • If you can’t remember which way a winch turns, give it a quick turn with your hand before putting a rope around it.
  • Pull all the slack in before you load the winch to avoid a riding turn. 
  • Make at least three turns of a rope around a winch when you load it. 
  • Keep the back of your hand facing the drum to prevent your fingers getting trapped.
  • Ease a sheet with the heel of your hand to prevent your fingers getting trapped.

Warning

Tell the skipper if you do not know how to operate a winch.  You will be instructed how to use it properly and safely. This is very important as winches can trap fingers and get jammed if they are not used correctly.

Peer to Peer yacht charter – How can you monetize your boat?

There is a growing trend in peer to peer yacht charter. How does it work? People already rent rooms, cars and bikes from one...

The give-way hierarchy – sail boats and power boats

Who gives way to who at sea? Even seasoned sailors sometimes get this wrong and in a crowded harbour this can easily lead to a collision or at best considerable embarrassment for a boat that mistakenly thinks it has right of way over another.

Boat maintenance log

Keeping a boat maintenance log is an ideal way of reminding owners what needs to be done to a boat and when. Read on for some tips,...

How to trim a genoa sail

I recently had two new sails made by Sanders Sails, based in Lymington UK. The first to arrive was the new genoa and it took me a little while to get to know it and learn how to adjust it correctly. Here is an aide memoire for getting to know how to trim a genoa so that it will deliver the best performance.

Avoiding collisions at sea – how to stay safe on the water

Boats have many blind spots, including the headsails of sailing boats. Always keep a lookout, stay safe and remember that...

First Aid Afloat – fish spine injury

First Aid Afloat - Here is what to do if somebody stands on a fish spine: • Check for dangers. Is it safe for you to enter...

Five dangers a vessel may encounter at sea

What are the main dangers a vessel may face at sea and what should skippers do to reduce the risk of these happening?

Keel design – options to consider when choosing a yacht

Keel design is constantly evolving and nowhere is this more apparent than in modern racing yachts such as the Imoca Open 60...

Rig check – how to prevent failure at sea

Regular rig checks prevent the risk of mast and rigging failure at sea. This includes regular rig inspections of the spars, ...

Gybing a sailing boat

Gybing is the sailing manoeuvre used to change a boat's direction through a following wind. As with the tacking manoeuvre,...

Boat engine fuel system

If engines are installed and serviced correctly then most marine engines are very reliable, but one of the most important parts of the engine to check and service is the fuel system.

Antifouling for leisure boats – Part 3

Antifouling is one of the least pleasant boat maintenance jobs to do, but it has to be done. The very worst job of all is removing the old antifouling as this can get seriously messy and is very hard work.

Keel maintenance and Repair – Part 2

If you have ever witnessed a boat colliding with a rock or other submerged obstacle you will know that there is an almighty thump and the whole boat shakes and judders. While such hard groundings seldom result in catastrophic keel failure, something has to give and even the sturdiest keels can easily be damaged by such an impact.

Cleaning & polishing painted topsides

The gelcoat topsides of a GRP boat can be pampered and restored to their former glory relatively easily when it is ashore. Gelcoat is only a very thin outer layer of the hull, often less than 1mm thick, so you should avoid cleaning it with highly abrasive cleaners, or an-ything that could potentially damage its surface.

Boatyard Health and Safety

Boat storage facilities are potentially hazardous environments and it is the responsibility of both boat owners and boatyards to ensure that the...

Pleasure craft safety equipment recommendations

Safety equipment is an important part of boat preparation and it is advisable for all pleasure craft skippers to check their vessel is...

Electric motors and hybrid systems

In recent years there have been considerable advances with the development of electrically powered propulsion in the leisure marine sector. This includes developments with inboard and outboard electric motors, hybrid systems, lithium-ion battery technology as well as solar, wind and hydro powered generators.

Boat engine cooling systems

Some boat engine breakdowns are unavoidable but those caused by lack of maintenance or regular checks can be avoided. Failure to maintain an engine’s cooling system is a well known example of this, so it is well worth spending time checking over the cooling system both when the boat is ashore and afloat.

Anchoring – getting it right is not always straightforward

If you can set an anchor correctly with confidence and know your boat will be safe in a secure anchorage, then you can rest...

An explanation of the IALA maritime buoyage systems – IALA A and IALA B

What are the differences between the two IALA buoyage systems, IALA Region A and IALA Region B, and where are they used?   As recently as the 1970s...

Learn ColRegs: Traffic Separation Schemes

Learn ColRegs Rule 10: Traffic Separation Schemes. (c) A vessel shall, so far as practicable, avoid crossing traffic lanes...

Essential Knots: Reef knot

Essential Knots: Reef knot Use: Tying two ends of rope together, often used for tying up a bundle of loose sail around the boom. Step...

Sail trimming for cruisers

Sail trimming tips for cruisers. Whether racing or cruising, a well tuned boat will sail faster and tend to heel less than a boat with badly adjusted sails.

Common marine electrical problems

Most problems with marine electrical systems arise from four possible sources, a lack of maintenance, a poor standard of initial installation, insufficient battery capacity, or ineffective charging systems.
Water ingress is a frequent issue – salt water can corrode contacts very quickly. If connections are not scrupulously clean – or are loose – resistance will be increased, resulting in progressively reduced power.

Boat plumbing maintenance & troubleshooting

A boat’s fresh water system needs annual maintenance to keep it in good condition. Some boats have far more complex systems than others, with pressurised hot and cold water, associated pumps, an accumulator, calorifier and pressure valves, all to keep a boat owner busy.