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What Is a Yacht Winch?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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A yacht winch is a device used for winding, securing, and releasing lines associated with the operation of a boat. A number of winch designs are available for different applications. Yachts and other boats come with some installed, and it is possible to change them out or add more to meet different sailing needs. Sailors learn about the safe and appropriate operation of winches in their training.

The yacht winch consists of a drum sailors can use to wind rope. The drum rotates bidirectionally, with a ratcheting effect that holds rope in place to prevent slippage. Using a winch handle, the sailor can harness the mechanical advantage of the winch to haul on lines that may have too much tension for a single person to successfully pull. Ropes, wires, and chains can all be wound around winches, which may vary in size to accommodate different types of materials.

One use for a yacht winch is to control the sails. Sailors need to be able to adjust sail angle and height as conditions change. It may be necessary to raise or drop sails during a cruise. The winch provides a rapid and safe mechanism for controlling the lines attached to the sails, and locking them in place when an adjustment is finished. Sailors can operate the winch to make the desired adjustment, lock it, and coil any rope tail to keep it out of the way.

Winches can also be used to raise and lower crew in the rigging. A crew member in a safety harness can ask a sailor on deck to control a line to make it possible to move freely and focus on repairs, adjustments, and other issues. It may be faster to get up into the rigging via the winch than to climb up, and it could also provide access to areas that are hard to get to by climbing.

The sailors can also use a yacht winch to control the booms, spars, and other movable components of the rigging to move the sails. Hauling capabilities can also be useful for the management of cargo. Sailors can rig a block and tackle with a winch for control to bring heavy items on and off board.

Ships launching smaller boats, remotely operated vehicles, and other tools while underway can also use a yacht winch to control these items while they are raised and lowered. The high degree of control can be important for fragile and sensitive items that might be damaged with a slam against the hull or a rough drop into the waves. Winches are also useful for controlling tension on the lines.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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