Lift your game – how to install a marine winch

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Few of us have the luxury of keeping our boat moored in a marina, so a boat trailer winch is invaluable when it’s time to get it in or out of the water.

Whether you’re installing a marine winch or replacing an old, rusted-out model, here are a few steps to follow.

Choose your marine winch

The capacity of your boat trailer winch depends entirely on the laden weight of the boat. Account for the weight of the motor, livewell and all other items carried on the vessel, remembering it doesn’t hurt to overcompensate.

Both manual and electric winches perform the same function – manual winches are considerably cheaper but take more time and effort to use, while electric winches cost more initially but make life a lot easier.

Out with the old

 If you’re removing an existing boat trailer winch, spray the nuts and bolts with lubricant up to an hour beforehand and leave to settle.

  1. Disconnect any wires connecting the winch to the boat.
  2. Pull off the old strap or cable by releasing the winch lock, pulling it out of the spool entirely, and removing the cross bolt securing it to the winch spool.
  3. Remove all nuts then lift the old winch and bolts away from the trailer.

 In with the new

Most new marine winches come with the necessary hardware. Check that the holes in your boat trailer post line up with the holes in the new winch – if they don’t, you may need to install a mounting bracket.

Position the new winch on the trailer or mounting bracket, insert the bolts through the holes in the winch and tighten them by hand.
Make sure the winch is situated along the center line of the trailer, as a crooked winch can draw the load up to one side.

  1. Once the winch is held in place by the semi-tightened bolts, use a wrench to tighten the nuts completely.
  2. If you’re installing an electric winch, it’s best to follow the wiring instructions that come with it as they can differ.
  3. Test the winch to ensure it’s working.

With a new winch, you have the option of having a steel cable or nylon strap. Both are good, just check that the pulling capacity is adequate for your needs.

To install a new strap, slide the cross bolt through the holes in the spool and loop strap, fixing the nut on the end of the bolt.

  1. Hold tension on the strap and winch it onto the spool until it’s entirely wound on, then hook it onto your boat and winch it tight.

Always wear gloves when handling or rewinding cable. Inspect frequently and replace immediately after any sign of burrs or broken strands appear.

Keep in mind that winches are for pulling your boat onto the trailer, not to keep it fastened while traveling – secure the boat firmly before hitting the road.

How good is your reversing technique at the boat ramp? Check out our handy hints to make sure you work it like a pro.


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