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Choosing Winches

Winches are generally pretty durable with a good long lifetime ahead. Eventually, however, you may have reason to change them out.  Perhaps you would like self-tailing or your old winches came from a manufacturer who is no longer in business and parts supply is an issue. Or maybe you want to add another winch for a new function or would like to electrify a manual winch.

Whatever the reason, there are a few things to consider when choosing a new winch including size, self-tailing or not, material and fit.


The first thing to do is to size the new winch. You will find an excellent sizing guide in the Harken catalog or below.

Note that the first column (genoa sheet winch - or "Primary" winch as it is often called), sizes the winch based on the 100% foretriangle area of the boat. Many people want to size based on their biggest genoa, but it's when the wind is blowing and we are using reduced sail that the max load is seen by the winch and the max power is required.

Self-Tailing Top (or Not)

Once you know what size winch you need, the next likely decision is whether it should be self-tailing or not. In this day and age, for most people and most functions, self-tailing would be the first choice. In the case of Harken winches, the smallest self-tailing winch is the 15. Anything smaller than the 15 will not be self-tailing.

One thing that is important in regard to self-tailers is the line size and type of line. Using very hard high-tech line will require a lot of turns and might not grip well in the jaws. Remember that the jaws want to press the line into a triangular shape to grip it. If you use line that is too big, you might damage the jaws. This is common when people put large diameter line around a winch. Look at the max line size for your chosen winch and don't exceed it. Large diameter line doesn't like going around corners and will show more resistance than thinner diameters.

Usually you wouldn't want self-tailing winch tops for primary winches on a racing boat where casting off the rope into a tack is easier without.

Drum Material/Finish

Anodized alloy (usually grey or black) is popular and is highly durable, light, and generally more cost effective than other finishes.

The second obvious option would be a chrome finish. This is extremely popular on cruising boats and is very attractive. The drum is commonly made from bronze which is then chromed. This results in a durable finish, but a heavier winch and a larger investment.

It's worth considering the grip on the winch drum. This will either be a surface grip (where the surface is roughened in some manner) or a form grip (where the actual shape of the drum provides the grip). The form grip is likely to be kinder to your lines. In the case of the Harken Radial winches, the grip is shaped to drive the line towards the bottom of the drum when easing which will help prevent overrides. Performa winches have sandblasted surface grip drums optimized for halyard and sheeting applications using small-diameter, high-tech line.

There are other finishes available, such as all-bronze or stainless steel, but these are much less common and will be considerably more expensive and time intensive to maintain.


Once you've made that selection, you are ready to choose your winch. Make sure you have checked that the winch will fit onto the chosen area using the correct dimensions.

If you have questions regarding Harken winches, please contact us at 262-691-3320.

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