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How to Choose the Perfect Winch for You, your Boat, and your Trailer

You want the experience of loading your boat to be as easy and breezy as your time on the water.Whether you take your bass boat out every weekend or haul your pontoon to the lake in the summer, we want to help you find the best winch.First we are going to go over some things to consider when you are shopping for a winch, then we will follow up with a few of our recommendations. The four major considerations when picking out the perfect winch for you are:
  • How much does your boat weigh?
  • How steep is your launch ramp?
  • Do you have bunks or rollers?
  • Do you want a manual or electric winch?
Or jump straight to our recommendations!Without further ado, let's dive right in!

4 Factors to Consider When Choosing the Right Winch

How Much Does Your Boat Weigh?First off, it's good to know that you can't get a boat winch that has too much power. You need to find the minimum capacity required for your boat. A winch at or above capacity will get the job done.The most common ratio for determining your winch load capacity is 2:1. For example, a 2,000-lb boat requires at least a 1,000-lb winch. The best ratio will also depend on your trailer type and how steep your launch ramp is (read more about that below), but a 2:1 ratio is a great place to start.On our website, we have already done the work and determined the maximum boat weight each winch can handle based on this ratio.
Small
0-1,500 lbs
Personal Water Crafts, Jet Boats
Medium
1,500 - 2,500 lbs
Bass, Fish and Ski, Multi-Species Boats
Large
2,500 - 4,000 lbs
Bowriders, Pontoons, Ski Boats
Extra Large
4,000 lbs +
Cruisers, Sailboats, Speed Boats
How Steep is Your Launch Ramp?Another factor to keep in mind is the incline of your loading dock. A typical launching site has an incline of about 12-15 degrees, so we'll use this as standard throughout the article.If you expect to deal with a steeper launch ramp or a tide that's not in your favor, consider a stronger winch with a 1:1 ratio. If you know your launch site will always be relatively flat and your boat will float most of the way onto the trailer, you may be able to stretch your ratio to 1:3.If you want to calculate the weight a winch can pull up an incline, there is a simple formula you can use: Winch capacity x F (friction factor) = maximum boat weightWhat is your friction factor? It is determined by the degree of your incline. Use the chart to the right to determine your friction factor. Check out our example below. If you pick a 2,000-lb capacity winch and are loading on a 11-degree surface (which has a friction factor of 3.40), this means your winch will be able to haul a 6,800-lb load.
Example
2,000 lbs x 3.40 = 6,800 lbs
launch ramp graphic
Level Surface
Friction Factor = 10.0
3° (5%) incline
Friction Factor = 6.67
6° (10%) incline
Friction Factor = 5.02
11° (20%) incline
Friction Factor = 3.40
17° (30%) incline
Friction Factor = 2.61
26° (50%) incline
Friction Factor = 1.86
35° (70%) incline
Friction Factor = 1.53
45° (100%) incline
Friction Factor = 1.29
Do You Have Bunks or Rollers?Whether you have bunks or rollers on your trailer will impact what type of winch you need. The 2:1 boat-to-winch ratio is a good place to start, but you may be able to get a winch with a higher or lower capacity based on the type of trailer you have.If you have rollers, you may be able to stretch your winch capacity to a 3:1 ratio. This is because rollers make it easier for your boat to reach the front of the trailer, so your winch will be doing less work.If your boat trailer has bunks, consider going for a stronger winch with a 1:1 ratio. This is because bunks don't help your boat slide forward, so you may need a winch with more power to get your boat the last couple feet on the trailer.
boat trailer
Dutton-Lainson StrongArm Electric Winch on trailer with bunks
Do you Want a Manual or Electric Winch?Both manual and electric winches are great, but let's decide which one is right for you! Typically, boats over 4,000 lbs will require an electric winch while boats under 1,000 lbs will load easily with a manual which. If your boat is somewhere in between, you can choose whether to prioritize easy loading with an electric winch or cost effectiveness with a manual winch.We suggest an electric winch if you are going for ease of use. If you spend all day on the water and want an easy loading process at the end, you may want to spend more money on a winch that allows you to load with the press of a button. On the other hand, you may prefer a manual winch for a less expensive and completely waterproof option.
Now that we know what we are looking for, let's take a look at some of our favorite winches!

Small Boat Winches

Great for: Personal Water Crafts, Jet Boats

Dutton-Lainson Hand Winch

IN A NUTSHELL: Manual, 900-lb capacity, single speed
What we like:
If you have a light load and want an affordable option, this Dutton-Lainson hand winch is our top choice. This winch is made in America and will be a great option for hauling a personal watercraft or other small vessel up to 900 lbs.This winch also free spools, so you don't have to manually feed out the line hookup to your boat when you're ready to load (which can be a time saver!).While you enjoy the outdoor elements, this winch can weather them. It has zinc-plated gears for corrosion resistance, allowing your boat winch to last as long as your love for the water.
Why Daniel Loves this WinchDaniel, etrailer neighbor 5/5 Stars Ordered Item # DL15002"Great product, replaced old rusted one on my jet ski trailer. This one matched perfectly, no additional holes to drill."
dutton-lainson hand winch
Dutton-Lainson Hand Winch
What we don't like:
If you've never used a hand winch before, this Dutton Lainson is not for you. This isn't a brake winch, which means it won't lock in place if you release your handle.We suggest a brake winch like this one for anyone inexperienced with winching. This is because the brake is a built-in safety feature that will protect your load if you accidentally let go of the handle.You may want to consider a winch with a larger capacity if your typical launching ramp is extra steep.

Fulton Single Speed Winch

IN A NUTSHELL: Manual, 1,300-lb capacity, single speed
What we like:
If you are looking for a bit more pulling power than the previously mentioned Dutton-Lainson winch, then you should consider this Fulton Model. The extra pulling power is great not only if your boat is heavier than 900-lbs, but if your loading ramp is particularly steep, or your bunks create extra friction when loading. This winch sports a carbon steel construction, which offers superior strength and durability, and a Z-Max 600 finish to provide increased corrosion resistance. So this is a great option if you drive a light boat (or boats) and are looking for that budget-friendly "forever winch".
Why James Loves This WinchJames, etrailer neighbor 5/5 starsOrdered Item # F142104Everything was the quality I expected and packaged well for shipping. Delivery process was communicated accurately. Got the backordered item sooner than expected.
Fulton Single Speed Winch
Fulton Single Speed Winch
What we don't like:
If you are new to using a hand winch, we suggest getting a brake winch, which will lock in place if you release the handle, and is more beginner-friendly.Also if you are getting this winch for the increased capacity, that's great! But if your vessel is particularly close to that 1,300-lb limit, you may want to consider a winch with a bit more capacity. The friction of your bunks, and the angle of your boats' ascent out of the water will make it difficult to pull a boat that is right on the limit of your winch's weight rating.
Medium Boat WinchesGreat for: Bass Boats, Fish and Ski Boats, Multi-Species Boats

Dutton-Lainson StrongArm Electric Winch

IN A NUTSHELL: electric, 1,500-lb capacity, effortless loading, standard duty
What we like:
If you want the premium loading experience, an electric winch is the way to go. This Dutton-Lainson electric winch will make light work of your boat whether you're dealing with a bunk trailer, you have to load from a steep ramp, or you move your boat on and off the water often. With this electric winch, there's no cranking required while loading, which is perfect if you're looking for zero strain and zero stress.This American-made winch also has a very compact, enclosed design that will look great on your trailer. Another bonus - the protective case makes the winch weather resistant and protects you from accidentally nicking yourself on gears.
Why Mac Loves This WinchMac, etrailer neighbor 5/5 starsOrdered Item # TW4015Winch was delivered 3 days after being ordered. I have used Etrailer over the past 6 years and had no issues with ordering, shipping, and their products. My source for all my boating/trailering needs
Dutton-Lainson Strongarm Electric Winch
Dutton-Lainson StrongArm Electric Winch
What we don't like:
Although this winch is weather resistant, it is not completely waterproof. Electric winches obviously use electricity — which doesn't mix with water too well. If you are loading your boat seaside with waves constantly rolling over your trailer, consider the manual winches below for a completely waterproof option.If you only launch your boat once a year, you may not need such a heavy-duty winch. It will offer the easiest loading experience, but a manual winch will do the trick at a lower price.
Jif Marine 2-Speed Boat Trailer Winch with 20' StrapIN A NUTSHELL: manual, 2,000-lb capacity, 2-speed
What we like:
This staple Jif Marine 2-speed winch is our top manual winch for medium-weight boats. If you are searching for a manual winch that minimizes back strain and provides maximum control, this is the one for you.The benefit of a 2-speed system is that you can switch to a higher speed to quickly crank in your boat when it's mostly in the water, and slower speed to drag your boat the last few inches without straining your back.
Why Dean Loves This WinchDean, etrailer neighbor 5/5 StarsOrdered Item # 315-W2000D"I purchased this winch because it is a really great price. I seriously didn’t expect it to out perform my old one that cost 1 1/2 times what I paid for this. One year later and still like new."
Jif marine 2-speed boat trailer winch
Jif Marine 2-Speed Boat Trailer Winch
What we don't like:
If you're looking for the most convenient loading experience possible with no sweat included, maybe take a look at an automatic option. Also, this won't help you much if your boat weighs more than 2,000 lbs.But other than that, we think this winch is a fantastic option for your loading and unloading needs.
Large Boat WinchesGreat for: Pontoons, Bowriders, Ski boats
Fulton High-Performance 2-Speed Trailer Winch with HandbrakeIN A NUTSHELL: manual, 3,700-lb capacity, exposed, handbrake
What we like:
The Fulton High performance trailer winch has some of the highest weight capacity of winches on our list. It has the benefit of a handbrake that lets you manually release your load, giving you added control over the line when launching your boat. For heavy boats, the hand brake is beneficial to help you slow the feed of your winch cable while easing your load off the trailer.This winch has a capacity of 3,700 lbs, providing plenty of strength to safely load your pontoon, bowrider, or ski boat onto your trailer. The solid 1-piece drum gear eliminates internal corrosion and lasts longer than the riveted drum gear on our other manual winches.Additionally, the Fulton winch has maximum corrosion resistance with its premium zinc finish and high salt spray rating.
Why John Loves This WinchJohn, etrailer neighbor 5/5 StarsOrdered Item # F142430"A year into service and working like a charm."
Fulton High-Performance 2-Speed Trailer Winch with Handbrake
Fulton High-Performance 2-Speed Trailer Winch with Handbrake
What we don't like:
While this winch is the most powerful manual option, the handle is not adjustable. This means that you do not get to alter how much leverage you have while loading your boat. For a bit more flexibility, take a look at our Fulton Fully Enclosed 2-speed trailer winch where you can adjust the handle.The Fulton High-Performance winch does not come with a cable, so you will have to purchase one. We have the Fulton Galvanized Winch Cable with Hook available on our site.
Fulton XLT 2-Speed Trailer WinchIN A NUTSHELL: manual, 3,200-lb capacity, 2-speed, extra heavy duty
What we like:
Fulton has another high capacity winch on our list. With a 2-speed functionality, and a free-spinning mode to release the strap quickly; ease-of-use makes the XLT a serious contender for many boats in its weight class.This winch has a capacity of 3,200-lbs. Which is enough for many of the heaviest boats out there. It is worth noting that this winch lacks the brake of the other Fulton winch in this category (listed above), but this change makes up for a somewhat significant decrease in price. So if you are looking for a more budget-friendly winch with some serious capability, and you are loading on a relatively level surface and the brake isn't as important to you, the XLT might just be the Fulton for you.This winch also sports maximum corrosion resistance with its premium Z-Max 600 zinc finish. Complete with 600 hour salt spray rating.
Why Bob Loves This WinchBob, etrailer neighbor 5/5 StarsOrdered Item # F142425"The Fulton XLT 2-Speed Trailer Winch makes taking the boat in and out of the water so much easier. The original winch on the trailer was a 1500 lb winch and just did not do the job. The Fulton winch is so much better that my 13 year old grandson can load the boat on the trailer. My neighbor was so impressed with the Fulton winch that he bought one for his boat trailer and is extremely happy with it. If you need a winch, go with the Fulton, you won't regret it."
Fulton XLT 2-Speed Trailer Winch
Fulton High-Performance 2-Speed Trailer Winch with Handbrake
What we don't like:
While this winch is extremely capable, with two speeds to boot, what is does lack is a hand brake. This can be a major turn-off for those who prefer the security of knowing that if you do accidentally let go of your handle, your boat is secure with a hand brake. This winch is also manual without an adjustable handle. So if there are clearance issues, or you prefer the ease-of-use of an automatic winch, this one may be a tough recommendation. The 2-speed function makes it easier than those without that feature, but it will still lose out to the extremely user-friendly electric winches.
Dutton-Lainson TW4000 Strongarm Electric WinchIN A NUTSHELL: electric, 9,000-lb capacity, heavy duty
What we like:
If you want the best electric boat winch, our vote is for this Dutton-Lainson. This is about as luxurious as boat winches get — not to mention it's made in America.For massive, beefy boats, you need an epic electric boat winch to handle the weight. While manual winches can get the job done on lighter rigs, massive boats need a winch with a high capacity for safe loading and unloading.We love the quick-connect system with the wiring harness because you can easily connect or disconnect from your battery for power while loading.
Why D. Williams Loves This WinchWilliams, etrailer neighbor 5/5 StarsOrdered Item # DL25215"So far so good used @ 10 times and no problems pulling my 8000 lb. fish boat. The provided wire harness had to be lengthened to function but who cares the winch works great and a strap winch is the ONLY way to go with a boat of this weight."
Dutton-Lainson TW4000 Strongarm Electric Winch
Dutton-Lainson TW4000 Strongarm Electric Winch
What we don't like:
If your boat is smaller or you have high-quality rollers on your trailer, you may not need a winch with this capacity. This winch can tow the heaviest of boats, and may be more power than the standard boater needs. But if you need this kind of power, you need this kind of power. This is the only winch on this list we would approve for extra large boats.
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About Jacob JTo say that my path to etrailer was complicated would be an understatement. I have always had a passion for helping others, and throughout my education and career as a social worker or community liaison, I have loved writing as a hobby. When I found etrailer and was given the opportunity to turn something I enjoyed doing into a career that helped people access information and products they need to live the best life they possibly could, I was instantly interested.I am a lover of the outdoors, have been loading and unloading trailers since I before I was old enough to drive them, and have spent my recent years working in and around the automotive industry. And I am excited to share all of the things I have learned (more often than not the hard way).I consider myself a perpetual student, and etrailer gives me the opportunity to learn something new every day and share my findings with others. Which is something I am extremely grateful for. I look forward to continuing to help people find the answers they need to make memories for a lifetime.
Written By: Kaitlyn B.Updated By: Jacob JUpdated On: 7/31/2023


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