Selecting a winch for heavy duty applications

A heavy duty winch can be a valuable insurance policy, but picking the correct winch capacity and other features can be confusing.


Too often, a winch is overlooked when designing mobile equipment, but part of good design includes equipping it with the means to get itself out of trouble. A heavy duty winch can be a valuable insurance policy. However, properly selecting the winch capacity and other features can be confusing.

There are electric and hydraulic winches with a wide range of capacities and features for most heavy duty applications. Wired pendants, manual operation, and wireless control are available. There are multiple disengagement options as well depending on desired functionality. Working capacities range from 8,000 lbs to 130,000 lbs pull force. They are useful for applications ranging from towing and recovery to railroad and general industry.

How to properly select a winch for mobile equipment

There are rules of thumb depending on the industry. 1.5x the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) is a conservative way to size a winch without knowing exactly what might be encountered. This means the winch could theoretically lift the vehicle plus occupants dangling from a cliff. Industrial applications would require calculations involving angle of pull and other predictable variables.

An important detail to remember when sizing a winch is that it will have a different pull force depending on how much of the cable is wound on the drum. When on the outermost layer, the pull force will be significantly lower than when the cable is unwound. This must be taken into account when selecting a cable length. The more layers of cable that exist, the weaker the relative pull of the top layer.

Depending on how ratings are published by competing manufacturers, capacities could be greatly over or understated so be sure to consult with an expert, if needed.

David Saunders, mechanical engineer, Cross Co. This article originally appeared on Cross Company onlineCross Company is a CFE Media content partner. 

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