Choosing the Right Winch: Self-tailing vs. Non-self-tailing

Engaging in the activity of sailing can be an incredibly exhilarating and gratifying pastime, yet it necessitates a substantial amount of equipment to guarantee a safe and satisfying experience. Among the various fundamental elements integral to a sailboat, the winch stands out as a particularly crucial component. A winch can be defined as a mechanical apparatus employed to regulate the sail’s tension by winding or unwinding the rope. It is imperative to note that there are two predominant types of winches, namely, self-tailing and non-self-tailing winches. In the ensuing paragraphs, we will explore and expound upon the self-tailing winch vs non, thereby furnishing you with the knowledge to make a well-informed decision when selecting the appropriate winch for your sailboat.

Non-self-tailing winches

Non-self-tailing wincheNon-self-tailing winches were the norm for a very long time, and they required the use of both hands (one on the winch handle and the other on the rope) to operate. Expertise and dexterity beyond the norm are required to use one of these non-self-tailing winches with any degree of competence.

The advantages of non-self-tailing winches over self-tailing ones include those characteristics as well as their inherent simplicity, durability, and dependability. Additionally, non-self-tailing winches are typically less expensive than their self-tailing counterparts, making them a desirable alternative for sailors on a tight budget. On small yachts, where the rope loads are often light, non-self-tailing winches are a great option.

The use of non-self-tailing winches does have some disadvantages, though. Skilled sailors are needed to utilize them properly, and rope slippage is a real risk if the sailor isn’t vigilant. Additionally, non-self-tailing winches can be significantly more difficult to operate when sailing in high-load situations, such as big winds.

Self-tailing winches

Ocean Self Tailing WinchRevolutionizing the winch industry, self-tailing winches only require one hand to operate, allowing sailors to keep their other hand on the rope at all times. Their spring-loaded jaw firmly grasps the rope, relieving the sailor of that responsibility so that they can concentrate on the sail. Self-tailing winches are an important step in the development of winches and the future of sailing technology because of the unsurpassed convenience and ease they provide.

Self-tailing winches provide a number of benefits, including being simple to operate, effective, and safe. They require only one hand to operate, leaving the other hand free to control the sail or the ship’s wheel. Large sailboats greatly benefit from self-tailing winches since they are simpler to operate under heavy loads.

Self-tailing winches have more complexity, a higher price tag, and more frequent upkeep needs than conventional winches. Due to their increased complexity and number of moving parts, self-tailing winches require more upkeep than traditional winches. They are more expensive than traditional winches, making them out of reach for many sailors.

Comparison between self-tailing and non-self-tailing winches

Self-tailing winches are more convenient to operate than conventional winches. The sailor only needs one hand to control the winch and grip the rope with the other, thanks to the self-tailing design. This facilitates sail adjustments and boat management.

In addition to being more convenient, self-tailing winches perform better than their non-self-tailing counterparts. Their use enables the sail to be adjusted more quickly and smoothly, which is especially helpful under heavy loads. Self-tailing winches are more effective since they demand less effort from the sailor, allowing them to keep their attention on the sail and the wheel rather than the winch.

It is simpler to do routine maintenance on non-self-tailing winches than on self-tailing winches. There are fewer working parts and less complexity in non-self-tailing winches; hence, they require less upkeep. The complexity and increased number of moving components in self-tailing winches increase the frequency with which they need to be serviced for optimal performance. Self-tailing winches, however, can serve their owners well for quite some time and in top form if they are cared for properly.

Non-self-tailing winches often cost less than self-tailing winches in terms of price. This is due to the simplicity and lack of moving parts in non-self-tailing winches. Self-tailing winches are more expensive, but they provide higher performance and are simpler to handle, so dedicated sailors may find them to be worth the price.

Table comparing self-tailing and non-self-tailing winches

Feature Self-tailing winch Non-self-tailing winch
Ease of use It is easier to operate with one hand while holding the rope. Requires both hands to operate.
Performance Faster and smoother adjustments, more efficient Slower and requires more effort to operate.
Maintenance More complex and requires more maintenance. Fewer moving parts and less maintenance
Cost More expensive Less expensive
Suitable sailing conditions High winds and heavy seas Light winds and calm conditions
Skill requirement Less skill is required. More skill is required.

How to choose the right winch for your Sailboat

The size of your sailboat, the style of sailing you do, and your available money are just a few considerations while shopping for a winch. Some things to think about are as follows:

  • Size of boat: bigger sailboats need bigger winches. Selecting a winch that is too small for your yacht could be dangerous.
  • Type of sailing: a non-self-tailing winch may be adequate if you typically sail in mild breezes and calm conditions. High winds and rough seas necessitate the use of a self-tailing winch.
  • Budget: If you’re on a tight budget, a non-self-tailing winch may be the way to go because they’re typically more affordable than self-tailing models.

Some popular brands of self-tailing winches include Harken, Lewmar, and Andersen. Popular brands of non-self-tailing winches include Barient, Merriman, and Lewmar.

How to Maintain Your Self-Tailing Winch

As a sailor, you know that the self-tailing winch on your boat is an essential part of the rigging. When in good working order, it simplifies and streamlines the sailing process. Below, you’ll find some of the most important guidelines for keeping your self-tailing winch in mint condition:

  1. Regular cleaning: One of the most crucial parts of maintaining a self-tailing winch is keeping it clean on a consistent basis. Built-up debris like saltwater, dirt, and filth inside the winch can render it inoperable. To avoid this, wash your winch with clean water and some mild soap after each use. Remember to clean the drum, jaws, and gears of any debris or salt buildup.
  2. Lubrication: Your self-tailing winch relies on regular lubrication to function properly. If you go sailing frequently, you should oil the winch at least once every three months. It is recommended to lube the gears, pawls, and bearings with high-quality winch grease. Over-lubrication, on the other hand, might actually attract dirt and dust.
  3. Inspection: Regular inspection of your self-tailing winch is essential for spotting any issues before they become serious. Inspect the drum, jaws, and gears of the winch for cracks, corrosion, or other problems. Look for signs of wear on the self-tailing mechanism’s pawls. Immediately replace any broken or worn-out components.
  4. Adjustment: A winch that has been adjusted properly will perform better and last longer. The springs in the winch need to be checked and adjusted for tension. Make sure the pawls click into place and release easily, and fine-tune the self-tailing mechanism so it tightly grips the rope.
  5. Storage: To shield it from debris, dust, and UV rays when not in use, you should cover your self-tailing winch. Removing the winch handle will allow you to store it separately. This will stop someone from being accidentally hurt by the handle.


In sum, self-tailing and non-self-tailing winches each have their benefits and drawbacks. In comparison to self-tailing winches, non-self-tailing winches are easier to handle but also more challenging to master. Self-tailing winches are safer, simpler, and more effective than conventional winches; nevertheless, they are also more complex and expensive. Factors such as sailboat size, sailing style, and available funds all play a role in determining which winch is best suited for your needs. When you take these things into account and learn the distinctions between self-tailing and non-self-tailing winches, you’ll be able to pick the winch that’s perfect for you and your sailing adventures.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *