Boat Loading with a Winch

Make easy work of boat loading with a push of the button.

By Ariel Cabrera
Originally published March 2009 print edition

Hubs stay dry while boat glides onto the trailer.

No one wants to hand-crank a ton of fiberglass while a Saturday crowd looks on, and the fact is, you shouldn’t need to.

A float-on trailer with correctly positioned bunks and guide poles makes loading and launching a breeze. In the Florida salt, however, special attention—and cash—must be devoted to trailer construction and maintenance, particularly submerged wheel bearings.

For some boat owners, an electric winch is a suitable alternative. The remote control, or RC, type is especially attractive. With well-maintained rollers on your trailer, and slicks on the bunks, you may find it feasible to keep your trailer high and dry without breaking a sweat.

I’ve enjoyed good results with the Powerwinch by Carefree of Colorado. The company sells complete kits with wiring harness and quick disconnect mounts. Cost ranges from $200 to $500. As with any winch system, select a model rated for the weight of your vessel, taking into account the incline of the ramp.

Installation instructions are easy to follow. I chose temporary wiring, which allows me to switch vehicles when needed. I crimped alligator clips to the ends of the wire harness. A dedicated deep cycle battery kept in the trunk of the tow vehicle is convenient; make sure you charge it periodically. (This extra battery may also come in handy in the event you need to jump-start a boat or truck at the ramp.)

Permanent wiring requires you to run the wiring under the vehicle to the battery, attaching tie wraps at approximately 18-inch intervals to the vehicle frame.

Power winches generally have similar operating instructions. When launching, turn the clutch control clockwise to release the brake. Do this slowly to control the speed at which the boat comes off the trailer; the clutch knob is like the safety on your hand-crank winch. You may have to give it a push.

Loading requires extra power, so plug the wiring harness into the winch. Free wheel enough cable to hook the bow and tighten the clutch knob to set the brake. Now press the IN button on the winch or remote control. When the boat reaches the bow stop, take your finger off the button and disconnect the harness. Don’t forget to use a safety chain and trailer straps when you’re ready to hit the road.

All modern, high-quality power winches have an emergency hand-crank lever in case your truck battery goes dead or you forgot your winch cell. Also, remember to keep your truck engine running while winching; a hard-working winch can drain a car battery in just one pull. Some boaters opt to upgrade their automotive alternators or starting batteries for this reason.

A few important details to consider: Secure your investment with anti-theft protection. I used a Master coupler lock to protect my winch from thieves. At the least, throw an old towel or make a raggedy canvas cover for it, to keep your new winch out of sight.

Truck-mount hydraulic recovery winch.

Hydraulic winches, such as those made by Mile Marker, run off the vehicle power steering pump while the truck is running. These rarely overheat, but they are more complicated to install due to a solenoid necessary to activate fluid to the winch. Mile Marker also has quick disconnect kits with removable stands, which can be used on the front or rear of a tow vehicle on the common receiver hitch. Great to have in the woods or for the fisherman/duck hunter who needs to launch and retrieve in awkward places. This system can be adapted to a boat trailer and would be a great choice for continuous work.

On the subject, I feel every marina should have a recovery winch—hydraulic or electric. I have seen trucks and cars literally swallowed by boat ramps. Winches definitely make it easier to get out of tough places and recover personal property. FS

  • David Null

    I’m always amazed that people are reluctant to exert the smallest physical effort, then pay money to join a gym. How hard is it to crank a winch?