How Does a Capstan Winch Work?

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  • Post last modified:March 7, 2022

You probably know about winches if you have been in the mining, construction, or forestry industry.

But, if you are new to this whole winch machine world, you might be a little confused about this device and how it works.

So, to feed your curious mind, in this article, we will talk about how does a Capstan Winch work.

Right off the bat, we will say that several types of winches serve multiple purposes. To name a few, we have electrical, thermal, manual, and capstan winch.

Consequently, different types of machines are suited to address various issues. So, if you wish to know about these winch mysteries, keep on reading.

What Is a Capstan Winch?

what is capstan winch

Capstan winch is a mechanical device typically used for pulling heavyweights with a rope or cable. It has a cylindrical drum that rotates on a spindle, usually pushed around utilizing a lever to make it spin.

These types of winches do not store cable or rope on a spool. Instead, engineers designed it in a way that allows the rope to run through continuously.

Hence, a capstan winch does not have any cable length limit. You can get creative by introducing pulleys in your job with capstan winches, and still, you won’t face issues with the rope length.

Moreover, you can use a capstan winch manually or use other hydraulic or electrical capstan winch types.

People generally use these machines in heavy mining, construction, forestry activities, and marine and sailing activities.

Types of Capstan Winch

winch installed in 4wd vehicle

Varieties of capstan winch are available in the market. All of them have unique benefits and address different issues.

Hydraulic Capstan Winch

This winch-type takes power from the vehicle’s hydraulic system to run, mostly the power steering pump. It doesn’t require any heavy-duty battery, so it gives more extended service smoothly.

Moreover, for any underwater duty, hydraulic capstan winches are preferable since they can function underwater.

For that reason, this machine is more suitable for heavy marine activities.

It is well suited for on-board dock and offshore jobs. These are good fits for trucks.

However, this type of winches requires more knowledge and is not easy to operate. It consists of control panel screens and various valves to control the flow, pushbuttons, joysticks, and numerous switches.

Moreover, these machines are not easy to install. The installation process is very lengthy and complicated.

Often, the process becomes a bit expensive because you have to buy some parts separately. It is also cumbersome and is not suitable for frequent location changes.

Hydraulic winches also tend to be slower than other types of capstan winch.

But, they are more durable and best for heavy-duty, more extended-period jobs. They can be operated non-stop for a long period without heating up.

Electronic Capstan Winch

Electronic Capstan winch comes with electrical motors that spin the drum to spool the cable automatically using electric power.

Hence, you do not have to pull the rope or the line manually.

Moreover, this device draws power from the vehicle’s battery to run its motor. This electric current transfers on opposite poles inside the engine, spinning the motor’s magnet, which causes the spool to rotate.

These are common for commercial purposes like towing vehicles and heavy types of equipment. But, electric winches are not fit for long-term service.

Since they require power from a car, it drains the vehicle battery too quickly. Moreover, these machines also tend to heat up quickly, which doesn’t allow long performance.

But, Electric winches are easy to install and run. Also, you do not have to buy any extra parts to get the machine running. Hence, it is even more affordable than a hydraulic capstan winch.

You can also easily transport this machine to different locations as it is lightweight and easy to install. Additionally, it is also faster and more efficient than a hydraulic winch.

Manual Capstan Winch

This manual winch is the simples form of a capstan winch. It does not operate through any external power.

Instead, it works entirely on physical labor. Usually requires more than one person to complete a task.

Manual Capstans are not suitable for heavy-duty jobs. As they require physical effort, you can only use them for light activities.

How Does a Capstan Winch Work?

A standard capstan winch consists of a vertical revolving cylinder, commonly known as a winch drum.

Engineers have designed the vertical drum in a way that it will only roll one way. So, the wrapped rope produces friction that allows you to control the pulling.

These winches generally have vertical drums that allow horizontal pulling.

But, they can also be adjusted and set up horizontally to pull in an upright position. Vertical axis pulling is most applicable for sailing.

How to Operate?

The rope can be pulled by hand manually or through a lever. There are other electronic forms available too.

To operate the machine, adjust the cable line or wire to the particular object you want to lift or pull. And when you pull the rope, it creates friction between the wire and the winch drum.

In turn, this transfers the weight of hauling the object to the string instead of the person.

Hence, this machine allows for pulling or raising heavy weights with ease.

Advantages of Capstan Winch

Among the many benefits, below are some noteworthy.


You can change the winch’s drum size easily according to the type of job. So, to adjust the speed and torque according to requirement, different drums’ proportions come in handy.

Moreover, you can either use steel cable or durable rope on a capstan winch. However, most users usually consider synthetic ropes because they are safer and easier to work with.

Also, using ropes reduces the weight, especially if you are using a portable winch.

No Rope Limit

Capstan winches do not store the cable or wire. Hence it practically doesn’t have any rope limit.

The drum is not closed like most standard winches, and it does not have reeled ropes. Therefore, you don’t have to sweat about the rope length.

Suitable for Use for an extended Period

These products do not heat up like a standard winch. It does not require break time to cool down. Hence, you can use them without breaks and accomplish your task fast and efficiently.


Simple Capstan winches don’t require electric power to run. So, it is inexpensive and durable.


Small capstan winches are lighter and easier to carry. You can take them in your car and use them efficiently.

In forestry or mining activities, these winches work the best as they are easily portable, and you can install them anywhere.

Easy to Install

Installing this item is a piece of cake. For a standard manual winch, all you have to do is take it out, adjust the rope, and you are good to go.

Final Words

All in all, a capstan winch is a handy device when it comes to dragging and hauling heavyweight equipment or sailing ships.

The genius engineering of the device makes massive hefty lifting seem like a piece of cake. Hopefully, this insightful article answers how does a capstan winch work.

You can also know the different types of capstan winches available and how those work.

We have also tried to highlight the advantages and some of the disadvantages that come with the machine so that you can make a better purchase decision.