How to use a Winch

Back to Basics Sailing Tips

Learning to sail is all about the little things… In this episode, we discuss how to safely and successfully use an electric winch similar to the Harken 2 speed (most operate similarly).

Here we show you how to use an electric Harken winch which is standard on Lagoon 42’s, all electric winches operate in a similar way.

This demonstration was done on the Lagoon 42 and is intended to give you confidence in your catamaran handling ability.

Lagoon Catamaran How to use the electric winch

Things to Consider

All winches spin in one direction, no matter the make, the brand or the size.  Always load your winch in a clockwise direction.

It is very important to keep your fingers clear, beacuse the winch and line are very unforgiving and can cause serious injury.  Don’t hold the rope with your fingers facing the winch incase they get pulled in towards it.

How to load a winch drum


  • Wrap the sheet around the bottom of the drum, push it down if you need to.
  • Put on another turn making sure that its neatly stacked ontop of the first.
  • Put on a 3rd turn.

For pulling medium loads three turns is usually enough, however if your hoisting something heavy like a mainsail, or sailing in a lot of wind you might need to put on a fourth turn to provide enough friction for the winch to work effectively.

Lagoon Catamaran How to use the electric winch
Lagoon Catamaran How to use the electric winch

Friction on the winch drum


  • The winch is the main friction point.  When the winch spins it creates friction between the drum and the line, pulling on the line.
  • If you let go of the tailing end the line will slip.  To prevent this from happening, put the tail end through the self tailor, which is a stainless steel tongue leading to a ring of ‘teeth’ which will hold the line in place.

Things to look out for!

Make sure you dont place too many turns around the winch, overloading it, or the line may overlap and get caught on the drum.  This can be very difficult to undo.

Lagoon Catamaran How to use the electric winch
Lagoon Catamaran How to use the electric winch

Releasing the Line


  • Keeping tension on the line, remove the first wrap from the winch releasing the line from the ‘teeth’, keeping your fingers facing away from the drum for safety.
  • As needed (if there isn’t enough load for the line to ease), carefully remove further wraps from the winch.
  • Once you have finished remove the line entirely from the winch and neatly pack the line away.