Material Handling Equipment, Uncategorized

Truth or Myth: Winches and Hoists are Created Equal

Hoists and winches are both similar machines which are used to support movement of heavy loads. Many people confuse the two because they technically perform a very similar function: heavy lifting.

However, the application for each equipment is quite different. Hoists lift heavy loads vertically, while winches are designed to pull loads horizontally. Used appropriately, these equipment optimize workflows, prevent workplace accidents and help speed up production.

If you’re looking to purchase equipment for your workplace, use this guide to help you figure out which equipment is suitable for your needs.

What’s a hoist, and when do I use it?

Hydraulic Hoist

Hoists are used for lifting heavy objects, like slabs of marble or granite, engines or boats; think of a hoist as an “up and down” motion. Hoists are much more common in the world than you may think, but they’re usually found on cranes, which then grant them the mobility to move the load away from the pickup area. Hoists use chain or wire ropes of varying diameters, depending on the weight and size of the load, as well as the environment the hoist will be used in. Hoists are also powered differently; different power options include:

  • Powered Hoists: Hoists that have a motor and need a power source
    • Electric
    • Pneumatic
    • Hydraulic Motors
  • Manual Hoists: hoists without a power source and rely on manual force
    • hand cranked
    • levered
    • ratcheted
  • Air Chain Hoists: Hoists which use air pressure to move heavy objects; they’re ideal for areas where there is high risk of flammability.

What are winches?

Air Powered Winch

Winch systems are  used to “drag” an object through the winding of  a cable or rope. Like the hoist, it has several power options, depending on the weight and environment it needs to be used in. They’re each designed for a different load capacity. Think of tow-trucks and boats that are  “dragged” from their location.

Like any material handling equipment, the location, use and environment should be considered before making a purchase. Factors to consider when on the market for a winch include:

  • Surface Level
  • Weight of Loads
  • Mobility


You’ll frequently see the rating for winches listed as “LINE PULL”; this refers to the weight that a winch can pull. The rule of thumb calls for multiplying the max weight you need pulled by 1.5 to determine the line pull you need the equipment to have.

  • EX:  You need to pull a load of approximately 5,000.
    •  5,000 x 1.5

      = 7,500 LBS

Your winch’s pulling capacity would need to have approximately 7,500 LBS of line pull to properly operate without safety risk or damage.

So…what makes them different?

Besides the “up & down” vs. “forward & back” motion, the brake system is the major differentiator between the two machines. Winches have dynamic brakes which secure the load automatically. Because the dynamic brakes use gears for resistance in order to hold the load, it is not suggested that winches be used as hoists, as the gears could strip, letting the load fall. Contrary to hoists, winches have a spool mechanism that allow the cable to pull forward and back, which is why they need a dynamic brake system.

Hoists instead use mechanical braking systems. The use of a mechanical brake allows the hoist to lock the load mid-air, preventing the line from slipping. These machines are consistently working against gravity, so they are required to be equipped with a load-limit switch, which prevents the machine from lifting more than its designated weight capacity.

To sum it up:

  • Hoists go “up & down”
  • Winches go “forward & back”
  • Winches have a dynamic brake system that use gears for resistance
  • Hoists need mechanical brake systems with no spool that could slip and drop the load

We always suggest that you check with a manufacturer prior to making a purchase. If you still need some guidance or would like to consult an engineer regarding customized equipment for a special need, contact us here.