Replacing A Boat Trailer Winch

Story And Photos By Dan Armitage

This simple, one-hour project will make it easier to load your boat onto its trailer.

Photo of a Fulton 2-speed winchA two-speed winch, such as this model from Fulton, will make it easier to muscle a big boat onto the trailer.

Replacing your boat trailer's winch is a straightforward project that can be tackled in less than an hour — providing there are no rusted bolts that must be cut away. Once the bolts are out and the old winch is free of the frame, your ready to start. The standard three-hole pattern that's found on the winch posts on most popular boat trailers matches with most after-market winches, and it's a simple matter of bolting the new crank in place.

Shopping for the right winch for your job may actually take longer than switching them out. Fulton Performance Products' Bill Heindl notes that boat-trailer winches are rated by capacity and matched to the weight of the boat. For most situations involving loading a boat onto a bunked trailer, Fulton uses a factor of 1.5 for determining the right winch for each job. "For example, if you have a boat, engine, and fuel package with a total weight of 3,000 pounds, divide that number by 1.5 to get 2,000 pounds," Heindl says. "That tells you that you need a winch rated to handle at least 2,000 pounds."

When it came time to replace the winch on our project boat trailer, we matched the weight to the winch using Heindl's formula, then decided to upgrade to a two-speed winch because the second, lower gear on a two-speed winch can make it easier to load boats that weigh more than 2,000 pounds. Other options include variable crank-handle lengths; dual drives to the winch drum, which help the strap to load evenly; and a strap guide, which acts to keep the webbing from getting tangled in the drum. We chose a Fulton F2 model FW3200 ($279 | that offers all three of these options, and once our rusted hardware was freed, it took mere minutes, as the accompanying photos show, to bolt on the winch.

  • Photo of tools needed for winch replacement
    Photo of old rusty winch

1. The tools and hardware required to replace a winch are as simple as the project is straightforward.

2. The old winch showed its age and marine use and needed to be replaced before it failed.

  • Photo of removing the bolts securing the winch to the winch post
    Photo of using new winch base as a template for drilling

3. Remove the bolts securing the winch to the winch post. If there are signs of rust, first soak them with penetrating oil.

4. Most trailers' winch posts are pre-drilled to accommodate the common three-bolt pattern. If yours isn't, you'll need to use a template provided by the winch manufacturer, or you can make your own using the new winch base as a guide.

  • Photo of drilling new holes in trailer frame
    Photo of lining up mounting bolts

5. Drill the new holes or ream out the old ones to match the diameter of the bolts securing the new winch.

6. Line up the mounting bolts with the holes.

  • Photo of installing handle grip
    Photo of tightening the mounting bolt

7. Install the handle grip.

8. Tighten the handle's mounting bolt.

  • Photo of inserting web strap on winch drum
    Photo of cranking web strap under tension onto winch drum

9. Crank the web strap onto the winch drum keeping it under tension, flat and even. 

— Published: Spring 2015

Why Winches Fail

"The winch is designed only to pull the boat up onto the trailer," says Fulton tech rep Bill Heindl. "The winch isn't intended to hold the boat on the trailer. That's the job of the bow strap or chain and the other devices designed to secure the boat atop the trailer. Most winches fail due to misuse and stress," he adds. "Stress usually results from using too small a winch for the job or overtightening the strap once the boat's bow is against the stop. Once the bow is tight to the stop, every extra crank of the winch gear effectively doubles both the pressure on the drum and the chances the winch will fail. Overloading the pressure in that manner leads to drums stripping out, frames twisting, and ratchet palls breaking." To help a good-quality winch last indefinitely, match the winch capacity to an appropriate load, stop cranking the boat aboard with the winch when the boat nudges the bow stop, and every now and then lubricate the moving parts with light oil.




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