What is a Capstan Winch and How Does It Work?

If you have ever worked in the mining, construction, or forestry industries, you probably have some knowledge of winches. However, if you are unfamiliar with the world of winches, you may be preoccupied with many questions. For example: what is the capstan winch? How does it work? What are the safety precautions? And many more. Hence, we prepared for you a complete guide to the capstan winches!


The application of capstan winch goes for small and large cable hauling jobs. By adding tension to the rope wound around the capstan drum, the pace of the pull can be adjusted. Industrial electricians, cable installers, and power utility contractors find these capstan drum winches quite useful. Overall, there are a few types of capstan winches: electric, gasoline, diesel, and hydraulic. General features may include one or two capstan drums, a single or a twin capstan drum, floor mounting brackets, lifting with rope lock, pole mounting, and mobile or wheeled carriage systems.

Types of Capstan Winches

Hydraulic Capstan Winch

Hydraulic capstan winch

They operate primarily on hydraulic power supplied by the power steering pump. It provides more extended service smoothly because it doesn’t require a heavy-duty battery. Given the name, hydraulic capstan winches are the number one choice for any underwater duty. However, operating this type is challenging and requires more expertise as it has screens for the control panel, multiple flow-controlling valves, etc.

Electric Capstan Winch

electirc capstan winch

Electric motors built into this winch rotate the drum to spool the wire with the help of electricity automatically. As a result, there is no need for manual rope or line pulling. These are frequently utilised in industry to tow large machinery and automobiles. Electric winches, however, are unfit for use over the long haul. However, the process of installing and using them is simple.

Manual Capstan Winch

manual capstan winch

The manual capstan winch is the most basic type; it runs without external electricity and solely relies on manual labour. Usually, it takes more than one person to finish a task. Heavy-duty applications are inappropriate for manual capstans. You can only use them for light activities because they involve physical effort.

How Does the Capstan Winch Work?

A winch drum, also known as a vertical rotating cylinder, is the main component of a capstan winch. The vertical drum can roll in one direction thanks to the engineers’ design. Thus, the friction created by the wrapped rope lets you manage the pulling. These winches often have vertical drums that enable horizontal pulling. However, they can also be positioned horizontally and adjusted to lift the body into an upright position. Sailing is the activity where vertical axis pulling is most handy.

Safety Precautions

Worksafe.qld.gov.au strongly recommends to:

  1. Provide instruction and information based on the manufacturer’s recommendations for safe operating practices and the risks associated with utilising winches.
  2. Encourage users to choose attire to prevent entanglement (e.g. wearing close-fitting jackets with elasticised waist and sleeve cuffs).
  3. Reduce the use of capstan or warping winches if there is an option to utilise a traditional, guarded winch.


Disclaimer: This article is written for educational purposes. Make sure to consult with a manufacturer/supplier and conduct a job safety analysis before using the equipment. Use it for intended purposes only. Also, it is your responsibility to comply with relevant work health and safety laws.