Self-Tailing Winch Vs Non-Self Tailing Winch

With the advent of winches and their proliferation of usage, most people who are new to the handling and operation of a winch have little stress in knowing their winch. 

However, they do get confused when they come across a comparison between the type of winches such as self-tailing winch vs non-self-tailing winch. Note that, this is not out of expectation because of scant information regarding it.

So have you been wondering what could be the difference between a self-tailing winch Vs a non-self-tailing winch? Search no further but stick close and carefully read through the article as we reveal necessary and important knowledge about recognizing and distinguishing between them.

Overview of Self-Tailing Winch

Although winches are quite easy to operate, they can, however, become dangerous when using them during sailing on a sailboat. 

This danger arises from the fact that your standard winch has the potential for cutting your fingers or hand because of the absence of a tail jam. So this can cause the wire cable to be extremely hazardous to the operator of the winch.

However, this led to the advent of the self-tailing winch whose functionality eliminates the possibility of such danger. Also known as a capstan winch, the self-tailing winch is a winch that has an open end with the winching wire or tail wrapped around the drum of the winch.

The self-tailing winch will simultaneously pull the tail up while cranking up the drum. In easy words just as its name implies, it is a winch that can be handled easily by a single person, eliminating the need for extra manpower on a boat.

Uses of Self-Tailing Winch

You might be wondering how much use a self-tailing winch has, however, as a solo sailor you would find a strong point in getting a winch that could help you save time and manpower. This is where a self-tailing winch comes in as a first choice use.

One of the numerous uses of a self-tailing winch is: 

• A self-tailing winch is used to control the breast lines in strong wind conditions. This allows the lines to be tensioned with enough strength to the dock.

• The manufacturing design of the self-tailing winch also grants you freedom from having to continuously hold the line as you do not have to because it is self-tailing.

Advantages Of A Self-Tailing Winch

The main advantages of a self-tailing winch are:

• It grants a lone person much freedom in sailing. This it does by holding the line in place thus, effectively eliminating the need for extra manpower to hold the tail.

• Self-tailing winches are also safe and easy to operate especially in holding and winding the tail operation.

Disadvantages Of A Self-Tailing Winch

The self-tailing winch is a great boost to sailing, yet it is not without its fair share of disadvantages and some of them include;

• Although the self-tailing winch does a great job by improving the sailing experience and they perform excellently well, they are however more expensive than your regular non-self-tailing winches. 

• Another main disadvantage is that the entire winch has to be stacked with the line for the self-tailing mechanism to function.

Moreover, it has been discovered that depending on the manufacturing design or construction of the self-tailing winch the fairleads on the winch tend to foul lines when released rapidly. 

Many fairleads have also been known to be a possible threat to handlers as they tend to catch and tear sails or clothes. 

Brief Overview of Non-Self Tailing Winch

The non-self-tailing winch is a winch that is also used to tighten sails however it comes without the ability to hold the line by itself. 

More so, the non-self-tailing winch is still an essential piece of sailing if you desire to capitalize on the sea winds to their optimum capacity.

A non-self-tailing winch enables one to tighten a sail sheet much more than a single human can achieve with their strength and this is achieved by running the line around the winch and cranking it till it is taut. 

This helps to optimize the shape of the sail sheet and also take advantage of the wind better in turn giving the sail increased speed.

The non-self-tailing winches have a rough grip that allows the lines to wrap around effectively. This allows the winch to hold on to the rope and not slide when tightening it. However, you must not let go of the rope or it will come undone.

Uses of Non-Self tailing Winch

One of the many uses of a non-self-tailing winch is: 

• They are used to control and handle the sailing sheets, halyards, and control lines.

• The non-self-tailing winch is also used to harness larger power than a human could generate in holding the lines and sailing sheets.

• The non-self-tailing winch is versatile and can also be used for a host of other tasks on a sailboat such that they can be affixed on the mast for hauling halyards or also on the stern quarters for hauling spinnaker gear. 

• The non-self-tailing winch can also be used to pull big objects or also pull your boat out of the water.

Thus the usefulness of the non-self-tailing winch as a versatile tool on a sailboat cannot be overemphasised.

Advantages Of A Non-Self Tailing Winch

There are advantages to using a non-self-tailing winch. Some of these are:

• The non-self-tailing winch removes the need for one to be actively monitoring the winch line to be sure of tension in it, which is a particularly important point. This is because in the event of a large object being pulled it prevents the possibility of the line becoming slack thereby compromising the grip on the object being pulled and causing it to fail.

• A non-self-tailing winch is also much easier to use as someone new to winching operations does not need to have a piece of expert knowledge on tailing the line before it can be operated. 

• Lastly, a non-self-tailing winch is much easier to handle and does not need much maintenance as a self-tailing winch would need. Thus, making the non-self-tailing winch more beginner-friendly.

Disadvantages Of A Non-Self Tailing Winch

Some of the disadvantages associated with a non-self-tailing winch are that the non-self-tailing winches can be dangerous to use as they tend to tangle with the line which can cause the line to break and cause injury to bystanders due to the fast recoil.

Self-Tailing Winch Vs Non-Self Tailing Winch

Having come this far, the difference between a self-tailing winch vs non-self-tailing winch is clearly in view. 

The major difference is that a non-self-tailing winch has a drum above it that allows only for manual tailing to ensure adequate friction necessary for winching while a self-tailing winch resolves the issue by the additional set of jaws and a feeder arm just above the drum. 

Note that this acts as a jam cleat and aids in tailing the line for you while you’re winching.

How Do I Load A Self-Tailing Winch?

You can load the self-tailing winch by:

1. Step One: Decoupling of the winch

The first step to decoupling your self-tailing winch is to unscrew the winch central screw with a flat screwdriver and then remove the crank sleeve. And, afterward, remove the self-tailing crown and detach it from the doll. Finally, you can remove the winch doll.

2. Step Two: Accurately align the winch

The self-tailing winch should be placed perpendicularly to the rope. This is easily done by locating the star wheel.

3. Step Three: Secure the winch position

To secure the winch position, holes should be drilled to allow the winch to be held in place with screwed in nuts. This entails several steps such as:

• The holes should be milled to allow the application of sealing compounds.

• Then the screws should be fixed into the drilled winch holes.

• Now the sealing compound should be applied around the screws in the holes.

• The winch should then be realigned into the drilled holes.

• Then fix your nuts and washers to lock in your winch. It is also advisable to use a thread locker while screwing the nuts to prevent them from coming unloose due to vibrations.

• Now screw in your winch and fix back the winch doll.

• Install and realign the self-tailing part in such a way that the end unfurls in the right place while you screw it in to enable the end to come out in the right place.

Finally, return the crank sleeve and screw back the central screw.

How To Convert Your Winch Into Self Tailing

Converting your winch to a self-tailing one is not difficult and quite handy to do. Two ways of doing this are:

Installing ‘winchers’

These are simple rubber conversion rings that help you to hold the tail of the wire and allow your winch to work like a self-tailing winch. 

Using A Winch Conversion Kit 

Secondly you can buy a winch conversion kit that allows you to convert your non-self-tailing winch to a self-tailing winch.


Conclusively, choosing between purchasing a self-tailing winch or non-self-tailing winch all depends on preference and choice and it will be easier by just carefully reading this article on self-tailing vs non-self-tailing winch.

Ricardo Vaughn
Ricardo Vaughn

Vaughn is a seasoned off-roading expert and professional winch specialist. When he's not out on the trails, he shares his knowledge and experiences through his writing as a blog author in the off-roading and outdoor lifestyle space.

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