The three big winch players are Harken, Lewmar, and Andersen. Selden is also trying to make a splash in the production winch market. Almost all of these manufacturers offer different drum finishes from anodized aluminum, stainless steel, and chrome plated bronze (even unchromed bronze upon special request). So what are some of the other differences?
One of the number one companies in the history of winch manufacturers, Lewmar, offers 3 models: the Evo, Ocean, and their Grand Prix line of winches. Lewmar also offers a bi-directional version of the Evo called the Revo, ideal for trimming AND easing sheets and halyards under load. As one of the pioneers of powered winches, Lewmar offers horizontal and vertical below deck motor configurations. Powered units are available in 12v, 24v and hydraulic. With Lewmar winches, the customer can expect extra long service life and a reputation for dependability; not to mention their winches are easy to service with readily available parts (even for many older models).
Harken offers powered units in vertical and horizontal configurations just like the other leading winch manufacturers. However, the #1 name in sailing innovation, has done it again and designed a new type of powered winch which minimizes the intrusiveness of the motor below deck. The Harken UniPower (pictured above) has a portion of the motor above the deck and in the actual drum, and does so without affecting the look of the winch! The UniPower motor sticks into the cabin by almost half as much as the other horizontally mounted electric motors. Harken was also among the first to revolutionize the electric winch market with their 2 speed, powered, bi-directional units. Harken’s standard winch lineup includes four styles: Radial, Classic, Performa and Carbon Grand Prix. Most Harken winches also come with composite drum bearings made of Delrin and require no grease, unlike its stainless steel predecessors. This can help make servicing the winch a breeze. Harken, true to their motto, is definitely in the running for the award in innovation.
Selden winches, fairly new to the sailboat winch market, have also come up with some unique innovations. Selden claims to offer some of the best drum grip available, boasting concave flutes along the drum body; providing greater grip, allowing for less wraps. They also talk about their self tailer being designed to have the rope rigged through it at all times, allowing the user to sheet directly through the self tailer… as depicted in this video. Since winches that spin both ways are becoming more and more popular, Selden also offers a winch that is bi-directional; the only company that does not offer this in a powered version. As far as I know, none of Selden’s winches are available with powered options…yet!
If looking for Stainless Steel winches that are very high quality and very reliable, give Andersen some serious consideration. Andersen will give the end user a classic, good looking and reliable winch option that rivals the winch market’s highest quality winches. The only thing I can say is that perhaps Andersen makes for a little bit of a bumpy ride when having to use this winch to get aloft (or descend rather); this is due to Andersen’s trademark rope grabbing drum ribs. Although not so visually appealing, Andersen is the only company that gives the consumer a powered option that is mounted above deck, below the winch itself. They also, like Harken, offer a low profile below deck motor which uses up less space than conventional horizontal power units. Andersen winch motors are available in the more typical horizontal configurations, via hydraulic and electric power.
In conclusion, Andersen and Lewmar are always good choices if you are looking for dependability in the manual or electric winch markets. If you are in need of headroom below decks, but need powered winches, Harken and Andersen win that category. Lastly, if you are after something new and innovative, don’t forget about Selden. At the end of the day, all of these manufacturers have great reputations, not just as winch manufacturers, but in the marine industry as a whole; which means the choice is yours and it might be a tough one.