Which winch material is best?

Aluminum vs Chromed Bronze vs Stainless Steel

Each of these materials have different properties that offer their own unique set of pros and cons. There is no one material that is the ‘best’ in every way. The goal of this article is to help you better understand the pros and cons of each material to help you make the correct decision on which type of winch is best for you. At Andersen Winches, we only manufacture winches with stainless steel drums, however this of course does not mean it is the best choice for everyone.

Weight: When comparing winches for performance, one of the easiest and most common characteristics to look at first is weight. While the material of the drum is generally used to describe the entire winch, the truth is that a large percentage of the weight also relates to the material of the center stem. Let’s take a look at the size 40 self-tailing winch from some popular manufacturers:

Winch SizeAndersen Stainless SteelHarken Radial AluminumHarken Radial Chrome BronzeLewmar Evo AluminumLewmar Evo Chrome Bronze
40ST10.8 lbs8.4 lbs11.9 lbs10.8 lbs14.3 lbs

As you can see, if your main priority when specifying winches is reducing weight, you might be smart to start by looking at aluminum winches and avoiding a chrome bronze winch. This should hardly come as a surprise.

Compared to aluminum, stainless steel is heavier and stronger. However, using the stronger stainless steel can allow the use of less material (i.e. a thinner drum) which offsets some of the weight difference. On an Andersen winch, the stainless steel drum is actually fairly lightweight and the majority of the weight is attributed to the aluminum-bronze center stem. Aluminum-bronze is about 3x stronger than regular aluminum but nearly 3x heavier as well. One cubic foot of aluminum weighs 168.48 lbs, whereas the same volume of aluminum bronze weighs 481 lbs. The value of strength regarding the center stem is a reduction in torsion or twisting under load. In short, stronger center stems=more efficient winches.

Aesthetic: A winch is a standout piece of hardware on any sailboat and when it comes to sailboats, looks definitely matter. The matte black finish popular on aluminum winches offers a great modern and racy look, which appeals to the demographic that would value weight savings above others. Stainless steel and chrome bronze both offer a shiny silver appearance that is popular on boats aiming for a sophisticated or classic look. Many classic yacht owners and cruisers prefer this look and consider weight a lower priority than the racing crowd. Generally, a chrome bronze winch will be less expensive than a stainless steel winch, but will also be heavier and less durable with the finish more prone to deterioration over time.

In the end, there is no correct answer to which material winch drum is best. Aluminum is favored by many for its lightweight and stylish matte black finish. Fans of stainless steel winches prefer the beautiful aesthetic and tout it as the most durable, long-lasting option. And finally, chrome bronze winches can be a more budget-friendly way to attain some of the visual appeal of a stainless steel winch.