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What Is the Difference Between a Winch and a Hoist?

The hoists and winches market exceeded an impressive $3.2 billion in 2020 due to their wide range of applications. Many industries use them, mainly construction, automotive, power, entertainment, etc.

Other than this, a hoist and winch share a few more characteristics. However, each has its own use, so they shouldn’t be confused with one another or used interchangeably. 

In this article, we’ll discuss the main differences between them, what purpose each one serves, and whether you should use a hoist or a winch for a job.

What’s a Winch?

You use a winch to move heavy loads horizontally on a level surface or over slight inclines. The device comprises a cable or wire rope and a rotating drum or barrel.

A man using a tool for carrying heavy object

The rope or cable is anchored to the winch on one end and connected to a heavy object on the other. As the drum turns, the rope or cable winds onto it, causing the object to move.

This can also be done the opposite way, with the rope unwinding and the movement resulting from released tension. Winch drums are usually built from fabricated steel and intended for a set load capacity.

The winch drum can be powered:

  • Manually;
  • By air;
  • By electricity, and;
  • By hydraulics. 

The more complex industrial winches are used for towing vehicles, moving heavy trees and rocks, or large equipment.

What’s a Hoist?

A hoist is a piece of rigging equipment used for various purposes and, like a winch, is very useful in moving heavy objects. However, a hoist doesn’t pull horizontally but lifts loads vertically.

Hoists are most commonly utilized with a chain but can also use wire rope. In the latter instance, the hoists also have drums as part of their structure. But, where winches exclusively rely on drums, hoists can also use lift-wheels to wrap the rope around.

Some hoists lift loads of only a few hundred pounds, while others can suspend many tons. You use them for raising and lowering everything in the scope of steel beams, engine blocks, construction materials, or HVAC appliances.

You can manually operate hoists or use a motorized system (electric, hydraulic or pneumatic), so you have different types. Since the hoist needs to keep the load suspended in air, the device uses a braking system, unlike winches, which have a free spool mechanism.

Winch vs. Hoist

Each piece of equipment has its intended use and doesn’t generally do the same job. A hoist and a winch may look similar, but fundamental differences exist in their designs, capabilities, and intended use.

It’s essential to know the differences and which variables you should consider when determining which one is best suited for a job.


The most apparent difference between hoist and winch devices is how they move the load. A winch will generally push or pull it horizontally on a surface, while a hoist lifts it at steeper inclines and suspends it into the air for a period.

Brake Mechanisms

Because both devices have different applications, it only makes sense that they have unique structural parts to help them efficiently and successfully fulfill their intended use. 

Female metalsmith attaching metal to chain hoist in workshop

Most winches use dynamic braking systems. Dynamic brakes use a gear system to hold the load in place. 

This braking system is acceptable for horizontal pulls but makes winches unstable for suspending loads. They could slip, or the gears could give way, causing damage or a dangerous situation and injury.

Mechanical brakes are much safer to use for lifting applications. You usually configure a hoist to have a mechanical braking system with a physical brake that allows the equipment to lock hoisted objects. Since they omit the free spool mechanism common to winches, there is a reduced risk of slippage.

Some winches can use mechanical breaks to lift or pull at an incline. Regardless, it’s still best and most secure to use a hoist for lifting.


You must position hoists above the load, while you can mount winches on the floor, wall, or ceiling. The winch offers a lot more flexibility in positioning, even though there are still distance limitations.

Southeast Rigging - The Right Hoists and Winches For The Job

Southeast Rigging can help you find the rigging device you need, regardless of the intended use. We feature various hoists and winches and also offer other quality rigging equipment. 

If you don’t feel safe using our fall protection equipment alone, we provide special training and tool inspection to ensure everything goes smoothly.

Check out our website, view our catalog, or contact us directly for immediate assistance!

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