Winches and Hoists - What is the Difference?

Winches and hoists

In the world of DIY, home improvement and construction – it can be hard sometimes to nail down exactly what you need to get the job done. With so much lingo and technical language to get to grips with, the difference between two things can slip between the cracks to a tricky grey zone. And that’s often the case with winches and hoists; two very similar but also distinctly different pieces of equipment!

To clear up any confusion and make sure you get exactly what you were looking for, keep reading to get to grips with the differences between winches and hoists.

Difference Between Winches and Hoists

The main difference between winches and hoists is the direction they move things. Winches are made for PULLING, designed to pull loads horizontally across to move something from one place to another. Hoists are made for LIFTING, used to lift things up, drop them down, or suspend them in mid-air.

Functionality -  Hoists Lift, Winches Pull

As above, the easiest way to remember the difference between the two is through their different functionalities - hoists LIFT while winches PULL.

To put them in context, a hoist is perfect for use on scaffolding where objects might need listing from one floor to another, while a winch is often used in vehicle recovery to pull a car from a tricky spot or to pull a heavy load up a slight incline.


Along with the different functionality, the positioning of winches and hoists differ. As a hoist lifts, it must be positioned directly above the load with space around the load to assist if necessary. They’re usually attached to a pole or beam above as a strong foundation to lift the load up.

A winch on the other hand is positioned a distance away from the object you need to move with the cable positioned directly above the object using pulley blocks. A difference however is that a winch can be used from a safe distance away thanks to wireless remotes.

Working Length

Hoists and winches have differing working lengths with winches usually being able to pull a far longer distance than hoists can. As winches wind around an internal drum, they can store a lot more cable for a longer working length. Typically winches have a working length of around 15 to 40 meters, depending on the style and size as well as your needs.

Hoists however have to consider their weight and balance, so usually hold a smaller line length for safety. This depends on the size and hoist type, but the average length fluctuates between around 2 to 20 meters and can be boosted with an additional pulley block.

Can a winch be used as a hoist?

As a simple answer; no! The distinct differences between winches and hoists mean they can’t be used to do the other's job. A standard winch is hard to safely install in a way that would allow you to lift loads up off the ground, mostly because the brake system isn’t designed to safely hold a weight in mid-air for a cool-down break so there’s a high risk that the load would be dropped causing a big hazard.