Self-Tailing Winch vs Non-Self-Tailing Winch

Mooring Marine is reader supported. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.

Sailing winches come in two types: the self-tailing winch and the non-self-tailing winch.

So what are some differences that set apart the self-tailing from the non-self-tailing winch? Which type is the best to use?

Each of these winches has unique features that make it ideal for specific tasks.

What’s the difference, and why would you want to choose one over the other?

  • Winches tighten the sail sheet more than a human can
  • They turn clockwise, so wrap lines in a clockwise direction
  • You don’t necessarily need winches in order to sail. If you need to, you can wait until ready.

In this article, we will compare self-tailing winch vs non-self-tailing winch.

Read on to learn their differences and how best you can use each type depending on the task. 


Self-Tailing Winches

Self-Tailing Winch

Many standard winches do not have a tail jam, increasing the risk of cutting or injuring your fingers. Moreover, it exposes the winch operator to the hazards of the wire cable. 

Fortunately, the self-tailing winch helps fix these issues. It is open-ended, and the tail is rolled around the winch’s drum. These winches work by pulling up the tail while simultaneously cranking it up its drum. 

This eliminates the need for an extra person who would normally help pull the tail. Therefore, self-tailing winches are the best option if you plan to sail alone and need a winch that requires minimal effort.

When Is Self-Tailing Considered Useful?

If you plan to sail solo, you should consider getting a self-tailing winch to save energy and time. The beauty of these winches is that:

  • They help control breast lines, especially in highly windy conditions. This ensures the cables have the proper tension.
  • You don’t have to keep holding the line when sailing since the winch does that.

Advantages That Come With Self-Tailing

First, and most importantly, these winches give lone sailors much freedom. If you have been using non-self-tailing, turning to self-tailing will feel incredible. Since it holds the line and does so effectively, you do not need a lot of people to help keep things under control. 

Self-tailing is also considered much easier and safer for operation, as your hands are not in danger of being cut. 

These winches hold your line even after cranking it. We recommend clearing it off if you knock the rope loose.   

Disadvantages of Self-Tailing

Even though it has advantages and improves the overall sailing experience, self-tailing also features a couple of drawbacks. Primarily, it is relatively expensive when compared to non-self-tailing winches. So to enjoy the benefits of self-tailing, you will be required to spend a bit more.

Also, this winch usually needs stacking with the rope for the mechanism to work. Also, winch fairleads can sometimes cause foul lines if released rapidly, depending on construction or manufacturing design. Finally, the handlers can sometimes be at risk during operation as it can cause tearing or catching on the clothes or sails.  

Non-Self-Tailing Winches

Nion Self-Tailing Winch

If your aim is to capitalize on ocean winds for capacity, you might want to consider non-self-tailing. Although it can tighten sails, it can’t hold the rope independently. The advantage of this winch is that it can tightly pull the sail sheet and keep the line taut with ease. However, it will require at least two people if you want to have an easier time using it.

Cranking the drum until the line is taut helps optimize the sail sheet’s shape and utilize the wind, thus increasing the speed of the sails. In addition, the rough grip on the non-self-tailing winch allows you to wrap the line around it effectively and ensures the winch holds on to the cord when you tighten it. 

However, ensure you do not release the rope during the tightening process to avoid loose ties.

When Are Non-Self-Tailing Winches Helpful?

The following are some of the various uses of these winches:

  • It can be used to channel more significant power as opposed to what a human can generate.
  • The winches are great for controlling and handling halyards and sailing sheets. 
  • They can help pull your boat or other big objects from the water.
  • These winches are universal and can serve several other purposes as well. For example, they can haul halyards when affixed to the mast. 


If you are a beginner, non-self-tailing is more suitable than self-tailing. It is much easier to handle and requires somewhat less maintenance; hence more beginner-friendly.

Non-self-tailing also does not need active monitoring to ensure the tension on the rope is right. When pulling something big, there is no possibility that the line will slack and compromise its grip or hold on the item being pulled. 

Overall it is much simpler to use non-self-tailing and doesn’t require expert knowledge on tailing to know how it operates.


The main drawback of this winch is that, at times, this type of tailing can be harmful as it can mess up the line and even break it. Moreover, the fast recoil can easily injure anyone nearby. 

Self-Tailing Winch vs Non-Self-Tailing Winch

The primary difference between the two is the drum in the non-self-tailing. The drum accommodates manual tailing and ensures there is necessary friction to the winch.

On the other hand, self-tailing functions differently — it uses a feeder arm and additional jaws slightly above the drum.

What Size of the Winch Should You Get for Your Boat? 

There are things you should know before choosing the right winch size. First, you have to be aware of how long your boat is and the sail area that requires the winch. If you intend on using a similar winch for different sails, go for the sail with the largest surface area to calculate the winch size.

It would help if you also considered the speed when getting a winch. There are two options here: 1-speed and 2-speed, the latter being the most preferred. The difference between these two speeds is crank speed. 

Turning the handle changes the speed: turning it one way switches it to 1-speed, and when you turn it in the opposite direction, it goes 2-speed. When you have multiple speed options, it lets you choose the ideal trim for sailing. 

If you participate in racing, you prefer trimming the sail right after a tack. This high speed allows it to do just that. But, if you plan on cruising around, you might not need the two-speed, although it is good to have it.

Can You Interchange Winch Handles?   

For all standard winches, you can interchange winch handles. The distinguishable feature when it comes to winches is the handle length and the locking mechanisms. Unfortunately, many winches get dropped overboard, so when you purchase one, ensure it will lock in. 

For all standard winches, you can interchange winch handles.

You may also buy the ones that float when they fall overboard. Then, if you are racing, you may not have time to stop and get it, but you can come back later and find it.

Can You Convert Any Winch to Self-Tailing? 

You may have wanted to get self-tailing winches, but you couldn’t, maybe because they are expensive! However, there are other budget ways to make your self-tailing winches. First, you can install winches. these are rubbers that hold the rope. It is the most cost-effective way of converting your winch.

You can also use a winch conversion kit. 

There are budget ways to make your self-tailing winches.

Finally, you can replace the winches with self-tailing ones.

The first option is usually the most preferred one because of the easy installation. You have to get the correct size because otherwise, it won’t work, and the building might get tricky. If you have the money, go for the second option and get the conversion kit. The final option is so much more expensive.

How Do You Load in Self-Tailing?

Step 1: Decoupling the Winch 

Start by unscrewing the central winch screw using a screwdriver. After it’s open, take out the self-tailing crown and the crank sleeve.

Step 2: Aligning the winch 

Locate the star wheel and place the winch perpendicular to the line.

Step 3: Getting the winch in position 

To have it secured correctly, drill holes and let them be held firmly by the nuts. The process involves ensuring milled holes accommodate adding sealing compounds. 

Next, fix the screws in the holes you drilled before and apply the sealing mixture close to the screws. Afterward, realign the winch to the holes, and set the washers and nuts to connect with the winch. 

We recommend using thread lockers to screw the nuts, ensuring they do not come loose because of the vibrations. Once done, you can screw the winch and put the doll back. 

Next is the installing and realigning of the self-tailing. The end should unfurl in the correct place as you are screwing it in so that it comes out the other end in the correct position. 

Lastly, screw in the main screw after placing the crank sleeve back. 


The next time you plan to go sailing, if you are wondering which winch is ideal for your voyage, remember these two factors:

  • Self-tailing winches are an excellent choice if you are planning to make solo sailing trips since one person can handle them. 
  • Non-self-tailing winches, on the other hand, are the better choice for beginners since they are easier to use. But you will likely need another person to use one.