Can You Use a Winch as a Hoist?

When it comes to buying lifting and handling equipment, one common question people often have is: ‘Can you use a winch as a hoist?’ In general, the answer is ‘no’ – so let’s explore a little more about why this is the case and what each item of equipment is actually used for.

What’s the difference between a hoist and a winch?

Before we go any further, it’s important to understand the difference between a hoist and a winch – and for what purpose they are designed for.

To put it simply, hoists are usually used to lift heavy items, whereas winches pull things. Confusion sometimes arises because the two items can look quite similar – but they are in fact engineered for different applications and have quite a few differences between them.

If you’re not sure which tool is right for the job, the information in this article should hopefully help out a little. It’s important to always choose the right tool for the job you have in mind, otherwise you are going to compromise on safety and generally find that the product is not fit for purpose. Using the incorrect equipment could result in injury, and/or damage to the equipment or object you are attempting to lift.


Winches are used to pull heavy objects or loads horizontally over a flat surface or moderate incline. Typically, a winch uses cable tension to move a load and may either be manually operated or use a powered motor run by electricity, air or hydraulics. As you would expect, powered winches are ideal for heavier duty applications, whereas manual models are simple and portable but have less capacity to move heavy objects.


A hoist is a piece of equipment that lifts a load vertically off the ground at an angle of 45 degrees or more, suspending it in mid air. They typically work using a chain and pulleys to lift the load, either manually or by using a powered motor. Electrical, hydraulic and air powered hoists can lift very heavy loads and are usually the preferred choice in environments where sustained heavy lifting is required. 

Can you use a winch as a hoist?

Unfortunately, it is not advisable to use a winch as a hoist. While they have a similar appearance, a winch just wasn’t designed or engineered to lift heavy loads off the ground, meaning it cannot be used to perform such a task safely.

To begin with, a proper hoist has a mechanical breaking system specially designed for vertical lifting and supporting an object suspended in the air. Most winches use dynamic brakes that rely on the resistance of the gears, making them unsuitable for lifting loads.

Ultimately, there is a real risk that the winch will not be able to cope with the load, causing a catastrophic failure of the equipment. Safety should always come first, which is why you should always use a hoist for lifting and leave a winch for pulling.