Understanding Come Along Winches: How They Work and Their Uses

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Published By: Aaron Redstone
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Total: 3 min read time

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A come-along winch is a handy, portable winching tool that can provide a lot of pulling power through sheer manual leverage.

Come alongs consist of a metal frame housing a gear and drum system, with a hand crank and ratcheting mechanism that winds a cable to generate tension.

This simple but ingenious design allows these compact winches to move and pull impressive loads using only human power.

Come along winches are ideal for a variety of situations where a fixed vehicle winch is not practical.

Their extreme portability and manual operation make them versatile tools for farm, construction, automotive, and industrial applications.

But how exactly do these manual powerhouses work? Let’s take a closer look at the components and operation of come along winches.

What is a Come-Along Winch?

What is Come along

A come along winch is a mechanical device designed to pull, lift, drag, stretch or otherwise move heavy objects by winding an attached rope or cable.

It consists of a metal frame that houses a geared system connected to a spool or drum. The user wraps the cable around the drum and attaches the hooks or chains at the ends to the load.

Cranking the handle turns the internal gears, which rotates the drum and winds the cable, creating tension.

The ratcheting pawl device allows the user to crank in one direction, pulling the load with each turn, while preventing the rope from unwinding backwards.

This allows for incremental tightening and repetitive cranking until the load is moved.

While not as fast as powered winches, the gear and lever system multiplies the user’s hand force to safely move loads well in excess of what a person could pull directly.

Main Components

Come Along Winch parts

Frame – This houses the drum, gears and ratcheting mechanism. Frames are typically made from steel or aluminum in a “U” shape with crank handles on both sides.

Drum – The cylinder or spool that the rope or cable wraps around, attached to the gearing. Drums are often removable for rope replacement.

Gearing – Provides the mechanical advantage, with ratios like 4:1 or 6:1 to amplify cranking force. Gearing may be all-metal spur gears or cast gears.

Pawl – The ratcheting mechanism that engages with the gearing to allow winding of the drum in one direction only.

Crank Handle – The lever arm that turns the gears and drum via manual operation. Handles are usually swiveling on both sides.

Cable – A steel braided rope, synthetic rope or chain that winds on the drum and attaches to the load.

Hooks & Chains – Connect the ends of the cable to the load or recovery point with hooks, clevis fittings, shackles or chain extensions.

How a Come Along Winch Works

  1. Attach – The operator secures the hooks, chains or other fittings at the ends of the cable to fixed points on the load to be moved. Proper load balancing is important.
  2. Wind – Turning the crank handle rotates the geared system inside the frame, spooling the cable onto the drum.
  3. Ratchet – The pawl mechanism clicks as the gears turn in one direction, holding the tension on the wound cable.
  4. Repeat – After reaching the limit of comfortable cranking, the operator changes grip or direction to reset and crank again, progressively pulling the load.
  5. Release – When finished, the tension can be slowly released to unwind cable, using the pawl to control speed.

Capacity and Power

Come along winches are generally rated between 1 ton (2,000 lbs) up to 6 tons (12,000 lbs) of pulling capacity.

However, this capacity depends greatly on how many rope parts or “falls” support the load. More falls provide more leverage and strength.

For example, a 3-ton winch may be able to exert 9 tons of force in a 3-fall configuration.

While motorized vehicle winches boast impressive horsepower and speed, the benefit of manual come alongs lies in extreme force generated through leverage.

Slow and steady hand cranking can exert several tons of pulling force to carefully drag, lift, or tension objects that would be risky or impossible to move manually.

Use Cases

Come along winches excel at a variety of manual tasks:

  • Pulling or dragging equipment and vehicles short distances
  • Securing heavy loads to trailers with ratchet straps or chains
  • Stretching and tightening barbed wire fencing
  • Tree pulling and hauling logs for firewood
  • Flipping or righting overturned machinery
  • Extracting stuck vehicles from ditches, mud or snow
  • Stressing cables, wires and rigging gear to tune or test them
  • Assisting in equipment repairs that require tension or alignment

With the right accessories, come along winches can provide steady pulling force for all kinds of situations that require careful control and incremental tension.

Their manual operation provides a safer alternative to vehicle winches for loads under a few tons.

Advantages Over Vehicle Winches

While come alongs cannot match the raw power and speed of motorized vehicle winches designed for recovery and towing, they offer some unique benefits:

  • Extreme portability to bring the pulling power to remote work sites
  • No electrical or hydraulic connections required
  • Lower cost for budget-conscious farmers and contractors
  • Easier to control load tensions through manual cranking
  • Optional overload protection via friction discs or slam pawls
  • Flexibility in pulling angles since they are not mounted
  • Safer operation through incremental human power rather than high-powered motors

For tasks that require measured tensions of a ton or two, come along winches allow close-up operation and precise control that powered winches cannot match.

They are highly versatile tools that can fill a niche between manual pulling and heavy equipment.

Also Check


Come along winches are deceptively compact but mighty devices. Through smart leveraged gearing, they allow a single user to safely generate several tons of pulling force using just hand cranking.

Their portable design and manual control make come alongs problem-solving heroes for farmers, contractors, mechanics and anyone dealing with heavy loads.

Whether you need to drag debris, tension rigging or winch your ATV out of the mud, a come along winch is a reliable pulling partner.

Disclaimer: As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases at no additional cost to you. But all my reviews and guides are genuine and come from my experience.

Aaron Redstone 

Hi, I'm Aaron, the founder of Off-Road Pull. My love for off-roading began in my teenage years while exploring the diverse landscapes of Arizona.

With more than 16 years of experience in off-roading and winching, I bring a blend of practical know-how and a background in mechanical engineering to provide you with detailed and trustworthy advice.

My passion is to share this knowledge with both newcomers to adventure and experienced off-roaders. When I'm not tackling rugged terrain or crafting in-depth articles, you'll find me capturing the scenic beauty of the outdoors through my lens.

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