Winch Material Comparison: Stainless Steel vs Aluminium vs Chromed Bronze

Winch Materials Comparison: Stainless Steel vs Aluminium vs Chromed Bronze

Sailing winches are typically identified by their drum material. For example, an aluminium winch is referring to a winch with an aluminium drum. The most common materials used for winch drums are aluminium, chromed bronze, and stainless steel. Each of these materials have different properties that offer their own unique set of pros and cons, and no single material is the ‘best’ in every way. This article directly compares the materials in relation to each other in order to help you better understand the characteristics of each material and ultimately help you make the correct decision on which material winch best suits you.

Weight: When comparing winches for performance, one of the easiest and most common characteristics to look at first is weight. While the material of the drum is generally used to describe the entire winch, the truth is that a large percentage of the weight also relates to the other component materials such as the gears and the centre stem. Let’s take a look at a direct weight comparison for size 40 self-tailing winches from Andersen, Ronstan, Harken, and Lewmar:




Andersen Stainless Steel Ronstan Orbit Aluminium Harken Radial Aluminum Harken Performa Aluminium Harken Radial Chromed Bronze Lewmar Evo Aluminium Lewmar Evo Chromed Bronze

Winch Size:


10.8 lbs 6.8 lbs 8.4 lbs 8.4 lbs 11.9 lbs 10.8 lbs 14.3 lbs


As you can see, if your main priority when specifying winches is reducing weight, it would be wise to start by looking at aluminum winches and avoiding a chromed bronze winch. 

Compared to aluminum, stainless steel is heavier and stronger. However, using the stronger stainless steel can allow the use of less material (i.e. a thinner drum) which offsets some of the weight difference. On an Andersen winch, the stainless steel drum is actually fairly lightweight and the majority of the weight is attributed to the aluminum-bronze center stem. Aluminum-bronze is about 3x stronger than regular aluminum but nearly 3x heavier as well. In a winch, using a stronger material in the centre stem results in a reduction in torsion under load. In other words, stronger centre stems = more efficient winches. The Ronstan Orbit Winch™ is the lightest of the bunch, a result of not only the material specifications of the drum and components but also the fully machined drum, gearing configuration, and other design details which eliminate excess material where it is not needed for strength or efficiency. 

Aesthetic: A winch is a standout piece of hardware on any sailboat and when it comes to sailboats, looks definitely matter. The matte black finish popular on aluminum winches offers a great modern and racy look, which appeals to the demographic that would value weight savings above others. Stainless steel and chromed bronze winches both offer a shiny silver appearance that is popular on boats aiming for a sophisticated or classic look. Many classic yacht owners and cruisers prefer this look and consider weight a lower priority than the racing crowd. A chromed bronze winch will typically be more affordable than a stainless steel winch, but will also be heavier and less durable, and the drum's shiny chrome finish will tarnish over time. The lifespan of a chromed bronze winch drum can be extended by using a winch cover while not underway. The more expensive stainless steel winch drum does not require the use of a winch cover and provides a stronger, lighter drum that maintains it's shine for the lifetime of the winch. 

Bottom Line: In the end, the best choice will depend on a variety of factors including your individual priorities and your budget. Aluminum is favored by many for its lightweight and stylish matte black finish. Fans of stainless steel winches prefer the beautiful aesthetic and tout it as the most durable, long-lasting option. And finally, chromed bronze winches can be a more budget-friendly way to attain some of the visual appeal of a stainless steel winch.