Skip to content

Capstan winches

Issued: 15 June and 16 August 2010
Last Updated: 23 November 2010


The purpose of this safety alert is to highlight the hazards involved when operating winches, such as capstan winches and warping drums, on board commercial fishing vessels.

Photograph 1: Unguarded capstan winch
Photograph 1 - Example of an unguarded windless style winch


A number of winches are provided on trawlers and other vessels to perform various lifting and hauling operations. One type of winch is known as a warping drum winch and is shown in Photograph 1. This type of winch is mounted on a horizontal axis and is designed for raising or lowering weights such as nets and crab pots. A rope is wound around the drum to provide control of the tension required for lifting and lowering.

Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (WHSQ) is investigating a workplace incident where a worker received multiple fractures, crushed vertebrae, lacerations and amputation of the right arm. These injuries occurred when the corner of the worker's loosely fitted wet weather jacket caught in a rope loop attached to the unguarded rotating drum of the winch. The worker was then dragged into and coiled around the rotating drum of the winch, until it was disengaged by a deck hand.


Investigations into the incident revealed that there is a likely risk of entanglement with the moving parts of the winch. In particular the rotating drums have the potential to cause serious or fatal injuries to workers.

The instability of the deck during poor weather could also increase the likelihood of a worker falling onto or otherwise interacting with moving parts of the winch, which could be unguarded.

Control or prevention measures

  • Obligation holders should:
    • Provide training and information to users, based on the manufacturer's guidelines for safe operating procedures and on the hazards of using winches.
    • Encourage users to wear clothing that reduces the risk of entanglement (e.g. wearing close fitting jackets with elasticised waist and sleeve cuffs to prevent entanglement).
    • When wire rope winches are used, ensure these are provided with guards to help prevent entanglement (see photograph 2 for one example of a guard).
    • Reduce the use of capstans or warping drum winches when there is a choice of using a traditional style winch that is guarded.

Example of a traditional wire rope winch fitted with a guard to prevent entanglement
Photograph 2 - Example of a traditional wire rope winch fitted with a guard to prevent entanglement

Additional information and legislative requirements