Issues Archive

May/June 2017 Vol. 21
No. 3
 Images courtesy of Josh  
  Eaton, Woods Hole  
  Oceanographic Institution 
WHOI Compact Winch  

‘Most advanced portable winch design in the world’ capable of outperforming bulkier predecessors

Both commercial and research marine operations rely on winches for deployment, hauling and retrieval of equipment and instruments. Over the years, winch design has undergone extensive advancements in control systems while at the same time structural changes have been few and far between. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), USA, engineers James Haley and Josh Eaton thought it time to incorporate mechanical advantage to build on the capabilities of innovative control systems. “The WHOI Compact Winch is the most advanced portable winch design in the world,” says co-inventor James Haley. Each component was designed and fabricated to serve multiple purposes with the goal of creating a smaller, lighter and more compact winch, capable of outperforming its heavier and bulkier predecessors.


Currently available winches are customisable, however, they are typically built for a specific use and a particular tension member diameter and type. The WHOI Compact Winch was built for adaptability – capable of replacing any winch design currently in use regardless of application. Because of the strength to weight ratio and the ability to spool any size tension member (0.25 inches/6.35mm to three inches/76.2mm), users will have the ability to change diameters and tension member types on the fly, going from thread lay to open lay, either onsite or from a remote location.

The winch has an integrated turntable similar to the portable turntable, another WHOI innovation, eliminating the need for custom baseplates and allowing for flexibility in deck placement, movement and application. While conventional winches are immobile once installed on deck, and require heavy equipment to turn or rotate, the WHOI Compact Winch is easily hand-rotated, a full 360 degrees, and locked into place quickly and easily with a lever positioned on the base.


The winch was built with utility in mind – creating a unit with a much smaller footprint and a higher strength to weight ratio. Featuring a frameless build, the winch motor is housed entirely within the winch drum, allowing for a smaller on-deck footprint. With the open-air design of the drum, airflow is permitted and the motor is force ventilated for cooling. Quick and easy maintenance is as simple as sliding the motor from the winch drum.

The structure of the winch features small loops at the top that allow for connection to machinery for movement and installation. Additionally, the design features a unique level wind system, capable of being rigged to avoid the constraints of fleet angle.

In addition to its many mechanical innovations, the winch also works in conjunction with an external control cabinet for use with multiple winches and to control numerous mechanical components.


The winch was originally designed for scientific moorings where high-strength, high-volume tension members must be accommodated but was designed with scalability in mind and is applicable to both marine and terrestrial applications, allowing for customisation based on unique needs and challenges. The design is expected to be beneficial within the oil and gas industry, where power and strength is needed but space on rigs is limited, on marine vessels, where many winches can now be replaced with one multi-purpose unit, and it could also be scaled down for use in non-marine applications such as elevators or cranes.

The Compact Winch and Portable Turntable designs are currently protected under two pending patents.







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