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When selecting a winch for your trailer you will be given a choice of rope or cable. Usually, in our articles, we like to explain the pros and cons of different options, so the reader can have access to relevant information and make a decision based on their needs, budget and preferences, and this article will not be different. Some people have strong different points of view, so it is important that you consider your circumstances to figure out what best material for your boat trailer winch is. It is important to highlight that we are assessing the usage of steel cable or synthetic rope of trailers only, so we are not going to write about the performance of the material in 4x4 or ATV applications. That being said, the characteristics of these two products are the same regardless of its usage.
Our safety is our number one priority! You probably have heard this many times before. Safety is very important, especially when towing our boat. Steel cables store more kinetic energy, which means if the breaks the cable flys over like a bullet and it is a hazard that needs to be considered. Synthetic rope does not store as much energy and is way safer to use for that reason.
Speaking about failure, if a steel cable breaks, it is not possible to amend it on the spot and continue towing. You will need a portable winch as a backup to keep towing the boat. If a synthetic rope breaks, you can still tie it back together and finish towing.
Synthetic rope is 1,5 times stronger than steel cable, they are also 1/7 times the weight of steel. So, roughly, synthetic rope is 15 times stronger than steel cable. It has higher breaking strength compared to steel, so it is less likely to break.
Steel cable lasts longer if maintained properly, when it starts to perish it will rust and make it difficult to use. Synthetic ropes do not last as long with a typical working life of 4 to 5 years if left subject to weather conditions.
Synthetic ropes should need to be maintained properly. If sand, grains or mud get stuck in the rope’s core the working life of the product can be significantly reduced, it is recommended to wash it if the product has debris attached to it, or after using the rope in sand or mud.
Steel cables are the ideal type of line to be used in abrasive terrains, such as sand and rocks, so require less maintenance compared to synthetic ropes. That being said, it can rust, and develop sharp burrs as it wears out, so the use of gloves to operate the winch is recommended. Steel cables are also subject to kinks.
Steel is steel, so there is no variation in the product even if you purchase it from different brands or suppliers. Synthetic fiber is different, it can be made of nylon, polyester, polyethylene, etc. You need to trust the brand, because there is no easy way to find out how the fiber has been made. Here at TecnoTools, our synthetic ropes are Dyneema synthetic rope, it is one of the strongest materials in the world. The product is ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene, and it is made by DSM in the Netherlands.
Let’s recap a few important features of the synthetic rope and steel cable. The rope is lighter, way stronger, easy to handle, easy to fix and safer. The cons of the rope are the cost, if permanently exposed UV light (weather conditions) it has its working life significantly reduced, and needs to be washed to remove mud, dirt and sand, as they cut the rope internally. If you keep your boat trailer outdoors and are not willing to take the time to wash and store the rope indoors, synthetic rope might not be the one for you.
The pros of a steel cable are completely the opposite of the cons of a synthetic rope. Cables are cheaper, very UV resistant (so can be stored outdoors), do not need to be washed regularly and do not need to be washed on a regular basis. The cons of the cable are: very heavy and difficult to handle, very difficult, if not impossible to repair if it breaks, and due to the kinetic energy stored it is very unsafe if it breaks.
You should take the features above in consideration to decide which product suits your needs best. There is no better or worse, it comes down to how you use your boat and trailer, the time you spend looking after them and how much money you are willing to spend.