Winch Operator: Career Information & Requirements

Mar 12, 2019

Career Definition for Winch Operators

A winch operator controls equipment with powered cables to hoist and move loads too large to be transported by other means. They use pedals and levers to operate these machines. A winch operator also monitors equipment gauges, uses tools to connect and disconnect winch cables to loads being moved or lifted and moves winch or hoist machinery around sites as needed. A winch operator can work at shipping docks or ports, rail yards, construction sites and logging operations sites.

Education On-site training or apprenticeship; bachelor's degrees are available, but not required by most employers
Job Skills Mechanical ability, physical fitness, good judgment, communication skills, mathematics skill
Median Salary $43,210 (2017) for hoist and winch operators
Career Outlook 1% decrease (2016-2026) for hoist and winch operators

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Education Required

Although there are no post-secondary education requirements to become a winch operator, one might decide to obtain a B.S. in Engineering or Engineering Technology to prepare for this career. Participating in an apprenticeship program, such as one offered by the International Union of Operating Engineers, and working under the guidance of an experienced winch operator is the usual route taken to become a winch operator.

Skills Required

A winch operator needs excellent eye-hand coordination, communication and judgmental skills. Good math skills may also be helpful. They should be mechanically-inclined and have good physical capabilities such as dexterity, balance, vision and reflexes.

Career and Economic Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 1% decrease in employment opportunities for hoist and winch operators from 2016 to 2026. The BLS reported that the median annual salary for winch operators was $43,210 in May 2017. Some winch operators are members of labor unions, which can result in increased pay, benefits and job security. Areas that might see the best opportunities for winch operators will be those experiencing an increase in construction projects.

Alternative Career Options

Similar careers may be:

Crane and Tower Operators

Like winch operators, crane and tower operators maneuver equipment to move materials or other items around a site. In some states, crane and tower operators must obtain a license. To become licensed, these operators must demonstrate their ability to safely control a crane. Training for crane operators can be completed on the job or through an apprenticeship program. In May 2017, the BLS reported that crane and tower operators had a median annual salary of $52,200. The BLS projects a 9% increase in jobs for these workers from 2016 to 2026.

Laborers and Hand Freight, Stock and Material Movers

Those who prefer to move material by hand rather than by machine may want to work as hand laborers who move stock, freight and other materials around warehouses. There are no education requirements to become a hand laborer, and only on-the-job training is required. The BLS reported that the median annual salary for hand laborers of freight, stock and other materials was $27,040 in May 2017. Jobs for these workers are projected to increase by 8% from 2016 to 2026, according to the BLS.

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