Capstan winches have been around for centuries. Originally they were used on ships to raise and lower spars for sailing, or to lift cargo onto the ship. The large, manpowered machines were nothing like the small electric winches used to raise equipment up a tower these days.
Using a capstan to get gear up a tower is safe and easy, as long as you follow a few simple guidelines.
1 – Don’t overload the hoist!
Before you start working, make sure you understand everything involved in the job. Since you can’t feel the weight that the hoist is lifting, it may seem effortless. You must always know the weight of the object or what the force required to pull the cable is before starting work.
2 – Position yourself and the load correctly
The operator should always have a good view of both the hoist and the load. If that’s not possible because of obstructions between the two, work out a system with a spotter by using either hand signals or two-way radios.
3 – Inspect. Everything.
Never use a malfunctioning or damaged hoist. This should be obvious! This would be a good time to verify that the equipment being used is rated for the loads involved... Again. But it’s not just the hoist. You should inspect the rope, bracket, blocks, slings, etc.
Speaking of rope… it should be rated for the load involved, have good frictional characteristics and a high melting point. The drum can create a lot of heat on the rope so make sure the rope manufacturer has approved the rope for the task at hand.
Now… This isn’t a comprehensive list of the steps required to run a capstan. They’re just a few pointers that should get you thinking about safety when lifting and rigging. For a more complete resource, check out Hubbell Power System’s Eight Safety Recommendations for Capstan Hoists.