There is a fundamental relationship between operating any machine and observing what the machine is actually doing. Take an electric drill or a circular saw – you wouldn’t think about taking your eyes off the work. Driving any vehicle is a given – eyes on the road – or else.
It is interesting watching many sailors, the less experienced being the worst offenders, winding away on a winch. The sailors will only watch the winch itself, not what the winch is actually manipulating.
We have all seen it, the winch becomes the focus rather than the sheet, halyard or other piece of running rigging that is attached to a sail for example. Some people stare at the winch, and even worse, they stare at the winch with their backs to the action. Possibly this has something to do with the physicality of winch grinding – the deep breathing and strain required to efficiently bring in the line exhausts any thought to check the results. However, the consequence of this could mean serious damage to the boat or to a crew member. Relying on another crew to ‘call the trim’ is no excuse to avoid all responsibility.
Electric winches are the worst in this regard as their force usually exceeds human power so the damage can be serious. I have seen people playing with sails on the dock, pushing buttons until clews are ripped out of the sail with a very embarrassing bang.
It is the skipper’s job as well as the more experienced hands to watch out for this fundamental fault and engender a routine of eyes forward. Look at what that winch is doing and not at the winch (other than to check for overrides of course!).