If dirt is your destination, then you’ll get stuck. It may not happen today when you leave the highway, but it will happen. Amongst basic recovery gear is often a quality snatch strap, which is handy when another vehicle can pull you out of a mess. However, there are the times when a winch is indispensable, in a case where self-recovery is needed or another vehicle cannot get in a position to extract you.
Whether a winch is right for you and your rig is another matter left to your choices of recovery gear for the situations you get yourself into. Should you have a winch, or decide you need one, it’s good to approach their use with a healthy dose of respect. Look at it this way, you’re pulling or lifting a multi-ton vehicle with a winch line under great tension. Mishaps can happen. Don’t let yourself or others be in harm’s way when they do.
Choices in winch line are steel braided cable or synthetic rope. Steel cable can become kinked with careless use and reduce its rated pulling capacity. Synthetic rope has advantages, but should also be wound in carefully to prevent the rope from getting tangled in the winch spool. Each type has care concerns, as well as keeping an eye on the winch itself.
Make note of danger zones where vehicles could move, cables could snap, or attachment areas could fail. Old and abused gear can fail, so maintenance of winch equipment is important. With the proper care and use, your winch can be your best friend in a stuck situation.
Step By Step
Use of a snatch block when winching can help change cable direction or allow for off-angle pulls as needed. Aside from ensuring your anchor point provides sufficient strength, make sure all persons stand clear of the “v” formed by the winch cable. This is a danger zone in all respects. Ideally, winch extension straps or tree savers should be used when strapped connection points are needed. In contrast, snatch straps are designed to store energy and will stretch significantly under cable tension.
Traditional steel cable has been used for decades in winches. It is strong, abrasion resistant, and mostly unaffected by sunlight and weather exposure. On the downside, it is heavy, prone to harmful kinking, and a serious danger should the cable snap or come loose while under tension. That’s why it’s a good idea to place some type of weight across the middle of a steel cable when in use. We’ve grown quite fond of synthetic winch rope. It’s much lighter and far safer than steel cable. However, it can age with UV exposure. It’s true one should avoid scrapping it across rocks or other abrasive surfaces, but we’ve found the rope to be long-lasting with reasonable care and use of a protective sheath where needed. However, do remember to avoid heat damage to synthetic rope.
Most basic winch packages come with a traditional hook as an attachment point. We prefer upgrading to attachment components that keep the D-rings, shackles, or straps fully enclosed. This provides greater assurance that the critical winch connection cannot slip loose. It’s best not to overtighten a D-ring shackle pin as it could seize in the threads when loaded. Tighten the pin until it gets snug and then back it out about ½ to 1 full turn. A sticking pin indicates the shackle has probably been over-loaded and distorted.
Most winch safety focuses on the cable and attachments, and making sure everything stays connected. However, it’s good to note that careful installation and periodic maintenance of electrical connections is important as well. We’ve seen instances of stuck solenoids and know of one instance where a winch solenoid stuck on while the winch was pulling in cable and the motor would not shut off. It took a hasty battery disconnect to prevent what could have been the untimely destruction of a winch or serious vehicle damage. Take note of aged, corroded wires and connections, or aging solenoids that could act up.