If you use synthetic rope on your winch, there are some things you should do to ensure the safety, functionality, and lifespan the winch rope. The number one killer of synthetic rope is abrasion, meaning things that rub the independent fiber strands down and weaken the rope. There are many ways we expose rope to abrasion, some that are not so obvious.
First and most obvious is rubbing the line on rocks and terrain while winching. Most of us know to use a blanket or winch sleeve of some kind to protect the rope from any direct contact with the terrain while pulling, but our ropes often pick up dirt and debris while in use. Small particles cause abrasion within the rope. Soak your rope in clean water from time to time, or especially after a particularly dirty recovery.
Other things that inflict abrasion during recovery are stepping on the winch line, and the line getting caught in a pulley block or crossing over itself. While it is good safety practice to step on the rope instead of straddling it, this also grinds it into the dirt. I prefer to walk all the way around a vehicle rather than step on my expensive rope. Checking your rigging under tension before proceeding with the recovery will ensure that your line isn’t twisting or binding anywhere.
When you first purchase your winch or install new winch line, wind it onto the drum under tension. This ensures that once you are performing an actual recovery, the rope is not loose on the drum, which can cause the rope to suck down in between the loose rope layers. This will cause it to bind, creating abrasion and friction. How much tension do you use to pre-load the winch line? Ten percent of the winch capacity is recommended, so with a 9500-pound rated winch, about 1000 pounds of resistance is minimal. Accomplish this by rigging to an anchor point that is level or just slightly uphill and allows a straight pull for the entire length of the winch rope. Wind the first seven to eight wraps on the first/lowest layer of the drum by hand tension so you don’t pull the attachment point of the rope out of the drum, then put the Jeep in neutral and drag the brakes to add just a little resistance and not allow any slack in the line.
Let me say this again: Do not allow slack in your winch line when powering in or out. Whenever you are powering in or out, apply tension to the line, at least by hand. When you power in or out without tension, the rope will wrap back on itself and cause…what? You guessed it. Abrasion!
The fairlead requires constant inspection since it is the thing your winch line comes in contact with the most. Ensure that it is installed in proper alignment with the drum. If it’s not centered, drag increases on one side and too much rope will wrap on the other side. Make sure all of the contact points are smooth and burr-free on both the fairlead and the bumper edges with which your winch line may come into contact.
Lastly, don’t forget the hook. Proper stowage means not sucking the thimble or hook into the fairlead and chewing up the surface. Use a polyurethane isolator or secure the winch hook to a recovery point on the bumper. If you allow the winch to pull whatever is on the end of your winch rope into your fairlead, you are likely to scar up the fairlead, creating a rough spot that will chew up the winch rope the next time you use the winch.
We could certainly go into much more on winch use, such as rigging and safety in later articles, but it all boils down to keeping everything safely operating, and a strong, properly wound rope is a big part of that.