Winches get us out of all sorts of binds. Whether you’re stuck in the mud, between some rocks, or in a ditch, you can always count on your trusty winch to get you free in a jiffy. And that’s pretty amazing, to think about how that little box on the front of your machine is tough enough to pull you and your massive machine over (or out of) just about anything.
With so much power involved, it’s important to respect your winch. It’s much tougher than you are and can hurt you pretty badly if you’re not careful. Here’s what we do before and during our recovery missions to make sure we winch safely every time.
It’s important to make sure your winch is in good working condition. We recommend making winch inspections part of your pre-ride ritual. While you’re walking around and doing your usual once-over, go ahead and let out the entirety of your winch rope. Check it for any damage and if you’re using a steel cable, check for rust and kinks.
If it is damaged, swap it out for your backup winch rope or cable. With synthetic rope, you can cut off the damaged part, reattach the hook, and keep using the same rope.
You’ll also want to check the drum of the winch itself. Clean off any mud or other debris you see, and make sure your rope is secured properly.
You should always carry a tree saver or some other heavy-duty winching strap to help you anchor to trees. If you don’t have one, it might be tempting to wrap your winch line around the nearest tree and simply hook it back on the line.
This is a bad idea. If your winch line doesn’t snap outright, you will certainly do some damage to it, leading to failure down the road. There’s also a good chance that you’ll kill the tree as the line digs in and cuts through bark. Plus, you’re all but guaranteed to get eaten by a dinosaur if you try it, so just don’t.
When it comes to actually hooking your winch line to another vehicle, tree saver, or anchor spot, always use a hook with a latch (a latch that locks is even better) and make sure you face the opening of the hook upwards. This ensures that the hook is forced down into the ground if it fails. A flying hook is a hazard on both steel cable and synthetic rope.
It can be hard to tell when you’re going to max out your winch on a pull, but you should always bring a snatch block with you. This little guy can give you a huge mechanical advantage. If you use it every time you winch, you’ll increase the lifetime of your winch and you’ll have a much easier time. And it’ll get you out of those tough situations when your winch just isn’t quite strong enough.
When you’ve got everything hooked up safely, you need to add weight to your winch line. This is especially true with steel cable lines. All you need to do is grab a bag full of tools or water bottles (or something of a similar weight) and drape it over the cable. This will help the cable shoot toward the ground if the hook comes loose or the line breaks.
This one’s easy. Just make sure everybody gives the line plenty of space. If you’re using ten feet of line and everybody stands at least ten feet away, nobody will be in harm’s way.
Having one spotter will save you from a lot of grief. If you have four or five folks all telling you when to turn or when to stop and go, you’re going to end up hearing nothing but a bunch of noise. So have just one person tell you what to do.
Good winching is slow and steady. A lot of people like to gun it to pull their buddy out as hard as they can, but you should just let the winch do the work. Flooring it to try to yank someone out only gives you whiplash, broken anchor points, and a snapped rope.
If you follow all of these tips, you’re going to have an easy time the next time you’re stuck. Winch safety is simple and doesn’t take much time to implement, so keep everybody safe and do it!
If you’re in need of a winch for your side-by-side or ATV, check out SuperATV’s Black Ops Winches. We’ve even got a Winch Accessory Kit that has snatch blocks, tree savers, and extra synthetic rope—in other words, everything you need to pull off a successful rescue.