How To Winch | Basic Winching Techniques

Posted on: 2013-01-24

Owning a winch is more than having a cool piece of hardware on the front of your rig. It’s a responsibility that shouldn’t be taken lightly. If you’re on the trail with a small group, and are the only one with a winch, guess what – you’re automatically the recovery rig. Better yet, you’re alone on the trail and have managed your way into a precarious situation that requires self recovery – that’s when your winch becomes your life line (literally).

In some regards owning a winch includes an aspect social responsibility. Here in Portland, OR we had a recent flurry of light snow, freezing fog, and ice, which caught many motorists off guard. Sure, the highways were cleared by ODOT, but a portion of my commute involves a twisted road that travels a rather large hillside. Known as Skyline, this area is notorious for causing pile ups, downed trees, and impassible conditions for cars.

There was one morning in particular that caused several pileups on Skyline, one of them including five cars in a ditch. Being an early morning commuter I found myself as a first responder since my TJ is equipped with a WARN 9.5cti-s winch. There was no telling when tow trucks would be on scene, so I recovered as many as I could until help arrived. This sort of thing isn’t uncommon, during much of the winter local Jeep groups will drive along Mt. Hood winching out motorists who overestimated their vehicle’s capability.

My recent experience reiterated the fact that it’s extremely important to know basic winching techniques, because improper recoveries can hurt you and your wallet. As always, please refer to your instruction manual before operating your winch.

How to choose a Winch:

Can’t decide which winch is right for you? The best way to choose is to calculate the line pull needed for the application. To do this multiply your vehicle’s Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) by 1.5 – this will give an approximation for how big your winch should be. Typically, the first layer of rope around the drum is the max load the winch is capable of. Each additional layer deducts about 10% off the rated line pull. So for a winch rated 9,500lbs, the second layer will pull 8,550lbs, the third 7,700lbs, etc. A loss of pulling power can also be experienced when the rope isn’t spooled evenly on the drum. So re-spool your winch before you go out!

Before you start:
  • Always carry a pair of heavy duty gloves, especially with winches that have wire rope. The wire can develop barbs that will easily lacerate unprotected hands. Although less common with synthetic rope, gloves are still recommended to avoid rope burn.
  • Use a hook strap to pull the line away from the fair lead, this simple method could save your fingers in the end.
  • Carry clevis/D-shackles. These are the safest means for connecting a winch to a vehicle, chain, or strap
  • Consider purchasing a winch kit, this will include everything needed for a proper recovery
  • Never use a recovery strap for a winching operation, these are intended to stretch and will store lots of energy. If there is a break then the recovery strap acts as a rubber band for a shackle or winch hook.
  • Take your time assessing the situation, and plan accordingly
  • Make sure your battery can handle the additional load. A minimum of 650 cold cranking amps is recommended
Rigging a winch

Proper rigging is important, always use a strap, shackle, or steak. Never wrap a line around on itself. There are three basic lines one can use, they are:

Single Line

  • Pull line to anchor point, and secure it with a strap, shackle, or a combo of the two. Attachments can be a tree, vehicle, or steak.
  • Lock the clutch, connect the remote, and put line under tension.
  • Drape a blanket, coat, or other object on the line once it’s tight. This will counteract a line if it breaks.
  • Begin winching operation with short controlled pulls while operating your vehicle.
Double Line
  • You can use a snatch block to increase your pulling power over short distances.
  • Connect the snatch block at the anchor point, draw your line around and attach it to your vehicle
  • Drape a blanket, coat, or other object on the line once it’s tight.
Triple Line
  • The same technique applies as the double line, the difference is that two snatch blocks and two anchor points are needed.
  • Try to maintain a 90 degree angle between the winch and first anchor.
  • Double check all connections before operation.
  • Begin winching operation with short controlled pulls while operating your vehicle.

You don’t need to be stuck to practice these basics. Setup a different line each time you hit the trail if you have time, this will give you the confidence and know-how to recover in even the most difficult situation. Check out the WARN user guide, print it out and keep it with you. 4WD has a good article on winching as well.