24 Winching Safety Tips for 2021 – Ultimate Guide

| Last Updated: April 26, 2021

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A winch is one of the most useful accessories in the automotive market, especially for off-road enthusiasts and those that work on farms or construction sites.

However, the tension on the cable, hooks, and other issues can make winching dangerous.

With these winching safety tips, you can ensure the safety of those around you while protecting your winch investment.

Oh, c'mon... we had to share this one!   Photo credit: imgur.com

Winching Safety Tips To Keep You in One Piece

Winching safety starts with knowledge. The more you learn about safety, the better prepared you are to put these steps into action. So before you winch, make sure you know these winching safety tips to keep you in one piece.

1. Never Use the Tow Ball Hitch as a Recovery Point

Although they can tow a trailer, tow ball hitches aren’t designed to handle the tension that comes with winching. When you attach a winch to a tow ball, the ball itself can break off from the rest of the trailer hitch and fly at speeds of up to 200 mph. In the past decade or so, numerous people have died from using a tow ball hitch; don’t become one of them.

2. Inspect Everything and Inspect It Again

Every time you plan on winching, make sure to expect every element involved in the process. This includes the winch, fairlead, recovery points, anchors, and cable. By doing so, you ensure that everything is in tip-top condition and won’t fail during the winching process.

3. Always Face the Hook Upward

When you’re hooking up the cable with another vehicle, anchor, or recovery point, make sure that the opening of the hook is always facing upward. The reason for doing so is that if the hook comes undone, it’s forced downward into the ground instead of upward into the air.

Photo credit: adafruit.com

4. Get Bystanders Out of the Way

Under no circumstances should anyone be close to the steel cable, the winch, the anchor, or the other vehicle during winching. The tension on the cable can cause it to snap at any moment, causing serious injury or even death to anyone that gets hit.

5. Use Dampeners on the Cable

Once you’ve hooked up your steel cable to the object you want to move, always put dampers on the cable. If the cable comes undone or the line breaks, these dampers will force the line into the ground. While you can buy dampers from Amazon or at ATV shops, you can also improvise in a pinch. Using a tool belt or even a weighted-down blanket should suffice.

6. Slow and Steady Wins the Winch

Even if you’re in a hurry or time is of the essence, resist the urge to violently jerk the winch. Instead, always conduct a slow, steady pull. If you jerk the line too much, you risk snapping the line, which creates a safety issue and another predicament altogether. Now what?

7. Use the Proper Winching Technique

Not every winching technique is the same. You have the single line pull, double line pull, directional pull, or double directional pull. Each has its own benefits and proper usage. So to conduct a safe winching, make sure to use the proper winching method.

8. Have a Spotter

If you’re winching with a crowd, the dialogue of numerous people can bleed into just noise. That’s why you should designate a spotter. Once you have a spotter, use terms such as “winch in,” “winch out,” and “stop” to dictate what you should do with the winch. If possible, use a cell phone or a two-way radio to make the process more clear.

9. Read the Manual

Despite the stereotype of men to never read directions, you’re going to want to pop open the manual before you winch. The manual will tell you everything you need to know from the maximum load capacity your winch can handle to the precautions you should take, even if it’s just a refresher.

10. Know the Capacity of Your Winch

Before you decide to pull a 1-ton pickup out of a ditch, you should know the capacity of your winch. If you don’t know, consult the manual or hop online. If you’re not aware of the winch capacity, you could easily damage the winch or snap the line.

11. Choose Your Anchor Points Carefully

Anchor points such as rocks and trees are often considered the best option for winching. But take careful consideration of what you choose as an anchor before executing a winch. Most commonly, people choose trees that are either too small or dead. As soon as they start winching, the tree gets pulled on top of them or snaps in half.

12. Always Step on Top of the Line

If you’re walking around the line before your winch, always make sure to step on top of the line. Stepping over the line can cause severe injury if the vehicle starts to roll backward or if you’re on a hill.

13. Give Your Battery a Break

Off-roaders that go out to remote areas, take heed: always give your battery a break when winching. If you don’t you could wear out the battery and leave yourself stranded without phone service or a way of getting out of the situation. As a general rule, let your alternator recharge your battery for five minutes after one minute of winching.

14. Always Winch at the Lowest Possible Point on an Anchor

When you choose an anchor, make sure that you connect the cable to the lowest possible point on the anchor. This will minimize the leverage on the anchor and reduce the risk of pulling the object toward your vehicle, especially concerning trees.

15. Wash Synthetic Rope After Use in Muddy Conditions

Steel cable can handle almost anything thrown in its way in terms of weather or other conditions. However, synthetic cables (or synthetic rope) require more care after use. When these cables are exposed to mud, they get grains of dirt and sand within them. Over time, these can eat away at the cable and cause it to fray. But with deep cleaning with soap, you can remove these grains that could cause the cable to snap.

16. Keep the Winch Controller Inside Your Vehicle

Every winch comes with a controller that allows you to pull the cable in or let it out. However, this controller won’t do you much good if you’re stuck and it’s in a precarious or inaccessible spot in the vehicle. Keeping it in the center console or glovebox is the ideal choice, as you can grab it when necessary without walking through deep water or mud.

17. Pack a Winching Emergency Kit

If you require a winching, chances are that you’re in a more remote area. If you have others with you, this may not be a problem. But if you’re by yourself, you want to make sure you have an emergency kit and survival kit. A winching emergency kit should include extra cables and straps if the originals snap, a battery charger, and WD-40 to clean the connectors on your control box. Also, you should keep an emergency kit with blankets, non-perishable food, extra clothes, blankets, and an extra cell phone (or cell battery) just in case you get stranded.

18. Use an Equalizer Strap

An equalizer strap helps spread the load evenly between the two recovery points on the front of your vehicle when you’re pulling yourself out of a ditch or uneven terrain. Although you can use a winch without this strap, you risk damaging the vehicle or winch, which may leave you stranded out in the wilderness.

19. Use a Tree Saver Strap

A tree saver strap doesn’t necessarily deal with your personal safety, but rather the health of the tree you use as an anchor point. With this strap, your cable can dig into the bark of the tree and kill it. And when you’re off-roading, the last thing you want to do is damage the very nature you came out to enjoy.

Photo credit: gonewalkabout.co

20. Wear Gloves

If possible, always wear gloves when winching. While this isn’t as much of an issue with synthetic cables, steel cables can have pieces of metal sticking out that can cut your hands. For your safety, wear tight-fitting leather gloves, which are the best choice for protecting your hands.

21. Make Sure the Hooks Are Fastened

Before you tighten up the winch, make sure your hooks are securely fastened. When these hooks aren’t fastened and you start to winch, they can fly off and cause damage to anything or anyone in their path.

22. Close the Snatch Block

If you’re using a snatch block to execute your pull, make sure that they’re closed entirely. If a snatch block is open, the cable can fly out at breakneck speeds. 

23. Check the Rope for Fraying

While you should always inspect your winch, anchors, and recovery points, make sure to pay close attention to your rope or cable. Although inspecting 50 feet of cable is time-consuming, failure to do so may end up in a disaster. So look for fraying or any potential hazard beforehand to alleviate the issue.

24. Have Enough Cable Wraps Around the Drum

Always leave at least five cable wraps around the winch drum. Any less than five wraps may result in the cable coming completely off the winch.

Photo credit: firehouse.com

Don’t Leave Anything to Chance: Always Use These Winching Safety Tips

Nothing is more important than your safety and the safety of those around you. And that’s why you should always practice safe winching. Even if you’re in a hurry or feeling overwhelmed, these tips will ensure that you don’t land in a situation that puts you in jeopardy. 

I used to work in construction and landscaping, so I've seen my fair share of ratchet straps, winches, and similar rigging gear. I started Winch Central because I've seen some nasty accidents due to crappy rigging or poor practice. I wanted to be able to recommend good equipment that's SAFE and also provide resources for how its used. I handle the research side of things here as well as product selection for gear reviews.