How to Winch Safely

A lot of us in the Jeepin’ community have added winches to our rigs. They are very useful if we get stuck or need extra help getting up or through a difficult trail, and they look good, too. But in my experience, too many off-roaders use their winches in an unsafe manner, endangering themselves and those who have gathered to watch the action.

The first rule of safe winching is to read and understand the manual that came with your winch. Following the precautions it lists can mean the difference between keeping and losing a body part or even your life. After you have read the manual and before your next winch, keep these five safety tips in mind:

1. Clear the Area.

This is the No. 1 safety violation I see on the trail. Everyone wants a ringside seat or the best view for a video post. You must keep the area around the vehicle(s) clear of anyone not directly involved in the winching operation – this means well back! A snapped or broken line, hook or shackle can become a projectile, traveling well beyond the distance between vehicles or the winching anchor point.

2: Dampen the Line.

Always use a dampener for your cable or synthetic rope. Lay something across the line that has enough weight to help pull it to the ground in case of a break. Remember, when your cable or rope is under load, there is a lot of stored energy just waiting for a chance to be released. This weight can be a store-bought item made for this type of operation, such as a winch line dampener blanket, or something as simple as a wet towel, floormat, or even a tow strap placed back and forth across the length of the line.

3: Know the Limits of Your Equipment.

Just because your local mechanic installed this winch on your Jeep doesn’t mean it can be used to pull a full-size dually pickup truck. The gear was most likely selected for use on your specific vehicle and its weight. Exceeding the limits of your equipment is just asking for an accident to happen. Every winch has a weight rating, as does every hook, shackle and line.

4. Think About It.

Consider every action related to the winch and whether it is safe. Never stand or walk over a loaded winch cable. Never – and I mean never – tug or snatch with an attached winch cable or synthetic rope. You can easily exceed its rated capacity, causing it to snap and damage your winch’s internal gearing. Don’t grab your line without gloves, as wire-cable fraying is common and can slice your hand open. Synthetic rope can also pick up sand spurs or thorns, which can become a hazard while handling with bare hands. Do not ever bring your hands close to the fairlead (where the line feeds into or out of the winch spool) while unspooling or winching.

5. Plan Ahead.

Always plan your winching operation. Take your time and really think through how you will recover your own or your trail buddy’s stuck vehicle. Think about the angles of recovery and ask yourself: Are the anchor points solid or strong enough to support the winching operation? Can the recovery be done safely? If not, what will you need to make it safe? After all, we all want to come home safely after a fun-filled day on the trail.

2 Replies to “How to Winch Safely”

  1. Mike,
    I have a 2016 Rubicon hard rock edition. I’m actually one of your customers. I’m looking to get a winch on my Jeep. I was looking at Smittybilt 98512 x20 waterproof synthetic rope winch – 12000 lb load capacity. Any thoughts or recommendations?

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