We all have “that friend” who gets stuck when you’re out enjoying the snow trails, muddy paths, or rocky hill climbs. So it really pays to be prepared when hitting the trails with “that friend,” and while we have helped you select a winch for your ATV or Side by Side, we want to give you a few pointers on how best to use them safely.

Select the Proper Gear

Whether you’re providing assistance with a winch or tackling a full vehicle recovery, there are a few things you’re going to need on hand.

  • Gloves – A set of gloves will protect your hands from any burrs that may have developed on the wire rope. They will also prevent any scrapes or cuts from rocks or tree branches and provide a little bit of protection from hot exhaust or engine components.
  • Hook Strap – These usually come with your winch and usually are the first things lost, so it is always good to have a back up. Use a hook strap or hook handle when winding in your cable to keep your hands away from the fairleads.
  • Snatch Block – A couple of snatch blocks can multiply the pulling force if you are the one stuck. They can also help you pull out a friend if they are wedged between a rock and a hard place and you cannot get your vehicle in line for a good pull.
  • D Shackles – A D Shackle provides a good connecting point on a friends rig if they don’t have any tow hooks or if you need to connect a Snatch Block to a Tree Protector Rope.
  • Tree Trunk Protector – Chains and winch ropes really tear up tree trunks. Ultimately, you’ll end up with tree sap on your equipment, causing more hassle the next time you go to use it. A Tree Trunk Protector doesn’t bite into a tree and can provide a good mounting point for a D Shackle or Snatch Block.
  • Chain – Chains provide a strong link between a D Shackle or Snatch Block when the winch rope isn’t long enough. The key here is to not exceed the strength of the chain and cause it to snap. It’s best to have a chain that’s stronger than you think you will need.

You can find several complete winch accessory kits with all this equipment at places like Summit Racing.

Make a Safe Pull

Here are some of the steps you will want to go through to make a safe pull.

  • Line up your pull – When winching in the rope, you want it to spool evenly. If you are winching to one side, the rope can start to spool to one side and then wind into itself. This can damage the rope and cause it to get stuck for the next time you need to use your winch.
    • If you are helping out a friend, align your winch with the direction you will be pulling them out in (see the diagram below for a straight pull configuration). A straight pull is always better.
    • If you are doing a self recovery, find an anchor point–a tree, large bolder, or other solid point–that will allow you to pull your vehicle in the direction you want. Again, the straighter the pull, the better.
    • If you can’t line up your pull, use a snatch block to pull the vehicle that is stuck out in a straight line (see the diagram below for an angled pull configuration).
  • Secure the winch to a solid mounting point.
    • If attaching to another vehicle, use the tow hook or attach the D Shackle to the frame of the vehicle. You don’t want to pull on things like axles, body panels, bumpers, or roll bars. These things are not designed to have that type of force put on them, and if you start pulling from something like a roll bar, you may pull the vehicle over on its side.
    • If attaching to a solid object out on the trail, use the Tree Trunk Protector or chain to wrap around the object, secure the ends together with the D Shackle, and use the shackle as the attachment point for the winch rope.
  • Take in the slack on the winch rope and check for any hazards
    • Now is the time to take a second look at your set up. Make sure you have the best pull line and the vehicle is secure. Also, make sure nothing is caught in the way of the vehicle being pulled out.
    • If you feel the winch rope may snap or come unhooked during the pull, place a jacket, blanket, chain, or branch on top of the winch rope half way between the anchor and winch to absorb any energy.
    • Winch out the vehicle – Pull out the stuck vehicle using the winch. While your friend may get a little eager to spin the tires and lend a helping hand, it is best to let the winch do the work until the vehicle is completely freed and on solid ground. By giving the winch rope slack then tension, it causes more force on the rope than a constant pull and could cause the winch rope to actually snap or damage the winch.

Now that you have saved the day, you can nicely remind your friend that they owe you one–preferably a cold one.

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Author: Al DiVencenzo

Al is a contributor to OnAllCylinders