atv winch

ATV Winches – How To Properly Use and Maintain Them

Getting your ATV stuck to where it cannot move forward or backward any longer is not fun. Maybe you underestimated the terrain you were trying to cross, or maybe you took on a dare you knew you shouldn’t have bet on. Whatever the case is, now you’re stuck!

So now what?

Time to put that winch to use, I mean this is exactly what they are intended for and now you have no other option or you won’t get yourself out. But there’s a problem, you’ve never actually used it before and you want to make sure you do it safely and properly.

You’ve heard of people hurting themselves and you don’t want to go through the same experience (understandable).

This article will spell out, in detail, the proper way to use an ATV winch without injuring yourself.

Now let’s get you out!

Required Gear (including safety)

So, to get yourself out of the mess you got yourself into you’ll need some tools. Remember, when winching, safety should always be your number one concern! Always stand away from the projection of any snapping lines and never stand immediately behind a vehicle.  It’s important that you do things the right way and not sloppy, just like when you tie your ATV to a vehicle, winching has to be done safely or someone could get injured.

For a successful winch recovery you’ll need a winch recovery kit which should include the following:

Recovery Kit – may be your best option and usually comes with all the material listed below except for your radio and winch remote. A recovery kit will have a damper, a tree strap, extension strap, shackle, snatch block, gloves and a tote to store and carry all your equipment in. They are economically priced if you don’t have any of the individual tools already. I like the recovery kits by WARN, they make a great, durable product and have great reviews. The pricing can fluctuate but you can see how much it is currently priced on Amazon.

Blanket(s)/damper(s) – you should ideally use at least two blankets, if you have more, it never hurts. Your dampers should be tough and durable (usually made from a thick vinyl), and the weight and thickness should be more than you anticipate. Often times these blankets will have heavy duty storage pockets and will come with a reflective strip that spans the blanket. If you need to get extra dampers, you can find several of them on Amazon.

Tree strap – this heavy duty strap, which is usually made of an industrial grade webbing, gets wrapped directly around a tree or other large, heavy object that WILL NOT move. It must be wrapped around something that is firmly fixed to the ground. These straps usually come with a 30,000 pound towing capacity, though you can find ones with a 25,000 pound towing capacity.

Extension strap – exactly as the name suggests, they are an extension of the tree strap. Usually made of a tough and durable polyester, they also have a towing capacity. Typically around 3” wide, you can find them in different lengths, colors and brands.

Bow shackle – used to connect the loops of the tree or extension straps together. Again, shackles are made using extremely durable (usually) drop forged steel and can withstand an enormous load. A shackle will have a “U” shaped figure with a loop on each end, it will also have an industrial pin that gets twisted through both holes to secure the straps in place. A good shackle will be ¾” in thickness, have an allowable towing capacity of at least 8,500 lbs, will be rust resistant and have a lifetime warranty.

Snatch block – also known as a Winch Block is used to connect the tree strap to the cable. It has a circular cable pulley type system to allow the cable to run through it as it is being shortened. The blocks are made of a high-tensile strength steel and are finished off with an epoxy grade finish. It should swivel open to let you insert the line without having to disassemble it.

Gloves – you’ll want to make sure you are wearing a durable pair of gloves to protect your hands from the elements, such as any sharp objects, branches, etc. They also protect your hands in case the steel cable gets frayed or has a sharp piece of metal sticking out which has gone unnoticed.

Radio – if you are performing a winch recovery with another person, it is safer to use a radio instead of yelling to their vehicle from a distance. You can speak more clearly without the other person having to guess what your hand gestures mean.

Winch remote – you’ll need the remote to control the speed and movement of the rope. If you need to stop the pull, you can do so directly from the remote. You can also reverse and slow down the speed directly from the winch remote.

Types of Winch Recovery Methods

Now that you know the gear you’ll need to get the job done, let’s get started with the real work!

There are multiple rigging techniques that can be used, some are more basic and some are more advanced depending on much towing capacity you will need.

Single Line Pull

the most basic and simple of all the winching techniques. This is a direct line straight to the tree strap. For this method you should not be using a bow shackle as it’s just another tool that can snap and break. You will do just fine connecting the hook of the cable line directly to the tree strap.

Make sure to place at least two dampers on the line, ideally they should be placed about 3-6 feet from where the hook and the tree strap connect and also another should be thrown at about the half way mark of the extended line.

If you’re not sure why you use dampers on the line, that’s a very good question. Safety should always your primary concern when executing a winch recovery, for that reason, as the tension starts building on the line and should the line snap or completely come undone for any unforeseen reason, the damper will prevent the line from completely snapping back and hurting someone. It’s used to catch the line right at the connection point and also halfway down the line as an extra precaution.

Double Line Pull

almost as basic as the single line pull, except this time you will be using the snatch block. By using the block, you will effectively increase the towing capacity to twice the towing capacity of the single line pull. You’ll be using twice the line and the winch speed will decrease to one half, but you get double the strength out of the line, making this method safer if your towing needs are greater.

This one will change slightly you’ll now be including the winch block. Take the line and wrap it around the wheel of the winch block and close off the block. Next, you’ll take your tree strap and place the bow shackle through the loops of the strap, the shackle will also get connected to the block. Now that the shackle is connected through the loops of the tree strap, please the pin of the shackle through both the winch block and the shackle itself. This is the piece that connects the two together. Last, take the end of the line (the part with the hook on it) and connect it to another secure hook on your vehicle frame.

Again, you’ll want to place your dampers on the line, but since there are two parts to the line (one part going towards the tree and another coming back and going towards the vehicle) you’ll want to use more than two dampers if you have them. Place them where you think it would catch the line the quickest.

Single Line Pull + Full Extension Strap

very similar to the single line pull except now you are including an extension strap if you need extra distance that you’re rope can’t provide.

Using the extension strap, place it through the loops of the tree strap so that now you’ve effectively placed a strap through a strap. Just like the single line pull, there is no need to use the shackle, it’s unnecessary equipment. Now take the hook from the line and connect it directly to the extension strap. It’s that easy.

You’ll need to use the dampers in the same way you did in the first example – the first one about 3-6 feet from the connection between the hook and extension strap, and the second should be at about the half way mark of the line.

Directional Pull

very similar to a double line pull but instead of the line coming back to the vehicle, we will be attaching to another vehicle. For this method you will be using the winch block again.

The line directly out of the winch should go directly towards the tree which will have the tree strap and will be connected to the winch block as previously instructed. Again, take the line and place it through the circular wheel of the block and close it off. Take the shackle and place it through the loops of the tree strap and once that is done, screw the shackle pin directly through the winch block and the shackle.

Next is to take the line and continue through the winch block, ultimately connecting it to the frame of the other vehicle. Again, you do this for extra security as you are now increasing the towing power of the winch. Always remember to place the dampers on the line going away from your vehicle and the line going towards the other vehicle. There should be at least three dampers, but potentially four dampers being used for this method.

Double Directional Pull –  

similar to the single directional pull technique, but two winch recovery kits will need to be purchased to properly execute this method. For this technique you’ll need two tree straps, two winch blocks, and two shackles.

The line going away from your vehicle should first be connected to the first tree. There you will connect it to the winch block as shown in previous methods. Take the line and run it through the winch block while connecting the winch block to the tree strap and shackle. The line will continue running to the second tree strap where you will connect it to another winch block just as you did on the first tree. As the line has been pulled through the second winch block, it will ultimately settle at the second vehicle. Make sure to clip it to the frame for extra security.

For this technique, you want to make sure you are extra cautious. Never stand right in the center between the cars and the trees. Standing right in the middle of that imaginary rectangular box is the worst place to be standing, it is the danger zone and you should never be caught in the middle of it. If any of the ropes snap or break, it will be flying back in the direction of the rectangular box. Also, make sure to use as many dampers as you have. If you have them, you might as well use them.

Winch Recovery Tips

#1 – if you don’t have winch blankets, you can use a heavy towel or clothing, another set of straps or even your recovery tool bag. There are plenty of substitutes you can use.

#2 – when stepping over the line, you always want to actually step on the line and not straddle over it, should the tension on the line increase suddenly, you don’t want to find yourself accidentally straddling the line.

#3 – when using a tree strap, you always want to make sure that you are wrapping the line around a live tree and not a dead tree as it is much more susceptible to snapping and breaking.

#4 – use simple hand signals. Your open palm facing someone means “stop”, two fingers pointing to someone means “winch in”, and two fingers pointing in the opposite direction from someone means “winch out”

#5 – always try to connect to a low part of a tree as the base has the most support, the only time you want to connect at a higher point of the tree is if you’re on an upward hill and the line keeps hitting the ground 

How To Respool Your ATV Winch

Properly respooling your line is extremely important because although you may have drawn the line back in and it may appear to be nice and neat across the drum, it may not be pre-tensioned.

If this is the case, you’ll need to completely draw the line back out and follow the steps below to pretension the winch rope back in. Otherwise you run the risk of spinning the drum to the point where you rip off the locator screw. In some cases, you may have also respooled the line, but not uniformly. This creates rope burn and you can eventually melt the rope. If that happens, you’ll need to completely change out the line.

So, here’s how you properly respool your ATV winch:

Before you do anything, make sure you’re wearing a solid set of gloves! If you’re working with rope it’s not as critical, but if your line is made of steel then it is an absolute non-negotiable. One simple fray in the line and it can completely slice up your hand before you even know it! Don’t take the chance, it’s not worth it.

Completely draw out the line and attach it to a fixed object such as another car or post that won’t move. Once the line is drawn out, for safety precautions you may want to place a blanket or two on the line so that others can see you are working on respooling your winch (otherwise it’s hard to see).

Before you start drawing in the line again, check to see if the line has any direction to it. By that, I mean has the line already started collecting in any particular direction, if so, you’ll want to continue in that direction until the line hits the end.

With the line on your vehicle affixed to the other vehicle, start pulling in the line. Your ATV should start moving towards the other fixed vehicle. While the line is being drawn in, make sure to either push or pull the line so that it is being collected evenly across the span of the drum. Once it reaches one end of the drum, you guide the line evenly spread towards the other side of the drum.

For the last 20-30 feet you won’t need to have the line affixed to the other vehicle, unstrap it and manually pull the line to give it tension. As the line gets drawn in, manually distribute the line evenly across the drum going back and forth from one end of the drum to the other.

Now you’ve successfully drawn in the line.

**one note to consider, lubricating your line is a personal preference but I do like to do it every now and then. If you decide to do so, you can lubricate the line while it is completely extended and affixed to the other vehicle. Just spray the line and wipe it down with a cloth. Then reel in the line as shown above. 

Winch Respooling Tips

– If you’re going to cross over from one side of the line to the other, always step on the line! Jumping over, or straddling the line is not recommended as someone can begin tensioning the line right at that moment. If that happens, the line will jump up and can catch you in an extremely sensitive area (yikes)!

– Using the winch takes up juice from the car battery, it’s better to have the car running, constantly replenishing power to the battery than to winch out your ATV, respool the line and come back to a dead ATV.

– Make sure the handbreak is on on the other vehicle. It’s an easy oversight, but one that can hurt someone.

– Remember to use your hand signals, the international sign for “Stop” is palm completely open to the person you are speaking to. If you want winch in, the sign is two pointing fingers directly at them. Winch out is two pointing fingers away from them. Pretty simple.

– Make sure radio communication works and that you’re speaking clearly and loud