I could easily write several chapters on this subject covering both the safety aspect as well as reliable winching techniques that you would only get provided you have a large enough electric winch to do the job in hand, fitted with the correct size wire rope, a proper wiring kit between the winch motor, solenoid and battery (including a direct earth bond between winch motor and battery) and the largest battery you can fit.
Running in and Preparing Your Winch.
Say you have just bought a winch for your Land Rover and you are happy with the installation. I will assume it is a new winch with a new wire rope. The first job is not only to run-in the winch but also to pre-stretch and form the wire rope on to the winch drum.
I recommend that you pre-stretch the wire rope by pulling most of it off the drum and anchoring the winch hook to a tree or the back of another vehicle on a slight incline. Using gloves, make sure that the end of the wire rope is properly fastened to the drum, then wind on a further six wraps of rope to ensure a capstan effect between the rope and drum. Always do this before taking up a load as the screw securing the end of the rope will not be sufficiently strong to take the load by itself.
Having taken up the slack, hop up into the driver’s seat, taking the remote hand control with you. Ensure that the handset cable can’t possibly snag the winch drum, roller fairleads, wire rope or front road wheel. If your solenoid remote control socket is above the winch or near its electric motor, I suggest you take the remote handset cable over the front of the bonnet, around the back of the aerial, loosely once around the door mirror, through the window and into the cab with you.
Now start the engine to allow the alternator to back up the battery in readiness to winch yourself up the slope. With the gearbox in neutral and engine idling at about 1500rpm, let off the hand brake and operate the winch.
To ensure the wire rope wraps evenly across the drum, cast your eyes from the middle of the top of the dashboard (centre of the ashtray if you have one) to an imaginary point on the middle of the front of the bonnet to line up with your anchor point. By doing this, you will always ensure even layers of wire rope on the drum. Steer accordingly to keep on this straight line. This is good practice for the future when winching yourself out of the mire.
Having formed and pre-stretched the rope, I suggest you now freespool the rope back off and run it back on the drum at least six times with no load to bed the winch gears in. It is also good practice to respool the wire rope back on to the drum, keeping the wraps together as tight as possible.
When paying on the loose rope always be sure to keep your gloved hands well clear of the roller fairlead. Aim to let the wire rope go through your hands at least a metre from the winch. It is also vitally important that you know when the hook is coming up behind you. When it does, hold the hook at its end by your thumb and forefinger rather than grab the whole hook by the palm. Better still, use the ‘handsaver bar’ to take away any risk of catching your hand in the roller fairleads. It’s too easy for a stray spike of wire from the splice to get caught in your glove which could drag your hand into the roller fairlead.
It is always easier to have a colleague operate the handset so as to allow you to put the wire rope away by going hand over hand. Always read the winch handbook through thoroughly.
In the off-road field there are two distinct ways of using your winch. You will either be recovering yourself, or recovering others. I will deal with the former first.
A simple scenario first. You are driving along some deepish ruts and you become high-centred. No problem: on with the gloves (chrome leather ones are best, although I use strong weatherproof gloves), plug in the remote control handset, power out a little to loosen the wire rope, engage free spool and walk forward with the hook. Assuming that there is a handy large tree directly in front, carry a webbing strop and bow shackle with you.
Always place the tree strop around the tree as low as possible for maximum strength, bringing the two protected eyes together into the bow of the shackle and replace the pin. Having done up the screw pin, back it off half a turn to stop it jamming under load. Place the wire rope hook on to the pin and walk back to your stuck vehicle.
Back at the winch, with a gloved hand take up the slack, ensuring the rope left on the drum is neatly laid. Climb in to the vehicle along with the handset and winch away, having let off your handbrake first. Remember to cast your eyes up through the middle of the bonnet to check you are winching dead straight ahead. Your engine should of course be fast idling to power the winch. In this case we are winching only, but if it’s hard going you may decide to winch and drive.
To do this simply engage first gear within low ratio – don’t forget to engage the centre diff lock too, if fitted – and let the wheels turn slowly to assist recovery. You will probably have to let the revs drop off a little as well, otherwise your wheels will be spinning too fast. However, for a short pull you can always keep the revs up and slip the clutch with care.
The problem arises that if all of a sudden the wheels find grip, you will overrun the wire rope. If this starts to happen, dip the clutch immediately and continue winching until you are clear of the problem. It is important to ensure that the wire rope stays up clear of the ground. If it falls and goes slack, the rope will become loose on the drum.
Let’s go back a little and say for argument’s sake that you were stuck in a long straight track and that it’s not possible to run the wire rope out straight ahead of the winch. Provided you can find another ground anchor on the opposite side of the track to your main tree anchor, attach a strop to that and, with an adjustable chain or a convenient tow rope, hang a snatch block on the winch rope. Adjust it so that the snatch block changes the line of direction and lies in the centre of the track as the strain comes on. The use of the snatch block in this case protects the wire rope from damage.
You might well ask, is all this effort worth it? In a nutshell – yes. It is imperative that the wire rope is pulled on to the drum very evenly across it.
Pulling lots of wire rope on to only one end of the drum is no good at all. By loading only one end of the drum, all good procedure goes to pot!
Remember the gearing principle of the winch. The smaller the diameter of the drum, the stronger the pull. As the rope builds up on one side of the drum, not only are you going to lose about 10 per cent of pulling capacity for each layer but you run a real risk in damaging the wire rope as it tries to pull through the many layers.
Also, you could guillotine the wire rope as it gets trapped between the built-up layers and the winch support rails or fitting kit. The answer is always winch with the wire rope being pulled in square to the vehicle.
Having got yourself out of that predicament, remember to respool the wire rope onto the drum neatly, as the next winching might only be a short pull.