Winching Techniques (Part 3)

In Parts 1 and 2 we’ve covered the use of an electric winch to extract yourself from the mire and to pull yourself up a steep hill. In this final part we look at how you can recover others with a winch.

Good winching can only be achieved with good communication. Always have an assistant nearby, in sight, to observe the situation. When you are recovering yourself, he or she will have several things to keep an eye on: the winch drum, to make sure all is in order; the wire rope, to ensure it is taut and that you are not overrunning it; the ground anchor, to check it isn’t pulling out; and your front wheels, to confirm they’re facing in the right direction.

However, when recovering another vehicle there might be a change of direction involving a brow of a hill, which could obscure your direct line of sight. Your assistant could well be some way from your vehicle, doing the rigging and taking up the strain for you. So how do you communicate?

Simple – by way of hand signals from your assistant to you as operator. There are four signals to be used. A hand raised towards the operator with palm clenched means ‘take up the strain’; a hand raised high in the air and tightly rotated means ‘winch in’; a hand lowered towards the ground and rotated means ‘payout’; and a raised outstretched palm facing the operator means ‘stop’. Simple, but effective. No shouting, which can easily be misunderstood, is needed.

The Basic Recovery

A simple scenario first. Let’s suppose a friend is stuck in some deep ruts following you.

Remember, if you have a winch fitted it is always safer and more controllable to use it rather than resort to using towing ropes. This is especially true on tracks within woodland, where stumps, roots and rocks could be trapping the underside of the stuck vehicle.

Turn your winch-equipped vehicle around so you are facing the stuck vehicle and take great care that you are square on to your load. You can do this by sighting down the middle of the bonnet to the proposed recovery point on the stuck vehicle.

When you get back to your winch, turn the freespool lever to ‘engage’ and ensure that the wraps of wire rope are laid evenly and tightly together as you take up the slack. Remember to wear stout gloves all the time you are handling wire ropes.


Rotating hand low down – ‘pay out’. Outstretched palm of hand – ‘Stop!’

Jump back into your driver’s seat, taking the hand control along with you and ensuring the control cable is laid over the bonnet out of harm’s way. This is to make sure the cable cannot fall down on to the winch drum or roller fairleads, where it could be caught up and damaged, possibly causing a dead short.

With the engine at a fast idle and your left foot lightly on the footbrake, either give the thumbs up to the other driver and get a similar reaction back, or use the CB to confirm you are both ready to winch.

As winching continues it is important that the other vehicle doesn’t overrun the wire rope should it be driving to assist the recovery. If it does and the rope goes slack, the wire rope on the drum will become loose, leaving gaps between the turns. If this happens, when the load comes on again the rope will be dragged down into lower layers and is likely to be squashed and kinked. You must avoid this.

More Difficult Situations

Perhaps the recovery is more difficult and it is obvious that the winch is more likely to pull you into the mire as well. In this case you must secure your winch vehicle to something solid.

This would usually involve a tow strop or chain attached to your rear tow ball, pintle or jate ring and connected to a webbing tree strop around the base of a substantial tree. Should a convenient tree not be available you can either rig to a set of T-stakes driven well into the ground or chain your vehicle to another vehicle in line to give ‘dead weight’ behind.

Perhaps you may be asked to recover someone else who is well and truly stuck in a boggy area. In this case, you really will have to ensure your winch vehicle is secured to a good enough ground anchor and you will undoubtedly have to use a snatch block to give a double line pull or, if need be, two snatch blocks to give a triple line pull.

This is where the extension wire rope comes in useful because it allows you to reach further. You can use the extension either within the loop of a winch to snatch block and back, or from the snatch block to the load. Remember to use, if thought necessary, an old blanket or coat part way along the rope as a safety precaution.

Try at first to pull the stuck vehicle out of the mire without it driving as you are more likely to lift it out on to the top. Be prepared to jack their vehicle up to break suction if it is that bogged down.

Points to Remember

When carrying out a recovery, never stand yourself, or allow anyone else, next to a wire rope under strain and, just as importantly, don’t even think of walking over a winch rope.

We know that it is important not to allow wire rope to bunch up to one side of the drum. When it becomes necessary, stop winching, slacken off some rope, pull off the tangled mess and take up the slack again at the same time as re-layering the drum. If necessary, reposition your winch vehicle so that you are square on to your load again, or use a snatch block to change direction.

Having pulled the stuck vehicle out of the mire and tidied up your winch drum, don’t be tempted to switch off your engine. You must leave the engine idling to allow the alternator to recharge the battery, especially if you have just completed a heavy pull.

You can also very successfully recover others in front of you, forward, as well as those behind you, towards you. This is done in the first instance by running your wire rope past the side of the stuck vehicle in front to a snatch block ahead with the wire rope hook back to the front of the other vehicle.

In the second instance you can easily run your rope to a convenient snatch block allowing the rope to come back alongside you to pull the stuck vehicle up behind.

Another regular scenario is recovering a stuck vehicle at right angles to you so as to get them back on to the track you are on. The list of change of direction recoveries are endless. Remember though, to ensure that absolutely nobody stands close by or stands in the arc of the wire rope in front of the change of direction snatch block. Anyone in that arc would be standing in a very dangerous area should the ground anchor behind the pulley give way.

Winching Up a Hill

Finally, let’s consider winching another vehicle up a steep bank or hill towards you. Always winch other vehicles square up the hill as you will find it easier not only to line your vehicle up but also to ensure the rope pulls evenly on to the winch drum.

If necessary, use the snatch block to halve the current draw on the battery, as this will help enormously if it is a long pull. Some people believe that by using the snatch block the recovery takes twice as long. Not so. As the pulley block halves the load and halves the current draw, the winch motor runs in a more relaxed state which allows the drum to turn faster. In fact you can sense when the winch is working well.

Talking of senses, you must at all times use not only your common sense, but your eyes and ears as well.

Use your eyes to look for danger. Is the wire rope being pulled on neatly? Is the drum moving too slowly, suggesting it’s near stalling? Is the pulley of the snatch block revolving? Do you spot some damage on the wire? Did that shackle become twisted as the strain came up? Is your winch vehicle moving forward? Is the tree acting as ground anchor beginning to fall over? The list is endless.

Use also your ears. Remember the gearing principle of the winch. For every layer of wire rope that builds up on the drum you lose about 10 per cent of pulling capacity. You are therefore likely to hear a change in tone of the noise the electric winch motor makes each time the wire rope starts climbing onto the next layer. Is the winch motor sounding as if it is about to stall? If the wire rope is very taut you will hear a ‘pinging’ in it. That noise is dust being forced out of the strands. And that means danger as well!

If winching a long distance using an extension wire rope, as you re-rig after retrieving your load you can use the snatch block to halve the length of the extension. Remember too that by using the pulley block on a shorter pull, its use enables you to start winching off the bare drum to give maximum pull to get the load ‘moving’. Back to the snatch block: never use a three-strand rope between it and the load or anchor. If you do, the strain will twist the pulley so the wire rope snags itself as the lay of the three-strand rope unwinds itself.

Happy – and safe – winching


Telephone: 01363 82666


Goodwinch Ltd, Oakleaf Way. Gunn. Barnstaple. Devon. Ex32 7NZ

Back to top