Is a winch truly a necessary piece of kit, or would a snatch strap suffice? According to Gary Swemmer of LA Sport Pretoria East, there are times when a winch is crucial, so knowing how to use one safely is important. Text and photography: GG van Rooyen
Work that winch
In certain situations, a snatch strap works really well. For example, using a snatch strap to rescue a vehicle stuck in sand is an effective form of recovery. However, there are times when a winch is necessary.
A winch works well when a vehicle is stuck in water, especially if the vehicle doing the recovery work is also in the water. Why? Because it is difficult to produce the force needed to use a snatch effectively.
The flooded tracks of Moremi are a good example. When the park is inundated with water, a need will oft en arise for one 4×4 to recover another in the large pools. But getting up enough speed to pull a stranded vehicle out of the muck is tough. And that’s when you need a winch.
A winch is also important when you are travelling alone, since you have to save yourself. Similarly, it can be used to deal with those unforeseen situati ons so oft en encountered in Africa, such as a fallen tree blocking a road.So how exactly do you use a winch safely? Gary Swemmer explains:
USING A WINCH TO RECOVER YOUR OWN 4×4:
- Always wear gloves
- Leave your 4×4 running when using the winch, since it will drain the battery very quickly if the vehicle is switched off .
- Plug in your winch’s remote.
- Do not simply unspool the cable, since this relieves all tension in the cable. Use the remote to unwind it slowly. Why is it important to ensure that there is always tension in the cable? Once you’re done winching, you need to make sure that the cable is carefully returned to the drum. If it is done recklessly, one section of the cable can easily be pinched under another part of the cable, causing it to be damaged. If tension is lost, this can happen easily.
- When pulling out the cable and connecting it to a tree, make sure that the cable leaves the drum at exactly a 90-degree angle. This will ensure that the cable doesn’t bunch up when you return it to the drum aft er the recovery. If it is returned at an angle, it will tend to gather at one end of the drum.
- To ensure that you don’t damage the tree, use a tree trunk protector. Place the protector around the lower part of the trunk, since this it where it is strongest.
- Connect the tree trunk protector and winch hook with a bow shackle. Do not use a simple D-shackle, since it isn’t designed to deal with the force that a winch will exert. Make sure that you only use a rated bow shackle!
- Once the winch is connected to the tree, it is “live”, so make sure that all bystanders stay clear of the area. Also, never cross over a live winch cable – always walk around it.
- Place a recovery blanket over the cable, placing it reasonably close to the hook, since this is the weakest point of the cable. If you do not have a recovery blanket, your recovery strap can be used.
- Make sure that you are in a safe position when operating the winch. Some recommend staying next to the vehicle when using the winch remote, since this allows you to see what you are doing when operating the winch. Others, however, recommend sitting inside the vehicle. Similarly, some say that the vehicle’s bonnet should be open for protection, while other experts argue that this prevents one from seeing what is happening. Regardless of the school of thought that you subscribe to, you should always be in a safe positi on when operating the winch.
- Reel in the cable with the remote unti l the vehicle is clear of the obstacle.
- If the winch struggles to pull the vehicle free, you can increase its pulling power by “doubling up”. This is done by connecting a snatch block to the tree trunk protector with the help of a bow shackle. The cable is fed through the snatch block, returned to the 4×4, and connected to its recovery point. By doing this, the pulling power of the winch is doubled. Of course, it is important to ensure that you are making use of an adequate recovery point!
- Once you have completed the recovery, it is important to roll up the winch cable very carefully to prevent damage. Make sure that it returns evenly across the drum.
USING A WINCH TO RECOVER ANOTHER VEHICLE:
- When using your winch to recover another vehicle, it is oft en diffi cult to position your vehicle correctly for the job. However, you can use an object such as a tree trunk as a central point during a recovery if you can’t get one vehicle directly in front of the other.
- Follow the same process as when using a snatch block to double your winch’s pulling power, but run the cable through the block, and to the recovery point of the other vehicle.
- Once again, it is important to use a proper recovery point when doing this.
- Also, make sure that there are no bystanders near either of the vehicles.
A winch is a very dangerous piece of equipment, so it is important to be safety conscious when using it. The following steps are vitally important:
- Make use of proper recovery points.
- Make sure that your winch has the necessary pulling power. Buy a winch from a respected 4×4 fitment centre where experts can assist you in choosing a winch that will be powerful enough for your needs.
- Use rated bow shackles.
- Place a recovery blanket over the cable.
- Never step over the cable.
- Keep bystanders clear of the area.
- Stay in a safe spot when operating the winch. The safest position is probably behind the steering wheel, but this can make it difficult to monitor the process. It is advisable to open the bonnet for added protection.
- Always wear gloves.