Beginner’s Guide to Using a Winch

No doubt about it, off-roading is fun. But it’s not so fun when you get stuck in the mud or a ditch and you can’t get out! That’s why a winch is absolutely mandatory equipment for off-roading adventures. If you’re new to winching, this article will help you get started.

Safety first … Safety last … Safety in-between … are you getting the message? Protecting yourself and ensuring the safety of others is paramount when using a winch. Don’t overload the winch beyond its capacity, set it improperly or use unreliable accessories—any one of these things, let alone combined, could easily lead to winch failure and potentially create a hazardous situation that could cause injury. When operating the winch, do not wear loose clothing or jewelry as they could get caught in the moving parts. Also, it’s important to use appropriate safety equipment. Wear ANSI approved safety goggles and heavy-duty leather work gloves.

Let’s move on to basic operation …

Attach the remote control/pendant control so it’s not at risk of getting pinched—consider from where you’ll operate the winch.

Roll out the hook. Note: don’t place your finger(s) through the hook but use the included strap (see pic above). Unwind a few feet of line so there’s enough slack to disconnect the hook from the anchor point.

Attach the winch to a secure anchor point as close to a straight line as possible from where your vehicle is stuck. Stay within the angle guidelines of the user manual for your winch. Try to secure the cable to a secure point like a tree, stump or large rock. If a natural anchor point is not available, you can utilize another vehicle.

Pull out the line and be aware of any obstacles in the path such as tree branches that could get tangled in the line.

Hook onto the object using a pulling point, tow strap or chain. Do not wrap the wire rope around the object and hook onto the wire rope itself as it can cause damage to the object being pulled and kink or fray the wire rope. Do not use recovery straps either as they can stretch and whip back toward the operator during winching.

Once secure, re-engage the clutch back at the winch itself and begin to retract the line until there is slight tension. Double-check the connections at the anchor point and make sure everyone is at a safe distance away from the winch line.

For added safety, throw a heavy blanket, towel or piece of carpet over the taut line six feet from the hook to help absorb the force released should the wire rope break.

Now you’re ready to start winching! Slowly retract the cable using the remote control. It’s best to have the engine running and the driver inside the vehicle being recovered—if possible, apply the gas and work with the winch to move the vehicle. Once the vehicle is on a stable surface and can be driven away on its own, you’ve successfully winched!

Allow some slack in the line and unhook the winch. Put on the emergency brake on the vehicle with the winch and apply slight tension as the cable spools—make sure the line does not become tangled during this process.

For complete installation and operation instructions as well as the full list of safety tips, be sure to consult the user manual for your particular winch. You’ll also find numerous helpful videos on YouTube.

Harbor Freight Tools carries the highly-rated Badland brand of winches. Models include:

5000 lb. ATV/Utility Electric Winch with Automatic Load-Holding Brake
This ATV/utility winch features single-stage planetary gear system for fast line speed, automatic load-holding brake, permanent magnet motor which draws less current (ideal for ATV use), 10 ft. handlebar control and 12 ft. ergonomic handheld remote control for easy operation even when alone!

9000 lb. Off-Road Vehicle Electric Winch with Automatic Load-Holding Brake
With a 9000-lb. towing capacity and automatic load-holding brake for safety, this winch will be the go-to for recovering your off-road vehicle or loading a boat. Other features included power in/out for positive load control, series-wound motor that stays cooler during long pulls and 12 ft. ergonomic handheld remote control.

Voted the “Best Deal in Winching” by Off Road Magazine

12000 lb. Off-Road Vehicle Electric Winch with Automatic Load-Holding Brake
Recover a large vehicle, load your watercraft or haul timber with this heavy-duty winch boasting a 12,000 lb. towing capacity. In addition to the series-wound motor, three-stage planetary gear system and 12 ft. ergonomic remote control, this winch also features a cable tensioner to prevent tangling.


For the full line of Badland winches and accessories, be sure to visit your local Harbor Freight Tools store. Happy winching!




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