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Winching Techniques

Advanced Techniques and Methods for Recovery

The Power of the Winch

Use a winch not only to get unstuck, but also to remove objects and to climb or descend extremely steep hills.

A winch takes the work out of freeing a vehicle. Also a vehicle can free itself with a winch.

However, never use the winch to lift or move people or to lift objects.

Winching requires an anchor

Other vehicles can be used as anchors, but natural objects such as trees,stumps and rocks are best. Select the anchor carefully and ensure it can withstand the load.

The tow ball on any vehicle is never an acceptable recovery point.

Winch operation

Depending on the weight of the object to be moved, decide the number of pulleys, length of rope, how to hook the cable (e.g. single/ double/triple line) and the direction of pulling.

When anchoring the pulling vehicle, engage the parking brake and put blocks in front of the wheels.You may find that pressing on the foot brakes adds further stability.

If needed, use an additional anchor for stability or to prevent flipping the vehicle.

Wrap the anchor with a leather pad. Also place a blanket in the middle of the cable when winching.

If possible,start the engine of the stuck vehicle and shift to neutral. Keep the wheels pointing straight to the pulling direction.

Start the engine of the winching vehicle and begin to pull.

Snatch Block

A snatch block is a massively strong pulley that reroutes the cable on a winch pull. Placing the vehicles side-by-side allows one vehicle to pull another without having to be in a direct line with their winch. Get your geometry pants on for this kind of pull. As most kits will include something like a 25,000 lb. rated snatch block, it’s a good idea to know how to use them. The most simple application is to pull from other angles that would be impossible to perform in a straight line.

Essentially, the snatch block splits the weight of the load you’re pulling across all of the lines as they’re doubled back. For example, using a single snatch and hooking the line back to the winching vehicle “doubles” the power, or splits the load across the two lines. Using two snatch blocks can triple or quadruple the amount of force depending on the setup. There’s no limit to the number of blocks you can use for a pull, so long as you don’t overload your weakest piece of equipment.

In the graphic, we can see that there are two anchor vehicles performing a recovery of a stuck vehicle resembling a Jeep. Even though the stuck vehicle appears to be expensive and well-outfitted, it is in fact not rated to handle the kind of terrain in this demonstration. The yellow vehicle resembling a Range Rover understands that it doesn’t have the weight or the winching power to move the stuck vehicle so they’ve contacted a good friend that owns a large pickup truck resembling a Ford.

Unfortunately, the red pickup doesn’t have a winch outfitted to their vehicle, but it does have rated factory tow hooks. So a static line or cable can be used in the connection from the red truck, to the jeep and doubled back to the snatch block in the center of the image. The most common setup for this configuration is usually a winch on the red truck, but there are plenty of options here. The Range Rover then simply feeds the winch line out, passes through a snatch block and doubles back to a recovery point on the same truck. The Range Rover in this illustration is the only vehicle performing work in this equation and produces the capacity of 4x the rated power of its winch.

High Angle Recovery

We’re going to illustrate the Hi-Lift maneuver that I’m such a huge fan of and we’re going to touch on a few other things that will help keep your suspension in one piece during a winch pull. This doesn’t need to get too technical as we’ve already covered it in some regards and the rest should be pretty intuitive.

If your vehicle is stuck in very deep mud or you need to winch up and over an obstacle, a winch can help you do more damage than assistance. On very steep inclines, you’ll want to get the winch anchor point set really high up in the air. This will require large trees usually, as this is quite a tall order, no pun intended. Consider your options for high mounting points before pulling. This will ensure that you’re not adding shear stress onto your suspension components and will prevent your winch lines from giving up in the middle of the fight.

This is equally true for pulling a vehicle from the mud. We’ve mentioned previously that it’s quite simple to find videos online that show the undercarriage being ripped clean from trucks by much larger trucks. High mounting points for your winch will help to break the suction created by thick mud. If the mud pit is really soupy, it’s probably not a big deal, but you want to be sure that the angle of your winch line is at a reasonable angle to permit the vehicle to be pulled up and out of the pit.

However, when the mud is beginning to dry the dynamic changes dramatically. Thick mud creates this kind of suction around the wheels of the truck and keeps them locked in place. Choosing the high angle of attack will help considerably in getting the vehicle moved.

If a high mounting point isn’t an option, you can create an artificial one using a Hi-Lift Jack, thick logs, large rocks, etc. The thing to remember in this regard is going to be the weight limit of the Hi-Lift bar. They typically don’t like numbers above 5000 lbs. and may break the cast iron ladder bar if things get too intense. The front of a truck likely isn’t going to exert enough force to break the Hi-Lift if you’re driving in a controlled manner. This is definitely a stunt that I’d reserve as a last resort in some of these scenarios. On steep climbs, for instance, you’re going to be on the throttle pretty good and this can create a more dangerous situation for your vehicle, gear and bystanders.

Rollover Recovery

Don’t do this.
Above is a simplified illustration that’s probably unnecessary and also dangerous.

If you’ve rolled your vehicle on the trail and it’s possible to get a tow truck or another professional there to fix it, then you need to do that. That’s also a good idea of what the limitations of this exercise are going to look like. You can probably get your Jeep or Toyota back on its wheels and cruise out after a fuel reset procedure and checking the cylinders for oil/fuel excess.

So you’re not going to call a professional or you need to get out of a really bad situation, fine. Using any number of combinations of snatch blocks and vehicles with winches, set up a high anchor point somewhere on the frame or dedicated recovery point. The ideas here are quite simple. The vehicle rolled because the terrain is steep and the driver ran out of talent. When the vehicle comes back onto its wheels, that terrain will continue to be a player in this game. Often times, groups are more concerned with getting the truck back onto its wheels and they forget some of the most important things in a recovery.

First things first, you’re going to want your emergency brakes off, lockers disengaged and transmission in neutral. There’s going to be quite a bit of shock on the driveline when the truck bounces into a righted position. This is going to be really hard on your components and may very well break something. The problem with this is obvious; the truck is free to roll up or down the very obstacle that rolled it. It’ll be important to coordinate winching with a vehicle uphill of the recovery so that one winch can be used to right the vehicle and another can be used to maintain tension to keep the vehicle from rolling away.

It’s not uncommon to anchor all winching vehicles to trees, boulders, etc. If things go horribly wrong and the stuck vehicle gains any meaningful momentum, it can destroy equipment or take another truck with it. Use winches, extensions, snatch straps and more to ensure everyone is safe.

From this point, have someone mechanically inclined check out the engine and gearboxes to make sure nothing’s going to run dry or blow up. If oil has made it into the intake or cylinders, it’s a short matter of time before they bend a rod or blow a head gasket. Once the vehicle is determined to be safe for starting, fire it up and continue what you were doing. If she’s not going to run, then you’ll want to consider the difficult task of towing the vehicle out of there. Make good decisions.

Climbing hills

  • High / Low Range:
  • Gears:
    Select the highest practical gear if slippery
  • Diff lock(s):
  • Speed:
    Momentum may be needed, but ease off at you approach the top
  • Note:
    Be prepared for failure and know how to recover from it
  • Choose the correct route

    The route you pick depends on a number of factors which can be influenced by the following:

    • Obstacles such as trees or rocks
    • The presence of existing tracks
    • Ruts
    • Tricky ‘no go’ areas (such as slippery or difficult ground conditions)

    The rule of thumb when climbing hills is to attack the slope using a route which minimises any side angles where possible. If you start to slide sideways you’ll have very little control over your vehicle, but sliding forwards or backwards can be controlled. Diagram 1: Driving straight up the hill is the safest route, as it minimises side angles

    However, if you’re driving in a rutted track it can be best to stick to the exiting route. If your wheels are positioned in the ruts it’s very unlikely that a sideways slide will occur. Diagram 2: If you’re driving in a rutted track, sliding sideways if unlikely so it’s best to stick in the ruts.

  • Technique for climbing steep hills

    [manual transmission vehicle]
    1. Recce the route on foot – ensure it’s safe to climb, and consider the consequences if you fail half way up. The less grip there is available, the shallower the angle you’ll be able to tackle.
    2. Once you’re back in the car, hold the car stationary on the foot brake. This acts on all four wheels, and has power assistance, unlike the handbrake which tends to act on the rear wheels only.
    3. Select a suitable gear for the surface – if the surface is slippery, higher gears provide less torque and thus more traction in slippery conditions. If you’re on a high grip or uneven surface a low gear may be a more sensible choice as it will provide maximum control at low speeds
    4. Set the throttle – don’t rev the engine, but select engine revs which allow the engine to exploit the power band (3000 rpm is a good guide)
    5. Progressively release the clutch and do a test run – attempt to climb a few meters of the hill to determine how slippery it is. If you’re getting a lot of wheelspin then you’ll need a fair amount of momentum to complete the climb. If it’s too slippery, perhaps now is the time to find an alternative route.
    6. If there is sufficient grip, attempt the climb using a run on the flat is necessary. Be prepared to recover from failure (technique described below).
  • Failing to climb

    If you’ve failed to make it to the top, the chances are it’s either because of one of the following:

    • Lack of grip – if there isn’t enough friction available between the tyre and the ground surface to get you to the top, you’re going to need more momentum. More speed, however means more danger so make sure you’re confident about your decision.
    • Lack of momentum – if you fail to get to to the top due to a lack of momentum, you’re likely to stall or simply run out of steam and may even stall the engine. If you do stall, don’t panic and hit the clutch, but follow the guide to recovery shown below.

    Recovering from a failed hill climb due to lack of traction or momentum (manual transmission with the engine still running):

    1. Press and hold the brake pedal firmly
    2. Look behind you and make sure the coast is clear
    3. Engage reverse gear
    4. Release the clutch to the point of bite
    5. Swiftly but smoothly take your foot off the brake, fully release the clutch, and allow engine braking to slow your descent (avoid the brakes)
    6. Follow the line which minimises any side slopes – keep the vehicle straight
    7. Determine whether it’s safe to have another attempt
    8. Attempt the climb with more speed, using a run up if necessary

    If the slope if so slippery that the wheels are locking due to engine braking – you may need to gently apply some throttle to regain traction, then release the throttle gently to re-establish braking.

    Recovering from a failed hill climb due to engine stall (manual transmission):

    1. Hold the vehicle using the foot brake
    2. Check to see if anyone noticed – this could be embarrassing!
    3. Clutch in and select reverse gear (engine is still off at this point)
    4. Release clutch and gently release the foot brake
    5. Now the car will be held on the slope purely by transmission, and may start to move backwards if the slope is very steep
    6. Check behind you then restart the engine while in gear (this will ensure engine braking operates from the moment you start to move)
    7. Avoid using the brakes and reverse down the hill using engine braking for another attempt.

    Recovering from a stall in an automatic transmission:

    It’s unlikely that you’ll stall an auto, but it can happen. If this does occur, hold the foot brake firmly and restart the engine (you’ll probably need to select N or P first). Now follow the stages shown below. Recovery due to lack of traction or insufficient traction or momentum in an automatic vehicle:

    1. Press and hold the brake pedal firmly
    2. Look behind you and make sure the coast is clear
    3. Engage reverse gear
    4. Smoothly take your foot off the brake and allow engine braking to slow your descent
    5. Follow the line which minimises any side slopes – keep the vehicle straight and avoid the brakes
    6. Determine whether it’s safe to have another attempt
    7. Attempt the climb with more speed, using a run up if necessary
  • Recovering from a sideways slide

    If you have no choice but to ascend the hill using a side angle, drive as slowly as possible using a light throttle and a high gear to reduce the chances of spinning wheels or a slide. Sometimes a slide is unavoidable and there will be a temporary loss of control. To recover from this situation, you need to heavy end first to allow gravity to help, rather than hinder:

    1. Do not hit the brakes or press the clutch – this may be your first instinct but will only lock the wheels or disengage the drive
    2. Steer down the slope to get the heavier front of the car pointing down slope
    3. If the front refuses to come round, try using some gentle throttle to assist the turn
    4. One the car is pointing downhill, ensure you are off the gas and allow engine braking to slow the descent
Hill-climbing  4x4 OffRoad Driving

Descending hills

  • High / Low Range:
  • Gears:
  • Suspension:
    Raise if necessary
  • Diff lock(s):
  • Speed:
    Tick over for maximum engine braking
  • Note:
    Avoid the throttle and brakes if possible
  • Descending hills: The technique
  • Descending hills: The technique

    1. Stop well before the slope begins and get out of the car.
    2. Check the slope for obstacles and ensure you have a suitable run-off area in the event of complete loss of traction.
    3. Stick to existing tracks if possible (ruts will help prevent you sliding sideways).
    4. Select a gear which is suitable for the conditions and the severity of the slope. Low gears provide better engine braking, but may cause a loss of traction on particularly low grip surfaces.
    5. Engage any differential locks you have fitted, and turn on any electronic aids designed to help descents.
    6. Pull away, and ensure the clutch is completely released (if you’re in a manual) before the slope begins.
    7. Ensure you are lined up correctly and your wheels are completely straight when beginning the descent.
    8. Do not touch the brakes unless you need to come to a stop – this will either trigger ABS, or make the wheels likely to lock which will mean you’ll be unable to steer.
    9. Use engine tick over to ensure maximum engine braking, avoid using the throttle or brakes.
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