4X4 Winch Guide

4X4 Winch GuideEvery winching situation has the potential for personal injury. In order to minimize that risk, it is important that you read this Basic Guide carefully, familiarize yourself with the operation of your winch before having to use it, and be constantly safety oriented. In this Guide, we will set forth many of the basic rules of safe winch operation. However, because every winching situation is different, your constant good judgment and consistent focus on safety are of great importance.

Winch Guide - Before You Pull

Practice using your winch before you get stuck. A real situation is no time to Single line pull be learning how to use your winch.

Make sure new wire rope is stretched before it is first used. Unspool the full length of the wire rope, leaving 5 wraps on the drum. Apply at least 500 pounds of tension. You can do this by setting up an anchor point and pulling your vehicle to it on a slightly inclined, flat surface and letting the vehicle roll.

Whether you’re recovering another vehicle or pulling a stump from the ground, knowing the proper winching techniques can help keep you and others around you safe. And perhaps the most important part of the winching process, regardless of the situation, is what you do before you pull.

In this section, we’ll show you the basic fundamentals for effective winching. However, it is up to you to analyze the situation and make the decisions necessary for the proper use of your winch. Apply your knowledge of your winch and the basic fundamentals you’ve practiced and adjust your techniques to your unique situation. Some keys to remember when using your Warn winch:

1. Always take your time to assess your situation and plan your pull carefully.
2. Always take your time when using a winch.
3. Use the right equipment for your situation.
4. Always wear leather gloves and do not allow the wire rope to slide through your hands.
5. You and only you should handle the wire rope and operate the remote control switch.
6. Think safety at all times.
7. Practice. Practice and practice the steps.


4X4 Winch Guide


As you probably have already noticed, there are many things to do and consider before you actually begin pulling. Think through what you’re doing and you can keep yourself and those around you out of harm’s way.

Operating your winch properly is so important, in fact, you should practice these techniques before having to face the distractions and stresses of a real winching situation

Check Wire Rope.

The wire rope should be neatly wound around the spooling drum. Improper winding can cause damage to the wire rope

4X4 Winch Guide

Lay Something Over The Wire Rope

If you decide it is necessary, midway between the winch and the anchor point to absorb energy should the wire rope snap loose. Tree limbs, heavy jackets, chain, back pack and the like may be used for this purpose.

4X4 Winch Guide

Make Your Intentions Clear.

Be sure that everyone in the immediate vicinity surrounding the winching operation is completely aware of your intentions before you pull. Declare where the spectators should not stand — never behind or in front of the vehicle and never near the wire rope or snatch block. Your situation may have other “no people” zones.

4X4 Winch Guide4X4 Winch Guide

Begin Winching.

With the winching vehicle’s engine on and light tension already on the wire rope, begin winching slowly and steadily. Be sure that the wire rope is winding evenly and tightly around the spooling drum. For additional assistance, the winched vehicle can be slowly driven

For Vehicle Recovery

Continue pulling until the vehicle is on stable ground. If you are able to drive the vehicle, the winching operation is complete

Secure Vehicle

Once recovery of the vehicle is complete, be sure to secure the vehicle’s brakes and put the Transmission in “park” (automatic) or “low” gear for (manual) transmissions. Release tension in the wire rope

What to look for under load

The wire rope must always spool onto the drum as indicated by the drum rotation decal on the winch. As you power in, make sure the wire rope winds evenly and tightly on the drum. This prevents the outer wire wraps from drawing into the inner wraps, binding and damaging the wire rope. Avoid shock loads by using the control switch intermittently to take up wire rope slack. Shock loads can momentarily far exceed the winch and wire rope ratings. During side pulls the wire rope tends to stack up at one end of the drum. This stack can become large enough to cause serious damage to the winch. So, line up pulls as straight ahead as possible and stop winching if the wire rope comes close to the tie rods or mounting plate. To fix an uneven stack, spool out that section of the rope and reposition it to the opposite end of the drum which will free up space for continued winching.

Winching hand signals

In some situations, recovery could involve two people. One drives and controls the winch, while the other provides navigation instructions and ensures the wire rope is winding properly. You and your helper must established clear and precise hand signals and review so everyone clearly understands. It should also be understood that if the driver controlling the winch cannot see both hands of the assistant, the winch should not be activated. Suggested signals:

4X4 Winch Guide

4X4 Winch Guide

How to spool under no load

Arrange the remote control lead so it can not be caught in the winch. Arrange the wire rope so it will not kink or tangle when spooled. Be sure any wire rope already on the spooling drum is wound tightly and evenly layered. Tighten and straighten the layer if necessary. Keep the wire rope under light tension and spool the wire rope back onto the winch drum in even layers. Stop frequently to tighten and straighten the layers as necessary. Repeat this process until the winch hook is the same distance as the full length of the remote control from the winch. Pinch the hook between your thumb and forefinger and attach the hook strap. Hold the hook strap between the thumb and forefinger to keep tension on the wire rope. Walk the wire rope towards the fairlead, carefully spooling in the remaining wire rope by pulsing the remote control switch. Store the hook at the fairlead or tensioned to a suitable location to the side.
If you do not have the hook strap, use a length of cord or something similar. To prevent serious injury, NEVER put your fingers inside the hook area as you are powering in.

Disconnect Wire Rope

Disconnect from the anchor.

4X4 Winch Guide

Rewind Wire Rope

The person handling the wire rope should walk the rope in and not let it slide through the hand and control the winch at all times.

4X4 Winch Guide

Disconnect Remote Control

Disconnect the remote control cord from the control box and store in a clean and dry place.  Winching operations are now complete. Put the cap on the solenoid plug in.

4X4 Winch Guide

Rigging Techniques

Various winching situations will require application of other winching techniques. These could range from too little distance to achieve maximum pull using straight line rigging, simply increasing pulling power, or maintaining a straight-line pulling situation. You will have to assess what technique is correct for your situation. Think “safety” at all times.

How to change the pulling direction

All winching operations should have a straight line from the winch to the object being pulled. This minimizes the wire rope collecting on one side of the drum affecting pulling efficiency and damaging wire rope. A snatch block, secured to a point directly in front of the vehicle, will enable you to change your pulling direction while still allowing the wire rope to be at 90º to wind properly onto the spooling drum.

4X4 Winch Guide

Increasing pulling power

In some cases, you may find yourself needing more pulling power. The use of snatch blocks increases mechanical advantage and that increases your pulling power:

4X4 Winch Guide

Double line

Because pulling power decreases with the number of layers of wire rope on the winch drum, you can use a snatch block to double line out more wire rope.  This decreases the number of layers of wire rope on the drum, and increases pulling power. Start by feeding out enough wire rope to free the winch hook. Attach the hook to your vehicle’s frame/tow hook and run the wire rope through a snatch block.

Disengage the clutch and, using the snatch block, pull out enough wire to reach your anchor point. Do not attach hook to mounting kit. Secure to the anchor point with a tree trunk protector or choker chain. Attach the clevis/shackle. Attach the shackle to the two ends of the strap/chain, being careful not to over tighten (tighten and back-off 1/2 turn).

4X4 Winch Guide

Triple Line

Use the same techniques as the Double Line. Select a robust mounting location on your vehicle for the snatch block and the screw-pin shackle. Keep a 90º angle between the winch and run the wire rope to the first anchor-point and through the snatch block. Secure rope back to the vehicle. Put the wire rope through the snatch block and secure with the screw-pin shackle on the vehicle as close to the winch as practical. Now run the wire rope to the final anchor point Secure to the anchor point with a tree trunk protector or choker chain. Attach the clevis/shackle. Attach the shackle to the two ends of the strap/chain, being careful not to over tighten (tighten and back-off 1/2 turn).

Secure the winch hook.  While keeping the line near the ground, insert the winch hook through the screw-pin shackle.  Check your anchor.  Make sure all connections are secured and free of debris before continuing with the winching procedure.

4X4 Winch Guide


  • Inspect the wire rope before and after each winching operation. If the wire rope has become kinked or frayed, the wire rope needs to be replaced. Be sure to also inspect the winch hook and hook pin for signs of wear or damage. Replace if necessary.
  • Keep winch, wire rope, and switch control free from contaminants. Use
    a clean rag or towel to remove any dirt and debris. If necessary, unwind winch completely (leaving a minimum of 5 wraps on spooling drum), wipe clean, and rewind properly before storage. Using a light oil on the wire rope and winch hook can keep rust and corrosion from forming.
  • Operating your winch for a long period of time places an extra burden
    on your vehicle’s battery. Be sure to check and maintain your battery and battery cables according to manufacturer guidelines. Also inspect switch control and all electrical connections to be certain they are clean and tight fitting.
  • Inspect the remote control for damage, if so equipped. Be sure to cap the remote socket to prevent dirt and debris from entering the connections. Store remote control in a protected, clean, dry area.
  • No lubrication is required for the life of the Warn winch. 

The Final Analysis

The basic guide to proper winching techniques cannot cover all the possible situations in which you may need to use a winch. In the final analysis, the decisions you make will determine the final outcome. So think through each situation and each step of use. Always be mindful of your own safety and the safety of others. Pay attention and you’ll have fun.

Information from:

Andre Botha
Approved Member of African Off-Road Academy 

Also View:

Warn Website

4x4 Off-Road Driving Techniques & Safety

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4x4 Driving Hills & Rocky Surfaces

4x4 Driving with Mud Tyres and Mud Driving

4x4 Sand Driving Safety

Tools and Spare Parts for Safe 4x4 Driving

4x4 Jacking & Snatch Recovery

4x4 Terrain Knowledge

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