Operating a winch can almost seems like a no-brainer even though there are several things that can get you into deeper trouble or even cause injury. If your ATV or pickup gets stuck in the mud, I mean really stuck, sometimes the winch is your only option. Here are a few things to keep in mind on how to use a winch for safety, efficiency and maintenance.

Technology has made the newest generation of the winch an ideal mix of tough and tech. A heavier single-line pulling capacity and plated heat resistance add to equipment longevity, enhance performance and increase overall durability.

Some new winches feature motor-mounted thermometric sensors that provide motor temperature feedback via an indicator lamp on their remotes. New and improved weather sealing adds to reliability and keeps the elements out with stout, cast-aluminum alloy housings for cables and integrated control box housings to protect the electronics.

Most off-roaders understand the basics of winch operation, but can be tempted into over-zealous winching that can do some damage to their ride — or themselves  — by ignoring simple precautions. With both older and new equipment, using a winch properly comes down to good technique and keeping safety in mind.

Conserve it

Winching for brief periods is better than using the winch in a long burst. A short pull of a minute saves your winch and keeps it and the electronics from overheating. Using a winch pulls a lot of power from your vehicle, so keep it running throughout to avoid draining the battery. You’ll win the battle but lose the war if you get out of a ditch only to find yourself still stuck because the battery is spent.

Strap it on

Carry a strap that’s at least 3 inches wide. When stuck in a woodsy area where trees are the only option as a tow point, wrapping the cable around the trunk damages a tree. Better to attach the strap around the trunk and hook your winch to that. It works as well and upholds the sportsman code of doing no harm to the land you ride on.

Wear gloves

Suit up before winching with a pair of thick gloves. Never handle the steel wire winch cable with bare hands. Even when gloved up, don’t allow the winch cable to slide through your hands. This wire can fray, and the small imperfections will push into the skin. It’s dangerous, and painful.

Don’t tow with the cable

This can lead to a costly repair if you damage the winch gearing, or break the drum which is mounted onto a gear drive. Sudden jerks from the tow vehicle can result in a big hassle and leave you with a major repair expense.

Don’t hold the hook

Unless you want your fingers pinched in the roller fairlead, resist any temptation to hold the hook as it winds onto the drum. Most manufacturers have a winch hook strap so you can keep your hands in the clear.

Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons by Robert Thigpen