Winch Safety
By Cliff Jenkins

At the Spring Thing III a few of our winches were put to the test; Louis Bonner and the log and Chris Murray and the mud. When you push your equipment to the limit you need to know that it will handle it safely. The hardware, shackles, snatch blocks, straps, hooks and winch lines must be 100% reliable. We must inspect our components for damage each time we hook up our winch to pull ourselves or fellow four-wheelers out.

First we need to check the hook for wear, cracks, or corrosion. The hook will open up or break when loaded to the limit if damage is overlooked. Also, if you replace your hook, always use a thimble in the eye of the loop. This prevents the wire rope from wearing the hook. Next is the line, thimble, and clamp. The crimped clamp needs to be checked for slippage and deformation. If the crimp loosens then the line can come loose from the hook. The cable should be inspected for broken strands, kinks, flat spots, decreased diameter and wear. Kinks and flat spots greatly reduc the breaking strength of the line. When the line flattens out or kinks, the load is not evenly distributed over all the strands of the cable, increasing the chance of breaking the line. Also be sure to keep your line rolled tightly on the drum to prevent it from being crushed when load is applied on the winch.

Now that we know our winch is ready for use we need to inspect our straps and shackles. The nylon straps need to be inspected for broken stitches, frayed spots, and cuts. Also make sure that the strap is rated to handle the load that your winch will pull. Remember that a choked strap has less strength than one used in a basket hitch. Also, when using straps make sure you don't use them around sharp corners or edges that could cut them when pressure is applied.

When we hook our winch to a strap we usually use shackles. Screw pin anchor shackles should be stamped with the safe working load in tons somewhere on the bow. Below are some of the common sizes and limits.

3/8" - 2,000 lbs.
1/2" - 4,000 lbs.
5/8" - 6,500 lbs.
3/4" - 9,500 lbs.
7/8" - 13,000 lbs.

Quality shackles have a 5 to 1 safety factor. An example is that a 3/8" shackle should not fail until about 10,000 lbs. But this is just a safety factor and SHOULD NOT BE USED AS THE SAFE WORKING LOAD. When using shackles never pull from the sides, always from the pin and throat. Also be sure to back the pin off 1/2 a turn. If you don't do this and the shackle stretches or deforms you may not be able to unscrew the pin.

When you attach a line you need to use a dampener over the cable such as a jacket, towel, blanket or even a couple of floor mats, but never use a winch or tool bag. Because if the line breaks the weighted bag could become a projectile and do severe damage. A blanket or towel will not do as much damage if is thrown by a broken cable. Also if you to sit in your vehicle while winching, open the hood to stop a broken cable from coming through the windshield.