Saturday, October 22, 2011

How a Winch Works and Selection Basics

A portable winch is an apparatus for generally pulling or tensioning an object, with a rope or wire cable, often connected to vehicles, boats, trees, logs, rocks, and other large, small, heavy and immobile objects. It can include the basic hand cranked ratchet and pawl mechanism common in the marine industry, but also mechanical electrical, and petrol motorized devices, often used in the forestry industry. Depending on definition of portability, generally they are compact hand transportable and maneuverable devices for towing, pulling, dragging, and limited or controlled lifting and hoisting. Common portable brands include Warns cordless Pull Z All, Honda's 4 stroke petrol Capstan, Lewis chainsaw driven unit, and manual winders such as the Fulton and Wintech models. Though medium to larger winches are generally fixed to 4 wheel drives, ATV's and other recreational vehicles, or can be fixed when needed, might include the definition of being portable.

Comparison of Winch Styles

Dutton Lainson hand winder, Northern Industrial 2000 lb Marine, and Warn M8000 8000 lb Winch

Basic Operation and Features

The rope or wire is attached to a spool or drum for larger units, which is driven by the winch motor, and for electric winches commonly powered by the vehicle's battery. The rope is then attached to the object or stranded or immobile vehicle for pulling it away. Typical scenarios include an ATV stuck in the mud, a 4x4 wedged between rocks, or stuck on a steep incline. A huge range of models, even within a supplier or manufacturer exist, of which the right unit should be selected for it's intended use, whether for occasional or frequent use, and the degree of pulling or rolling load required.

Factors for winches include load capacity for rolling loads, e.g. 6000lb or perhaps more common 8000lbs and higher, braking system (often dynamic), motor type (e.g. if series wound for heavier or frequent use), gearing, synthetic rope or steel wire and it's diameter and loading rating, e.g. for rolling loads. Also battery power output, e.g. larger capacity battery and alternator for increased current output. Also solenoid placement configuration, whether externally mounted or integral to the winch. Their are various manufacturers to select from, and dealerships, stores, and online suppliers for purchase.

Videos of Warn Winch in Rugged Terrain and How to Set Up a Winch


Winches often require accessories, vehicle attachments, tools, and servicing kits, for easier practical use, enhancement and maintenance. This includes extension ropes, hitch adapters, anchor plates, shackles, recovery straps, snatch blocks, fairleads, choker chains and much more. Then parts and accessories for 4x4 and ATV's will be required as well, e.g. bumpers, hitch receivers, cargo carriers, racking and more. Their are many winch and related vehicle accessory supply stores such as Promark Offroad, 4WD Hardware, and Central 4 Wheel Drive

Related Factors
- Cost is important to select specific needs, without being under or excessively over budget. Though trial and error might be involved, so best shop around, search online articles, winch reviews, including established online forums and related web sites, e.g. Off Roaders Com, Off Road Com, Pirate 4x4 Com and others.
- Maintenance, Service, and Warranty - Perhaps learn how to perform basic cleaning, servicing, and/or more advanced overhaul. Again from online forums, but also search for service, parts, safety, specification and related manuals (often pdf), e.g. Warn manuals or documents can help, including winch techniques. Create a list of suppliers and dealers for parts and accessories, and make sure of availability of parts. Include checking your warranty policy to assess what's exactly covered, cost limit for your unit's parts, replacement policy, any part payment, shipping cost, etc.
- Upgrades and Modifications - Again online research might be required to either upgrade your entire unit, or modify internal and related components, e.g. solenoids, batteries, alternator, related wiring, switches and general towing accessories. This should include enhanced winch techniques, safety (first aid training), better storage of accessories (when on the trail), upgrading essential emergency kits.
- Research - Like any useful hardware or product, perhaps keep in tuned with your winch for the latest information. Establish contact with your local supplier, selected brand, online suppliers for updates and upgrades for new models and related components. Bookmark websites, sign up to their newsletters, and become actively involved in local off road or similar clubs if suitable, as well as being active on forums as a reader and perhaps a contributor to help others.

The winch serves a important purpose, sometimes in rugged demanding conditions. Be prepared by at least researching, reading manuals, conversing with others, and applying some winch loading practice. Doing so should increase your confidence and ability to use your important winch - when you (or someone stranded) may require it's services when really needed.



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  3. It's good to know that winches often require accessories. My husband wants one on his ATV. I think he got the idea from his friend.