Winching & Recovery Safety

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Site Addict
Apr 23, 2003
Windsor, VT USA
Hello all,

So we've had our first official run and I think we need to address winching and recovery strap safety on the trail. With enthusiasm and pressure we often "forget" that straps and lines can be deadly catapults that can kill or maim anyone in the area.

I've asked a few of our more experienced members to chime in with some examples and information. We are working on a plan to not only have a trail leader on club sponsored runs but also an experienced recovery "boss" to educate and assist as needed.

The Club will be taking this issue VERY seriously and I hope we can all check our egos at the trail head and make the extra efforts necessary to ensure the safety of everyone on the trail around us.

Thank you.
thanks for posting this Dave. we actually narrowly escaped an incident on the intermediate run. a pin on someone's hitch may not have been intalled all the way and as a result, under load, the winch point (the hitch) popped out. thankfully, there was not enough load on the line to send it through Nat's windshield but we did get lucky.

as a club i think we should seriously look into the liability of one person being designated as the boss. should something bad happen, things could get ugly in a court of law very quickly.
I've received a few emails about this, and the consensus agrees. A single recovery boss is too much liability and too much pressure to put on one person.

We'll come up with a system, and it all starts with EVERYONE being educated and NO ONE every feeling like they need to be rushed during an extraction, or that they can't speak up if another member is doing something dangerous.
Just want to chime in here that I would be interested in learning more about winching/recovery etc.

Of coarse it would be very unfortunate and to say the least ruin a fun day, if someone did get injured. This could happen and does...

I learned some things from my Brother in law and was able to use the winch a bunch last weekend. We were up at my place and unfortunately could not make it to the gathering. It is really impressive what can be done with the power it has. We moved some sizeable stumps and a few logs.

I am still a total novice but am definitely interested in learning more. I think I saw a post about another local club getting together for a "training" session in the near future. Perhaps we could colaborate and get the groups together.
I had a great time at Sunday’s meeting and trail ride. It was good to see everyone and what a great collection of people and Toyotas!

A few of us have been talking about the day and have a few observations to share for your review and comment. Please share your own thoughts and contribute to the discussion. I submit this as collective observations and some of my opinion, which I’m sure is debatable and people may disagree. If you do, please explain why so we can debate what’s best for the club as we plan future runs.

Intermediate Run:
This was a very fun run with capable drivers and trucks. The rain turned an intermediate run into something more hard core in spots with deep mud, slippery roots, and boulders. Some of the off-camber sections created significant pucker factor as vinyl seat covers mysteriously disappeared. :eek:

Trail Communication:
We wasted about two hours sitting on the trail lost in the woods and on the power lines. The group became fractured on a few occasions due to the fact that people were not watching their rearview mirrors to make sure that the truck behind them was in contact with the group. As a result, when we came to forks in the trail we had no idea which way to go. The CB’s have limited range in the woods and we were out of contact with the leaders.
Solution: Always maintain visibility with the truck behind you. The group will cover more ground, help will come sooner if needed, more wheeling will take place, and more fun will be had.

There were some very dangerous recovery situations on the trail. Here are a few, but there were more:

* Truck being pulled backward out of long & deep stretch of mud. The hitch pin was not installed correctly to the anchor point. As the winch began to pull, the line grew taught and the pin came flying out along with the attachment point. It only flew about 10 feet, but if there was more tension on the line it could have turned the pin into a deadly projectile. Cause: Careless attention to detail when connecting recovery equipment. Solution: Always double check rigging and recovery equipment.

* While winching us all up a long, very steep, and muddy hill, someone was constantly trying to manually take up the slack and straighten the winch cable while the cable was being pulled in. The truck being pulled would occasionally get traction and would climb faster than the winch cable creating slack in the line. The truck would then loose traction falling back and violently snapping the line back tight. This could potentially cut or slice someone or even kill them if enough force was whipped through the line. Cause: Inexperience or careless approach. Solution: Never touch a winch line while it is connected and under load.

* Truck stuck in a long deep stretch of mud being pulled forward by another truck. The pulling truck started to use a long chain as a snatch strap. Potentially deadly use of chain not designed to be used to snatch/yank. Cause: Inexperience or careless use of equipment. Someone stopped them from using the chain at which point they pulled out a real snatch strap which was in the truck all along. Solution: Chains should be outlawed on the trail.

* During a number of strap and winch recoveries, many people were standing within 2-3 feet of both the vehicles and straps/winch lines while they were in motion. This shows a total disregard for the forces at play or unknowing participants. Cause: Inexperience or impatience. Solution: Always stand way back from a recovery unless you are involved in the recovery. Take shelter behind trees and boulders to protect yourself in the event that a piece of recovery equipment fails.

* People rushing to attach recovery equipment and seeming pressured to do it fast. Apologizing for being stuck etc. Cause: Worrying about other people being impatient. Solution: Who cares! It’s your truck and your life. Take your time and enjoy the recovery process…it should be fun. It’s a chance to work as a team to figure out the safest and least destructive way of extracting a vehicle. If people get impatient, that’s their issue. This usually happens on large group runs and should be expected to some degree.

I think that everyone was excited and having fun which was great to see and be a part of. As a club we have a responsibility to provide recovery protocol and education.

It takes years of experience using recovery equipment to understand what the liabilities are and how truly dangerous it is. Anyone can go out and buy a HiLift jack and start using it even though it’s one of the most dangerous pieces of equipment available. I have seen many trucks slip off HiLifts causing damage to vehicles and people. I have seen winch cables break, fly through the air cutting trees and impaling vehicles. I have seen winch lines and tow straps break causing d-rings and pins to go flying, and fingers caught in winch drums. And I have been guilty of some of these over the years and have scared the hell out of myself in the process. I find vehicle recovery and extraction one of the most fun aspects of the sport, but it’s extremely when people are careless and try something they have never done and do it improperly.

We were very lucky that no one got injured on Sunday. I’m not sure what happened with the other groups but feel this needs to be addressed in a real way, as Dave and others are suggesting.

We need some guidelines to help improve communication and to set some protocol and expectations for recovery. This will improve overall safety on the trail and increase the fun factor. We should also always make sure there is an emergency medical pack of some type with us in the event of a serious injury.


Well said Randy. I borrowed the "Getting Unstuck" dvd by Bill Burke from Lane. Just started watching it last night. Its very informative and has a lot of safety info and proper extraction techniques using different equipment. Maybe we could show a video like this at a wheeling trip like the Fall Gathering or up at Kina's place.
Getting Unstuck provides a basic guide to vehicle recovery.
Safety is stressed! It's about 2 hours long but worth sitting down to watch.
Just let us know if you want to borrow it and we can get it to you.

Since it was my truck that had the pin issue I think I'll comment here.

I believe I did what I should have. Placed the block in place. used my pinky finger to check hole alignment and then inserted the pin and clip.

It obviously didn't work out correctly and the main issue was that everything was full of mud. The mud really interfered with what should have been an easy assembly.

The lesson I learned was to do the basic recovery assembly to the truck prior to needing it, when everything is clean and easily inspected.
The comment about pulling up the hill was directed at me. The hill had 2 pitches, one very steep at the bottom and the top was not as steep. While the trucks were on the lower slope and under heavy load I was back more than 25 feet in the woods. As the trucks got onto the upper flatter grade they would start to proceed under their own power at which point I would grab the cable to keep it from tangling in the wheels and tires. At no point did the cable "violently snap" at at no point did I feel I was in any danger. If I did I would not have been any near that cable. I was in similar situation in the past where the cable wrapped around the axle and tore off the brake lines. If you guys are opposed to that i will not do it in the future.
Brake lines can be replaced, fingers and hands can't!
Anytime that a snatch block can be used, it should be. It is less strain on your winch motor, slows down the extrication, and doubles your pulling power.

I will add that the new technology of synthetic rope has made winching even safer. Its stronger than wire rope, much easier to handle that wire rope, no cuts from wire sticking out. If it breaks, it just drops to the ground. I know that some of you think you cant afford to by synthetic rope but it is by far one of those things that I feel everyone should have. I feel so strongly about this that I will sell synthetic winch rope AT COST to any paid Yankee Toys member. PM me or email me if interested.
Also my fault for not installing a weight on the cable on the first pull at least I got it on the second pull

Some times the excitement and adrenalin rush can get the best of us

Every one need to make sure that they have 2 tow points on the front and rear of there truck to help speed up the recovery process
Hello all,

Looking back I feel like I may have instigated some of the rushing at the meeting with my whole "Five Tries" speech. It's tricky getting a balance of "take your time and be safe" with "don't be an ass and hold up the entire group." I apologize if anyone felt rushed because of what I said, and for not stating my hopes for the day a little clearer. I will try to do better next time.

I'm glad we've started this discussion. I hope that those that feel somehow "accused" can take this as it was meant and not as a personal attack. No one is on trial here. If we can't discuss this stuff openly and honestly with each other then it doesn't say a lot for the Club, and I'm not doing my job. I'd hate to see a situation on the trail, in the forums, or at a meeting, where someone feels they can't speak up if they see an unsafe situation.

Lane has offered his Bill Burke CD and we will plan to screen it at a future get together, perhaps a tech day where we can gets some hands-on experience. As a person who's never owned a winch, and is about to get one, I am quite honestly nervous about it. I look forward to learning more about them from those in the Club with more experience.

Let's keep it positive everyone, and thanks again.
No problem here Dave. I think an open discussion is great. Mistakes are going to be made, we're human. I don't think anyone was openly disregarding anyone's safety that day.

One thing I think we need to watch for is the gallery in those situations. People tend to crowd around for a better view. Those are usually passengers and unaware of what might happen and how to react.
A tech day would be a good idea. also how about a quick get together at the end of the run to discuss how things went.
re: winching up hill...

If a truck is getting a tug up hill it's hard to resist "helping the winch" by driving when the truck has traction. Not the best idea. It's better to let the winch do the work. A slow, steady pull is much easier on all equipment involved than having a truck slide and give the winch a good yank. Those yanks are what breaks stuff (tow points, shackles, cables and winches). If the winch does all the work there is no worry about loose cable getting tangled around moving truck parts. No worries about someone stepping into a loop of cable and loosing a limb when the winched vehicle slides backwards.

Trail riding is boatloads of fun but it can also kill you in an instant even if you are careful.

Children on the trail.

We are seeing more kids out there with us on runs.
Parents it is your job to preach safety to them.
I know every time I take Ian with me we go over safety, "get back
when winching, don't get behind the rigs, stay uphill of the rigs, when you are inside the rig keep your hands, feet and head inside"
If you see a kid that is doing something unsafe, say something to them!
Better that they think you're a mean guy than them to get hurt!

Great discussion! I agree whole heartedly with Mike and Nick regarding the use of snatch blocks whenever possible. Especially with the Warn 8274 type of winch. While the line speed of these types of winches is a boon to a speedy recovery the amount of control can be limited with the tires spinning, especially in the type of terrain we have in our area, steep, slippery, rocks closed in with trees. I love my PTO winch for just this reason, put the truck in neutral and let the winch do all the work, it's very anticlimatic and I often hear "can't you speed that up" in a word, no. I personally like winching slow and in control.

Dave, to me your "five tries" speech meant, lets not tear up the trail by endlessly trying to make an obstacle. We are not out there doing time trials, lets resign ourselves to the fact that every trail run is going to be 10 hours start to finish and when it only takes 8 hours we'll be pleasantly surprised. Not factual I know but you get the idea.

I would like to suggest that we try to keep each run to ten trucks or less. I don't know if this is practical with the amount of people in the group and the amount of trails we have, but in my experience any more than that and it's hard to keep a cohesive, moving group together. It's also a lot for a trail leader to keep track of.

Speaking of keeping track of, please keep the truck behind you in your rear view mirror. It not only keeps the group together it's prevents a long wheel in reverse to go back and give a tug if needed. I know the best answer is CB's but not everyone has them. I personally have three on the shelf that didn't survive the harsh elements of living in an open top '40 and have given up on trying.

Chains. I personally feel that chains are of little use on the trail. I know, many people have used them for years, never had a problem, stronger than a strap etc. but the fact is chains are intended for static loads. I could go on for a while with stories about broken chains and thier resulting damage to trucks, trees and people. Please, please, please, no chains!!! leave them on the flat bed where they belong!

Those of us with tow hooks mounted under the frame, please make sure the little retaining tabs, keeper tabs, or what ever you want to call them, are installed. This is so often over looked and can cause real problems when getting a strap/tug. I've seen many trucks over the years go flying off into the distance when the strap that was expected to be there wasn't. In fact ALL hooks should have these.

These are just some of my observations, take them with a grain of salt.

It appears that I have offended a few people with my post and that my delivery came across in a less than diplomatic way. It’s been suggested that I have made the trail run and YT in general out to be a bunch of idiots and that I was passing judgment on people in their approach to recovery. I find this troubling and would like to personally apologize to those that came away with this feeling.

This was absolutely not my intention, nor am I qualified or authorized to pass judgment on anyone. My/our goal was to highlight the risks involved in recovery situations and to use examples – without names or vehicle models - from the run for context and to raise discussion and awareness around trail safety.

In the future I will attempt to be more mindful and diplomatic in my delivery.


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