Off-Road Discovery Off-Road Discovery

Off-Road Winch Recovery

Land Rover Defenders Demonstrating Basic Rules and Guidelines for Winch Recovery



There are MANY cases a winch comes in handy and it’s not just when you are stuck. A winch can also get you out of tight spots that may otherwise damage the vehicle or environment around it. Keep reading to get the basic rules and guidelines to recovering a vehicle with a winch.

This content was developed by and owned by Paul Sinkinson, Xplorability owner. Paul is a 4wd Defensive Driver Training Consultant/Trainer and Programme Developer.

Going to need to winch out of this one

Basic Rules when faced with Vehicle Recovery

  1. As soon as you notice you are becoming stuck and your wheels are starting to spin, STOP, there is no use trying too hard as it may only make things much more difficult as you are likely to finish up digging in deeper.
  2. Check now to see if any part of the vehicles under body weight is resting on the terrain, rocks or anything that is not directly under the wheels. If this has occurred, it is preferable to correct this issue first by jacking.
  3. Are any of the wheels obstructed by anything directly in their path? If so, work on clearing the route ahead.
  4. Once you have sorted item 2 and 3, don’t be tempted to just try and drive straight out as what usually happens is you just drop back into the problem and have to start all over again. Do it once, do it right!
  5. If you have decided to try and drive out and failed. Take time to reassess the situation, perhaps have a Tea or Coffee while you contemplate.
  6. While covering item 5, weigh up what natural resources you have at your disposal together with the recovery kit you have with you. IE: would a touch of spadework make things easier, are there any suitable rocks or branches that could be used for traction. Is gravity on your side? Every little helps.
  7. Remember, some of your recovery equipment can perhaps be used in more ways than one so you could adapt it to meet your needs.
  8. DON’T RUSH! That’s when accidents happen.


Ok, you have checked out all the hazards, reviewed your equipment and the recovery options you have available with it and decided that the best way forward (or backwards) is using a Winch. Either your own Winch or one fitted on an accompanying vehicle.

Interesting situation! Here the D90 is balanced precariously on its bash plates, all wheels off the ground and dangling over a 3 metre Drop into a stream bed. The Front and rear winch were connected fore and aft ONLY to stabilise the vehicle. Once secured and based on “if Life is not at stake, the its time for a cup of tea!” We brewed up.

Land Rover Defender demonstrating winch skills

Using the Winch rope off the Discovery 2 via a snatch block for a change of direction, it was then possible to pull the D90 sideways back onto the track safely, while also maintaining the fore and aft security with that vehicles own winches to stop it tipping over into the stream bed.

Land Rover Winch Recovery 101

Now back, upright on terra firma, it was time to de-rig the winches and equipment. It was also necessary from an environmental point of view to get the shovels out and rebuild the track to its original condition. Excluding brewing the Tea and repairing the track, the actual recovery time was twenty minutes. Five minutes of that was operational “PLANNING!”

Land Rover D90 demonstrating winch recovery

This is NOW the time to be aware of and apply the Basic Rules for Winch Recovery:

  1. Only EVER have ONE person in charge of the Winch operation. This person will be the ONLY person using the control switches, the ONLY one handling and running out the Winch cable and the ONLY person to attach the Winch to its anchor point. The same person will also be the ONLY person in charge of the recovery of the Winch cable and the re-spooling of it after the actual recovery of the vehicle. The REASON for this is to prevent injury to hands and fingers during Winch operations, which happen often when more than one person is in control of the Winch.
  2. If the recovery operation dictates that the Winch Operator cannot fully observe the situation due to the shortage of the Winch Control cables, ONE other person should take charge of directing the operation and giving the required control orders to the person in charge of the Winch.
  3. The person operating the Winch should wear quality leather protective Gloves as Winch cables can be particularly “Spikey” or have picked up objects during the operation or in previous use and these can damage the hands.
  4. The operator should ALWAYS use a Winch hook handle for holding either the Winch hook or the Winch rope with gloved fingers to guide it rather than directly to avoid injury.
  5. ALWAYS ensure there are at least five turns of Winch rope on the Winch drum before commencing to Winch otherwise the cable clamp may become unfastened.
  6. NEVER Step OVER a Winch Cable (or ANY attached Straps – in some instances it may be acceptable to step ON the un-tensioned cables to cross them) once it has been connected in the recovery layout even if it appears to be harmlessly lying on the ground. It only needs a vehicle to move, the cable to tension and it could cause serious injury.
  7. Before commencing a Winch operation it is essential that the person in charge of the recovery ensures that ALL bystanders are well clear as a cable break whiplashing around can scythe everything down in its path and cause serious if not terminal injury.
  8. Never stand in the “V” Arc of the Winching cable layout for the same reason as item 7.
  9. NEVER hook the Winch Cable around the anchor point and back onto itself. The inexperienced often do this and it is a common cause of cable breaks. Always use the appropriate Anchor Straps.


Basic Guide to Winching

To try and cover everything you need to know about Winching in a short website article is impossible. I’ve been indoctrinated with it since I was a youngster and my old man came back from WW2 where part of his work involved heavy recovery etc. So, while all my friends were playing with bows, arrows and toy pistols, under instruction I was building “Meccano” Winches and Cranes with electric motors and generally messing up the dining table lifting and winching objects both to my amazement and that of my pet sheepdog of the day.

After ALL these Years I am STILL LEARNING about WINCHING!

So, keeping it short, my suggestion would be to book in with a Professional 4wd Instructor and take a Winch Recovery Course. Meanwhile, to wet your appetite I recommend you check out the Video Link at the end, which will run you through the various concepts. You will see it follows the Basic Rules listed previously and also adds more.


Check out this Winch video:

This Defender could have been driven “aggressively” and forced its way past the tree and ridden over the large boulder but the object here was “Mechanical Sympathy” and looking after the environment plus an opportunity to demonstrate the technique. Visit Your Local 4wd Professional Instructor – Money is always well spent on Winch & Recovery Training.

Land Rover Defender - Winch & Recovery Training

Experience Counts with ANY Recovery operation and as always, PLANNING is the KEY!

Understanding all about your Equipment, the Laws of Physics, Loading, Geometry all form a part.

Here, the vehicle was trapped against a tree with a huge rock also trapping a rear wheel. This example was ONLY used as a WINCH TRAINING EXERCISE, using 3 Snatch Blocks, a Strap and the necessary Tree Strops (for protecting the anchor points on the trees), it allowed the vehicle to be tilted to clear, before driving forward while the winch line was gently released and adjusted accordingly.

Ten minutes Planning and Explaining the “Method”. A further Ten Minutes setting up.

Five Minutes Winching Operation. Ten minutes tackling down and de-brief including a Coffee break.

If you are looking for a winch or accessories check with local shops or online Rover Shop.

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This content was prepared for the Off-Road Discovery Website by Xplorability 4wd Training

The Content - All Photographs and Photographic Copyright and All other Rights other Reserved October 2017. S.W. France. This content may not be copied or reproduced without the written consent of Paul Sinkinson – Xplorability Training.

For Use Only in 4wd and Light Vehicle Driver Training.

Not for Re-Publication, Distribution or use outside the Xplorability Training Programme