Every ATV rider gets stuck eventually. Learn how to free yourself with a winch

Every ATV rider gets stuck sooner or later, but just having a winch is no guarantee you’ll pull free. To get back on track without damaging your machine—or yourself—you also need to know how to use it properly.


Preparing to winch often takes longer than the actual winching itself, but don’t be in a hurry—that’s when accidents happen. Start by surveying the terrain and noting the quad’s position. Look for a strong natural anchor point, such as a tree, stump or rock, preferably in a line perpendicular to the winch drum so you can pull straight out. The farther away the anchor point, the greater the pulling power.

Set up

Wearing heavy gloves, disengage the winch clutch and walk out the cable, keeping some tension so it doesn’t twist or overwrap on the drum. Watch for kinks, frays and worn areas. Hook the cable as low as possible around the anchor point, being careful not to over tighten (if attaching to a live tree, use a nylon strap). Slowly put the cable under tension, and make sure anyone nearby is aware you’re about to start winching.


With the ATV engine on, begin winching slowly and steadily. If possible, drive the stuck machine in the direction of the pull at moderate throttle. Avoid shock loads—which can momentarily exceed the winch or cable ratings—by keeping the cable taut at all times. If winching at an angle is unavoidable, turn the front wheels toward the anchor point. Then pull in short lengths, stopping to reposition the cable so it doesn’t stack up on one side and jam. Once the ATV is free, respool the cable under light tension, in snug, even layers so it’s ready for the next time.