How to Free Spool a Winch

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Last Updated on June 26, 2022

Every time, when you have your vehicle stranded in sand or a marsh, your go-to tool is obviously a winch. An important part of winching that isn’t talked about much is free spooling the winch cable. 

Though it may not seem like that big of a deal to do so, it still requires some doing! 

The free spool is basically used to draw the hook and rope of the winch, and then link it to the anchor to pull your vehicle out of its stuck position.

There are two main ways of unwinding a cable to the desired length: using the engine and remote control automatically or using the free spooling feature of a winch.

A Brief Instruction About How To Free Spool a Winch

How to Free Spool a Winch

The fact that the technology of free spool lets the reel free up is one of its advantages. To put it another way, you must disengage the drum that contains the winch wire away from the gearbox in order to use it. It is the equivalent of your car’s transmission being neutralized.

 It frees the cable and allows you to effortlessly rotate the drum. Since you are able to use the winch engine to drive the winch cable, this takes a little bit longer time and wears down the motor brushes of the winch faster as a result. 

Using the spool freeing feature to pull the cable manually saves your motor for the things that it does best, which is getting a stuck automobile out of a hole. Once you are done, when you need to unspool the cable, it is usually preferable to do it manually rather than using the car’s battery. 

Furthermore, the free spool is the quickest and most convenient method of unwinding the winch rope. Pull out enough cable to eliminate any stress on the winch cable before free spooling it out of the winch. Then, with the clutch disengaged, spool winch cable far enough to run the winch.

Process of Free spooling

  • The clutch is an integral component of a winch. It is positioned on the drum’s side and its job is to let the user detach gear from the drum, making it revolve freely for free spooling. The winch drum is “blocked” by clutch engagement, which returns back to the gear of the train. The cable will not get released throughout the operation because of an engaged clutch. 
  • So at first, you need to make sure that you are wearing thick leather gloves. The common recommendation is to use a particular sort of gloves that have finger seals. Its important for your safety to not get yourself hurt while handling the cable of the winch. It is pretty easy for a cable, especially the ones made of steel wire, to hurt you if they have any frays or kinks.
  • Once you have this minimal safety precaution set, you simply disengage the clutch to let the drum of the winch freely spool. As mentioned earlier, this is going to save the battery capacity if done manually. There are some winches that have multiple clutch controls which will allow you to do your job more easily with much more control.
  • As you are done with freeing the drum to spool, you can now let the winch hook be freed from its anchor point and then attach the hook band to it. Then, pull out the winch cable far enough to be able to reach the anchor point. 
  • Make sure that the cable has enough stress in the wire while you do it otherwise it might end up tangled or twisted when released and that could lead to injury from the winch cable. Keep in mind that the more cable you pull out, the more you will need to do to get your job done. 
  • You will be required to hold the hook of the winch to the hook band during operating so that you do not fail at the end. 
  • Once you’ve set your anchor point, wrap the choker chain or the tree trunk protector around the tree or any other substantial object nearby. It is critical to ensure that the anchor you have can hold up the weight of the automobile and is virtually immovable. 
  • Or else, the anchor may give up and descend into the weight, as your car has done. This can seriously harm you and your vehicle as well as your winch.

Anchor’s Role

An anchor is one of the more important parts of any winching operation. The anchor needs to be very strong. Imagine if your anchor is not strong enough to hold your vehicle, scary isn’t it? You would never want that to happen. We all know the most common anchors found during those times like trees, big stones, etc. 

So it is pretty obvious that the anchor’s role is quite significant. As you do free spooling with your winch cable, your anchor must be compatible enough for your cable to have enough grip to be able to winch. If, by any chance, it isn’t then that would make way for a very bad accident which anybody should avoid at all costs. 


So, we have learned the very basics of spooling your winch freely. Now we must know all about the safety precautions that we should take while doing so to avoid any and all sorts of accidents. 

Below are some of the instructions that are more leaned towards avoiding injuries to one’s hand and fingers since those are in the line of action more than other parts of the body.

  1. You should never be careless with where to keep your remote control as it can accidentally activate the winch while you are free spooling.
  2. Another way to avoid accidents due to remote control is to not leave it plugged as you free spool. This also goes for installation, maintenance, rig, and even at times when you are not using the winch at all. This is because, when the remote control is plugged into the winch, it can automatically activate the winch to start pulling. 

Now we can assume how deadly this can be, especially if someone is close to the winch at that moment. This mishap might cost the person to break bones and they might even end up losing their whole hand.

  1. We have already talked about it and we will do so again. ALWAYS wear thick and sturdy leather gloves while working with the winch rope. A rope with any kind of kinks or frays can easily hurt your hands.
  2. If your winch is under load, meaning you have already started the operation, never in a million years engage or disengage the clutch of the winch. Because at that time, your winch cable would be under strain or your drum would be rolling. 

You might lose control of the weight that you are pulling if you mess with the clutch when the winch is under that heavy load. And before you realize it, you probably will already have done enough damage to not being able to reverse it. One should never make any compromise when you are the one in control of the situation.

  1. Another thing that should be your concern is that you should always use a hook strap that is furnished whenever you are free spooling your winch cable. This also goes for while you are installing or even when you are doing the winch operation.
  2. During installation, operation, and spooling, keep your hands clear of the winch cable as well as the hook or its loop and the fairlead opening as it can lead to dangerous situations for yourself.
  3. Last but not the least, do not ever give excessive effort while spooling freely to the winch rope. You should already know that you shouldn’t force your winch to do something it isn’t capable of as it is much stronger than you would be. If you do it patiently, it would ease itself off with the minimum effort from you.

And do remember that you are the one responsible for all kinds of the safety of whoever is near you during your winch operation. Do not forget about the conservation of the environment that is around us as well as your own vehicle’s integrity.

Issues You May Encounter with Free Spooling

Free spooling is a simple method of unspooling the winch rope that allows the operator to retain the line with only two fingers. A problem is most certainly present if the rope clings hard to a small force. In order to avoid that, in most circumstances, you can use lubricating oil to remove the excessive resistance that you would get from the rope. 

And there will be times when you might find it very difficult to disengage the drum from the gear of the winch, this usually happens when you have not done free spooling of the winch for a long while. To avoid that sort of situation, some of the winch models recommend that you do free spool on a regular basis.

 It can also work if you simply just disengage the clutch from time to time as well. Another issue you may encounter at times would be with the knob of the free spool. This phenomenon happens if dirt gets lodged in the knob of the free spool. The basic way of solving this would be cleaning, disassembling, and lubricating the component.  

All of this may seem like a lot for a simple free spool of the winch cable but you should understand that safety always comes first. And one should never compromise with that. That is why we recommend you to take your time and understand the simplest of methods during anything that you do during a winch operation.

About the Author: Brian Silvestro

Brian Silvestro is the founder and chief editor of OffroadersArena. He spends his free time tending to his BMW iX SUV and explaining its merits to anyone who'll listen.

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