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ProMark Offroad Blog

Winch Load for Off Road Recovery

Recovery Winch Accessory Kit

Make sure your winch recovery accessories are rated for the maximum capacity pulling power that you need.

Your winch is a powerful tool for off road recovery. When used safely, it can recover loads greater than the weight of your vehicle. Yet the same forces used for recovery can also create a dangerous situation if you don’t respect the power packed into your winch.

It’s important for your own safety and the safety of others riding with you that you understand how your winch works and how it reacts to load. The following guidelines will help you stay safe on the trail and use your winch’s power without creating a dangerous situation.

Winch Load and Recovery Accessories

When you decide on the maximum pulling capacity you need for a winch, you need to take into account the strength of your vehicle’s frame, mounting points, and other components. Every link in the chain must be able to withstand the pulling force of the winch. One weak link in the chain can lead to winch failure or cause something to break.

Make sure your vehicle frame, mounting system, anchor point (such as a tow hook on your own vehicle or another vehicle), and all winch accessories are rated to handle the maximum capacity of the winch. Wire or synthetic rope, snatch blocks, shackles, winch hooks, and other recovery accessories all need to be able to withstand the maximum line capacity of the winch.

Rated Line Pull

In understanding how a winch reacts to load, remember that the maximum rated capacity is determined by the first layer of rope. As more cable piles up on the drum, the rated capacity drops. This also means that when you are pulling a load at full capacity and you stop winching and try to start again, the rated line capacity will have dropped with the extra layers on the drum, and you may not have enough power to begin pulling again.

Doubling the Winch Capacity

Exceeding the winch capacity could cause the cable to snap or cause the winch to fail. Make sure you can get out safely by thinking ahead about how much winch power you will need for how you plan to use the winch. If the pull requires more power than your winch is rated for, double the line to increase the pulling power. Although it cuts down on line speed, a double line pull will reduce the strain on your winch and cable, making the pull easier on your winch and safer for all involved.

Does a 10K Winch REALLY Pull 10,000 lbs?

This 10K Midnight Recovery Winch has the capacity to pull 10,000 pounds is all the required factors are met.

This 10K Midnight Recovery Winch has the capacity to pull 10,000 pounds if all the required factors are met.

The short answer to this question? Yes…BUT there are several factors that determine how much your 10,000 lb winch (or any other winch) can pull, including the following:

  • There must be only one full layer of cable left on the drum.
  • The vehicle being pulled must be on solid ground (not mud, sand, or any other “sucking” surface).
  • The vehicle being pulled must have properly inflated tires and be able to roll easily.
  • The winch must NOT be pulling the vehicle up an incline.
  • The winch must receive adequate 12 volt power and amp draw.

If you are pulling a 10,000 pound load and then STOP winching, there will be more than one layer of cable on the drum, which means that when you try to start winching again, your winch may not be able to handle the load.

As more layers stack up on the drum, your rated line pull drops. For example, if you have 3 wraps on the drum after you stop pulling, you’ll only have about 6500 pounds of pulling capacity when you start pulling again. See the following table for an example of how much the rated line pull of a 10K recovery winch would drop per layer:

10,000 LB Rated Line Pull

Layer of Cable 1st Layer 2nd Layer 3rd Layer 4th Layer
Rated Line Pull per Layer 10,000 lbs. 7,964 lbs. 6,591 lbs. 5,632 lbs.


So how does a winch manage to KEEP pulling a 10,000 pound load even as the layers stack up on the drum? Momentum. Although it might take 10,000 pounds to break the initial resistance and get the vehicle in motion, once it starts rolling, the momentum of the pull helps the winch keep on pulling, even though the layers are stacking up on the drum and the rated line pull is dropping.

In every winching situation, your circumstances will be different, which means that your winch may not pull as much as it’s rated for every time you use it. One way to get around this is to double the winch line using a snatch block. This will double the rated line capacity of the winch and unwind more cable from the drum, which gives you a higher line pull.

Drum Diameter and Line Speed for Offroad Winches

Along with the gear ratio, the drum diameter of your winch has a direct effect on line speed and pulling power. As more layers of cable pile up on the drum, the pulling power from your winch decreases and the line speed of the cable drops.

The rated line pull per layer drops up to 20 percent for the first layer of cable on top of the base layer and then 10 percent or more for layers after that.

Typical Rated Line Pull Per Layer

Example: 8000 lb. Winch

Layer of Cable 1st layer 2nd layer 3rd layer 4th layer
Rated line pull per layer 8000 lbs. 6540 lbs. 5550 lbs. 4750 lbs.


The smaller the diameter of the drum, the faster the layers pile up and the faster your pulling power drops. On the other hand, a larger diameter drum means that the size of the winch housing has to increase in order to make room for the cable wrapped around the drum. For vehicles with tight mounting spaces, this can be a problem.

Same thing goes for drum length. The shorter the winch drum, the faster the pulling power will drop. Yet the longer the winch drum, the bigger the winch housing needs to be.

The drum diameter and length of ProMark Offroad winches are designed to provide the best combination of optimal line speed and compact housing dimensions.

Dynamic vs Mechanical Winch Brakes

The Outback Series winches have both dynamic and mechanical brakes.

The Outback Series winches have both dynamic and mechanical brakes.

A dynamic winch brake uses the resistance from the winch motor to prevent the drum from turning. It’s a natural braking mechanism built into the winch.


Unless you plan to use your winch as a hoist, a dynamic brake should be all you need. Winches with dynamic brakes should never be used for a hoist system.

The excessive force on the winch cable caused by hoisted weight will cause the line to “bleed” out, making the load unsafe and endangering the user. If you plan to use your winch as a hoist, make sure the winch you purchase is specifically designed for this purpose.

A mechanical winch brake is a physical brake, like on a car, that stops the drum from turning when there is a load on the cable. Mechanical brakes are optional on most ATV winches, although some winches come with both dynamic and mechanical brakes.

Which Is Better: Dynamic or Mechanical?

The dynamic braking system is sufficient for most ATV winch owners; however, a mechanical brake can be installed in addition to the dynamic brake in order to offer better control and prevent roll back. The XT 1500 winch and the Outback Series winches are designed with a mechanical winch braking system.

The downside of a mechanical brake is the added weight (winches are heavy enough as it is) and the increased size of the winch body. The weight and size issue can be a big deal for ATVs and UTVs with tight mounting spaces.

If you plan to use your winch as a hoist, however, you will need a winch with a mechanical brake to securely hold a vertical load.

Planetary Gear, Worm Gear, and Spur Gear Winches

There are 3 basic types of winch gears: planetary, worm, and spur gears. The gear train’s job is to reduce the high speed power from the winch motor into a low speed, high torque pulling force. The main difference between these 3 types of winch gears is their transfer efficiency.

    Planetary Gear Train

    Planetary Gear Train

  • Planetary Gear Winch

    Transfer Efficiency: 65%

    A planetary gear winch is the most popular and most affordable type of offroad winch. It offers strength, smooth operation, and good resistance to torque loads. They also allow for higher gear ratios than worm or spur gears. A planetary winch is typically the most compact of the three types of gear trains, making it the most practical type of winch for ATVs and vehicles with restricted mounting space.


    Planetary gears got their name because of their design, similar to a sun with revolving planets. A braking system is required to hold the load.

  • Worm Gear Train

    Worm Gear Train

  • Worm Gear Winch

    Transfer Efficiency: 35-40%

    Worm gear winches are known for their endless endurance and high reliability. They are also self-braking, eliminating the need for a braking system. On the other hand, they are also mechanically less efficient than either planetary gear or a spur gear winch.


    Compared to planetary winches, worm winches are heavier, more expensive, and more difficult to mount. Worm gear winches also have a slower line speed (especially in a no-load situation) and a higher amp draw than planetary winches.

  • Spur Gear Train

    Spur Gear Train

  • Spur Gear Winch

    Transfer Efficiency: 75%

    A spur gear winch is the most efficient type of winch, with a fast line speed and high reliability. Unfortunately, space requirements make it impractical to mount on some vehicles. If your vehicle has space restrictions for mounting a winch, the design of the spur gear winch may require extensive modifications to your vehicle.


    Also, if you’re set on a spur gear winch, expect to pay a little extra. Very few spur gear winches are designed for offroad use. As with the planetary winch, a braking system is required to hold the load.


Photo Credits: “Planetary Gear Train” is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License at

Electric Winch Components

Electric Winch Components – Parts Diagram 1

Structural Components of an Electric Winch

Structural Components of an Electric Winch - Diagram 1

Motor – In a typical setup, the winch motor runs off your vehicle’s battery. This battery power transfers from the winch motor to the gear train (also known as the drive train), which in turn causes the winch drum to rotate and the steel cable to spool in and out.


Solenoid (also known as Contactor) – The solenoid controls the direction that the drum will rotate. The solenoid receives power from your vehicle’s battery and protects the motor from overheating.


An integrated solenoid is permanently mounted over the winch (such as the Silverback winch package), and a remote solenoid is mounted separately from the winch (such as the XT winch package).

Steel Cable – The steel cable is wrapped around the winch drum and fed through the roller fairlead on the front of the winch. Synthetic rope is an alternative winch cable preferred by some offroaders for its ease of handling and safety.

Roller Fairlead – The fairlead guides the steel cable during the winching process and prevents the cable from getting snagged in moving winch parts. An aluminum fairlead is recommended for use with synthetic cable.

Electric Winch Components – Parts Diagram 2

Structural Components of an Electric Winch - Diagram 2

Structural Components of an Electric Winch - Diagram 2

Winch Drum – The winch drum is the spool wrapped with steel cable that rotates during the winching process and winds the cable in or out.


Internal Brake – The brake is the mechanism located inside the winch drum that keeps the load from slipping.

Gear Train (also known as Drive Train) – The gear train converts the power from the winch motor into a pulling force. The gear ratio is a major factor in the line speed.

Freespool Clutch – The freespool clutch allows you to engage or disengage the drum from the gear train. The freespool (disengaged) position allows you to freely spool out the cable by hand. The engaged position allows you to power out the cable.

Winch Contactors

contactorWhat is a winch contactor?
The contactor is an electromagnetic switch that controls the power to the motor. Different winch manufacturers use different terms for a contactor. Solenoid, control box, breaker, and relay all refer to the contactor.

What’s it do?
The winch contactor is similar to a fuse box or circuit breaker in that it acts as a safety mechanism to prevent damage to the motor. It’s designed to break the circuit if the motor gets too hot.

How’s it work?
The contactor is designed to mimic the heating properties of the motor by heating up to the same degree and at the same rate as the motor. If the motor reaches its critical temperature, the overload circuit will trip, cutting off power to the motor. The contactor also cools at the same rate as the motor, so after the motor has a chance to cool off, the contactor will allow power to reach the motor again. To prevent the contactor from kicking into overload protection, give the motor a rest if you are winching over long distances or under a heavier load than usual.