Picture it: You’ve just picked up a load of lumber, but it’s overhanging your truck bed. Or, maybe you’ve just scored an awesome antique desk, and you really need to make sure it makes it home without smashing into pieces on the interstate.
Looking to take your ATV home from a long day of mudding? If you’re searching for a heavy-duty method for keeping your payload safe and secure from here to there, you need a set of high quality ratchet straps.
What Are Ratchet Straps?
Ratchet straps don’t just have a cool-sounding name — they’re actually one of the key methods for strapping down big, cumbersome loads in your pickup bed.
Also known as a “tie down straps,” ratchet straps consist of a long section of heavy-duty nylon or polyester webbing. They can be various lengths, widths, and thickness in order to correspond with the wide variety of things people try to secure in their truck beds, roof racks, or other cargo-toting spaces.
Ratchet straps are sold in a pair.
The ratchet housing lives on the short strap, and looks something like a seat belt. The housing is made up of a spool, a ratchet handle, and a release tab. You’ll see a slot, named the mandrel, leading up to the spool. Before you get started, check out how the housing works, so you’re familiar with any releases or safety catches before it’s go time.
The other strap is what will actually hold the cargo down.
On the end of the each strap is a hook. Some ratchet tie down straps use s-hooks, while others have a heavy-duty claw style hook. This hook goes into the anchor points in your cargo bay, and serves as the stable end of the strap.
How Do I Tie Down My Cargo With Ratchet Straps?
When it comes time to secure cargo, you’ll want to insert each hook into the correct anchor point first.
Load your cargo, and make sure everything is situated exactly the way you want it to be for the duration of the drive. You’re about to strap everything down for the long haul, so make sure nothing is blocking your vision, dragging, or ready to jar loose when you hit the first bump.
First, run the long strap loosely over your cargo, until it meets the ratchet housing. Make sure the strap isn’t twisted or tangled, and that it won’t catch on any of your cargo once it starts to get tightened.
Open the ratchet housing and feed the strap through the lower open slot, into the spool. You can test whether you’ve got everything in the right place by pulling on the strap. It should tighten around your cargo like a belt.
The great news about the ratchet strap is that it helps tighten itself for you, using the built-in winches. Once you’ve got the strap placed where you want it to be and threading correctly through the spool, you simply need to pump the ratchet handle up and down. It will gain purchase on the webbing and tighten the strap for you.
A word to the wise here is to practice mindful ratcheting. That means paying attention to how tight or loose your tie down straps are, and whether or not they’re twisting or moving during the ratcheting process. Depending on what your cargo is, your straps may slide off the side, or bend your cargo if they’re too tight. You’ll also want to make sure they aren’t too loose, which can cause your cargo to slide and shift during transit.
Once you feel confident about your ratcheting skills, you can lock it into place by pushing down on the top of the ratchet. Again, make sure you’ve investigated the locking and release mechanisms, as there can be some variation between brands.
Ratchet straps are long, and you don’t want the loose ends flying out behind you like a banner as you drive. You can use rubber bands or a creative knot to keep the loose ends secured while you move your cargo.
When you’re ready to unload your cargo, you’ll lift the ratchet handle to access the release lever. This should create immediate slack in the ratchet strap, allowing you to pull it free. Once you have enough slack in the tie down, go ahead and remove the end fittings from the anchor points to avoid getting tangled up while you’re lifting heavy and awkward things.
Things To Keep In Mind About Tie Downs
Not all ratchet straps are created equally. Just as they come in different sizes, you’ll need to be aware of the load each one can handle. Each component, from the ratchet handle, to the webbing, to the end fittings has its own break strength, or BS. This refers to how much weight that component can handle before it breaks and ceases to be useful.
The working load limit, or WLL, is the real number to keep in mind. This number is calculated as 1/3 of the break strength of the weakest component. You want to keep your load under this number, or risk losing your precious cargo.
Lastly, be sure to inspect your ratchet straps before each use, or the BS and WLL won’t even matter. The ratchet assembly can rust, and the straps can mildew. The fasteners can become chipped or warped as well. You can’t very well secure cargo with weak straps, so be sure to store them in a dry spot out of direct sunlight.
Using ratchet straps doesn’t require an advanced degree in physics, but it does require a little common sense and practice. Make sure you’re familiar with the ratchet handle and release tab before you get started, and always make sure your tie downs aren’t slipping or twisted. Exercise a little patience and mindful ratcheting, and your gear is bound to make it from here to there safely and securely.
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This post was originally published on March 19, 2021.