How To Use a Ratchet Strap
We use ratchet straps all the time in the 4x4 world and out of it - securing canoes and kayaks, lashing lumber, clamping steel for fab work, and kludging together trail breakage.
As common as they are, ratchet straps are pretty confusing to use for some people and may have a feature or two you didn't know about.
We see people flying down the highway all the time without the ratchet locked!
So here are a few tips on using ratchet straps and releasing ratchet straps when they get stuck.
Ratchet Strap Basics
All ratchet straps work the same way using a ratchet mechanism.
But while a typical ratchet mechanism uses a gear and a single pawl, a ratchet strap uses:
- a gear
- a manual pawl - you move it
- an automatic pawl - it moves itself
When you tighten a ratchet strap, at least one of the pawls is engaged with the gear teeth.
When you loosen a ratchet strap, neither pawl is engaged. So, when a ratchet strap is stuck, usually you just haven't disengaged the pawls. More on that below.
The 3 Important Ratchet Strap Postions
Ratchet straps are generally in one of these positions:
- Ratcheting - You can tighten it.
- The ratchet is spread all the way open until the auto pawl rests on
the cam. To loosen, you squeeze the manual pawl and pull the
- Locked - When it's tight, close the ratchet completely and make sure auto and manual pawls engage. This will keep it from opening.
To get the ratchet into these positions, you need to either squeeze the manual pawl handle or swing the bar.
A common ratchet strap problem is getting it to release. Usually, you just need to squeeze the manual pawl bar and keep making the ratchet flatter.
Compare the position of the blue pawl to the green hump in the images below.
How to Thread a Ratchet Strap
An easy way to thread a ratchet strap is to visualize the "greater than" and "less than" signs with their points touching, like this: ><. To make this shape with the ratchet strap:
- Make the ratchet an angle (it only angles one way)
- Feed the strap through the axle and back out
How to Tighten a Ratchet Strap
To use the ratchet strap take all the above information and put it into practice:
1) Attach the hooks to secure points and position the strap.
2) Pull almost all the slack out of the strap so that the strap is taut. Sometimes we'll leave a little slack if the thing we're tightening doesn't have a lot of "give".
3) Start ratcheting the bar up and down. Don't squeeze the manual pawl - you'll use it to release the ratchet strap later, but it needs to be able to move freely right now.
4) Get it tight enough. Be careful not to damage the thing you're tightening against. Make sure your hooks haven't slipped!
5) "Close" the ratchet and lock the bar in position. In this position the auto pawl can't back out and the manual pawl acts like a failsafe. This is the only way to safely travel with your ratchet strap.
How to Loosen a Ratchet Strap
If you have trouble loosening your ratchet strap, go up and take a look at the "loosening" position above. You can't loosen it if it isn't in that position!
1) The ratchet should be in the locked position. Get ready to squeeze the manual pawl.
2) Squeeze the manual pawl. This will unlock the ratchet - you still need to disengage the auto pawl.
3) Keep squeezing the manual pawl and swing the bar up as far as you can. This won't work if you don't squeeze the manual pawl.
4) Make sure the ratchet is completely flat. If you did it right, the strap will pop a little! If it didn't pop, then the auto pawl is still engaged.
5) Pull the ratchet toward you to get slack. All done! Now you can pull the strap off.
Last updated: Mar 2019