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A Beginner's Guide to Ratchet Straps

Posted On: 01/06/2021

A ratchet strap, also known as a “tie-down strap,” is essentially a webbing that works as a fastener to “tie-down” cargo. These straps are usually made from polyester because the fabric is highly durable. The fabric also has a low stretch rate and is abrasion-resistant. Less frequently, straps are made from nylon which is more elastic, but less durable than polyester.

Ratchet straps are essential to transporting motorcycles, four-wheelers, boxes, and various other types of cargo. In fact, for whatever you’re moving, ratchet straps can be a big help. After safely loading your cargo by ramp, know how to tie it down to make sure it stays put the entire journey.

Threading a Ratchet Strap

The first step you’ll need to learn is how to thread the ratchet strap.

  • Place the straps: Loosely place the strap(s) over the cargo, making sure it is not twisted.
  • Open the ratchet: Use the release catch to open the ratchet. The release catch, also known as the release lever, is the small handle near the top of the ratchet strap that you can pull up or push down.
  • Feed the straps: Thread one end of the strap through the open mandrel. The mandrel is the lower slot at the bottom of the ratchet strap. You’ll want to start from underneath the ratchet then push it up through the mandrel.
  • Keep feeding the straps: You want to continue feeding the straps until they begin to feel tight. You don’t need to worry about them being perfect right just yet. You can always go back later and tighten or readjust them.
Threading a Ratchet Strap
Feeding the strap

 Remember there are different types and sizes of ratchet straps. Though they all work similarly, it’s important to find the ratchet strap that best fits your needs. Different types support different weights. Likewise, different types support larger or smaller sized items.

Securing Your Cargo

After learning how to thread the ratchet strap, you’ll be ready to secure your cargo. Make sure you’ve loaded your cargo where you want it to stay on the trailer or truck bed. You may wish to use a ramp or other loading equipment to carry up motorcycles or four-wheelers. Use your hands to load boxes or smaller items.

  • Use strap hooks: Use strap hooks to tether the ratchet straps. The strap hooks can “hook” into the sides of your truck bed or trailer, or hook onto each other.
  • If you’re looking to hold multiple objects together: Hook the ends of the strap to each other using the strap hooks. Keep in mind that this specific technique will only keep objects together; it will not secure objects in place.
  • Using strap hook
    “Hooking” the strap hooks
  • If you’re looking to secure objects in place: “hook” the strap hooks onto the groves in the side of your truck bed or trailer. You’ll need two ratchet straps if you want to hold items together and secure them in place.

Tightening a Ratchet Strap

After the strap hooks are in place, cargo is where you want it, and you’ve checked to see if the strap is flat, you can tighten the ratchet strap.

Cranking/Tightening Ratchet
Cranking/Tightening Ratchet
  • Crank the ratchet: In a pumping motion, crank the ratchet level up and down to reduce slack.
  • Tug at the strap: Tug at the strap to gauge its tightness. You want it to feel secure, but be careful not to overtighten the strap.

 Overtightening could damage the ratchet strap or your cargo. A general rule of thumb is that a finger or two should be able to slide under the strap. If you can’t fit a finger under the strap, you have tightened it too much and need to loosen the strap.

Loosening a Ratchet Strap

If you’ve overtightened your ratchet strap, you can always loosen it.

  • Hold down the release lever: Hold down the release lever to open the ratchet fully. This will relieve the pressure and allow you to loosen the strap.
Releasing the strap by pushing down release tab
Releasing the strap by pushing down release tab

Locking a Ratchet Strap

Once the webbing is completely secure, it’s time to lock the ratchet strap.

  • Close the ratchet: Flip the ratchet back into the closed position to lock the strap in place.
  • Wait till you hear it click: You should be able to hear the ratchet latch. The ratchet is not locked until you hear a click.
Locking the strap
Strap is locked when you hear the "click"

 Again, be careful not to overtighten the strap as this may cause irreversible damage. If you don’t hear a click or the strap comes loose, check to make sure you’ve followed each of the previous steps precisely. If the ratchet still doesn’t lock in place, it is possible you have a faulty ratchet strap.

Releasing a Ratchet Strap

Once you’ve arrived at your destination, it’s time to release the ratchet strap. Just like you did to loosen the strap, pull up the lever to set the strap free. By opening the ratchet, you release the pressure, thereby freeing the strap.

General tips on using a ratchet strap:

  • Keep the ratchet closed when it’s not in use. You can close it by pushing down on the release tab again.
  • Consider tying down loose ends of the ratchet strap, especially if cargo is loaded onto a roof rack. This will prevent straps from flying around and hitting your vehicle while in transit.
  • Periodically check on your cargo while traveling, especially over the course of a long-distance road trip. You may wish to check on it within the first 10-15 minutes to confirm that everything is secured. It is also wise to check on it after driving over speed bumps or uneven terrain.
  • If you haven’t used your ratchet strap in a while, it may be harder to thread. A little spray of penetrating oil may help the strap move about more easily.
  • Use chocks to give additional stability to motorcycles, four-wheelers, bikes, or dirt bikes. Some shop kits may include tie-down straps and chocks, alongside other powersports equipment.
  • Be sure to follow any specific directions attached to the ratchet strap you purchased.