Person tightening ratchet straps around a bike and furniture

How to Use Ratchet Straps

Ratchet straps, also known as tie-down straps, make cargo control in a truck bed or other large vehicle much easier. They’re one of the best tools in your arsenal when managing a DIY move or moving possessions to storage. However, to transport your cargo safely and effectively, you must know how to use ratchet straps effectively.

What Are Ratchet Straps?

Ratchet tie-down straps are webbings outfitted with hardware that can be used to tighten the webbing and hold cargo firmly in place in a vehicle. They come in a wide range of end fittings and ratchet styles, but they all work together in much the same way. You connect two straps, usually made of high-quality polyester webbing material, through a ratchet assembly. The ratchet allows you to pass the webbing, or straps, through the hardware to get a tighter, firmer fit as you secure cargo.

These are commonly used to transport large items in a truck bed, but they can also be used to secure cargo on a flatbed or other, smaller vehicle. Whether you’re trying to move a mattress on your own or you have a truck filled with items as you manage a major move, tie-down straps can increase safety during your journey.

How to Use Ratchet Straps

Follow these steps to learn how to use ratchet straps or tie-down straps effectively.

Step One: Locate the instructions for your tie-down straps to learn how to use your specific ratchet straps.

Some straps have unique configurations. You may want to check the instructions to be sure that yours are set up properly as you learn how to use ratchet straps for the first time. You should also check the straps’ working load limit and break strength.

Does the weight of your cargo exceed the weight offered by your straps? If so, then you may want to choose different straps for your load. Each component, from the webbing to the end fittings, has its own break strength (the maximum amount of weight it can stand before breaking). If you exceed the limit of the weakest piece, your ratchet straps may break during transport, causing damage to your items or even potentially causing an accident.

Pro Tip for How to Use Ratchet Straps:

In general, the working load limit is 1/3 of the break strength of the weakest component in your strap.

Step Two: Wrap the tie-down straps around your cargo.

This is one of the most important facets of how to use ratchet straps properly. Secure it loosely at either end using the attached s-hooks. Make sure that the strap is not twisted as you place it around your cargo. Most trucks will have fasteners along the bed to provide a place to hook your tie-down straps. You may also find fasteners on your roof rack or around a flatbed, depending on what you’re transporting. Make sure that the end fasteners are secured firmly in a location that will not break during transport.

Step Three: Open the ratchet.

This will give you access to the axle, also known as the take-up spool. You may need to use the release handle on top of the ratchet to open it. As you figure out how to use tie-down straps, you may need to experiment with the ratchet configuration.

Step Four: Feed the strap into the ratchet if you’re putting together your straps for the first time.

The strap should go into the mandrel, or the slot located at the bottom of the ratchet. You may want to refer back to your instructions for the exact configuration if you’re figuring out how to use ratchet straps and putting your straps together for the first time.

Step Five: Pull the strap until taut.

You don’t need to leave a great deal of slack in the strap as you feed it through the mandrel. However, you do not have to worry about fully tightening the strap during this process. That’s what the ratchet is for!

Step Six: Tighten the ratchet straps.

Person tightening ratchet straps after they've been secured

Make sure the strap is flat. Also, securely place it around the cargo before you start tightening the ratchet. Check to make sure that your cargo is located at the ideal point in your vehicle, where it won’t shift around during transport. If you cannot fully secure your cargo, you may need more than one set of straps, or you may need to use other strategies to secure your cargo.

Then, move the ratchet lever in a pumping motion to tighten the straps further around the cargo.

Pro Tip for How to Use Ratchet Straps:

You do not need to over-tighten your ratchet straps! Remember, your goal is just to keep your cargo stable during transport, so make sure you do not try to tighten them excessively. This could make the process more difficult.

Step Seven: Lock the ratchet into the closed position.

Check to make sure that your ratchet cannot simply pull loose. If you have a great deal of slack in your straps or you discover that the cargo can move more easily than anticipated, you may need to check the tension in your straps and re-tighten as needed.

Step Eight: Tie down the loose ends of the straps, if needed.

Depending on where you’re transporting your goods, you may want to tie down the loose ends of the straps to ensure that they do not flap around and cause a distraction during transport. You can tie them down to the fasteners on your vehicle or tuck them into themselves. If the ends are long enough, then you can even tie them up to keep them out of the way.

Step Nine: Transport your items.

With additional cargo in your vehicle, you may need to drive more slowly and carefully than usual. Make sure to check your vehicle’s maximum load limit. Do not overload your vehicle.

If you will be transporting your vehicle over a long distance, make sure you check your tie-down straps periodically to ensure that they are still in place and still tight. If needed, tighten the straps again, making sure that the ratchet is locked in the closed position before resuming transport.

How Do I Loosen a Ratchet Strap?

Once you arrive at your destination, you’ll need to take the tie-down straps back off of your cargo and remove them from your vehicle. This means that not only do you need to know how to use ratchet straps, but you also need to know how to loosen them again.

Step One: Pull and hold the release tab.

The release tab, also known as the release lever, will help release pressure on the strap. Open the ratchet fully while pressing the lever, which will allow the strap to move more freely.

Step Two: Pull the strap loose.

Depending on how you prefer to store your ratchet straps and what you’re transporting, you may want to either pull the strap completely free of the ratchet device, or you may want to simply loosen it enough that you can remove the s-hooks from the fasteners on your vehicle.

Step Three: Remove the ratchet straps from the vehicle and cargo.

Make sure to exercise caution when removing the ratchet straps from your cargo. If you’ve been relying on the straps to hold your cargo in place, it could fall off once you’re no longer holding it in place. They’re also more likely to fall if:

  • You’ve placed your item on a roof rack rather than in the bed of a truck.
  • You have several precariously-balanced items loaded into the truck bed all at the same time.

If you need to leave the straps in place, make sure you’re aware of where they are. Shift them to a location where you will be unlikely to trip over them while unloading cargo. If you do leave your ratchet straps loosely tied, you may want to notify anyone else who is helping you move your cargo about the potential trip hazard.

Step Four: Close and lock the ratchet buckle.

Do not leave the ratchet buckle open when the strap is not in use. Leaving the buckle open can cause the heavy-duty straps to wear down faster, decreasing their overall lifespan and the security of your cargo.

How Should I Store Ratchet Straps When I’m Not Using Them?

Ratchet straps need to be stored in a dry location, out of direct sunlight. That means not tossing the straps straight into a truck bed and leaving them there until the next time you use them! Some safer storage options may include:

  • Tucking them in the cab of the truck
  • Keeping them in a toolbox on the back of the truck
  • Leaving them in storage until the next time you need them
  • Keeping them hung up in the garage or in a toolbox where you can easily access them if needed

Ratchet straps are a valuable tool in the arsenal of anyone who needs to move heavy-duty cargo. Whether you’re moving an ATV, a couch, or a washing machine, the high-quality polyester webbing of your ratchet straps, combined with the ratcheting function of the winch, makes it easier for you to secure your cargo and ensure a safe move. Do not move heavy or wobbly cargo without strapping it in place, since it can cause serious accidents if it tumbles from your vehicle.

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