Ratchet straps with question mark present to represent how to use

How to use ratchet straps (8 STEPS with PICTURES!)

Are you having trouble using your ratchet straps? If so, you are not alone. They can really be a pain and difficult to use. With that being said there are a couple of key tricks you can use to make the process smooth and easy. They are very effective and helpful, so lets make sure you become an expert when it comes to tightening and loosening your ratchet straps!

How to use ratchet straps

How to use ratchet straps simplified. Crank handle so windlass is horizontal and thread strap through. Attach your hooks and pull the excess strap to eliminate slack. Crank the ratchet until it’s tight and place in locked position. To undo hold the release button and move handle to open position.

CAT ratchet straps

These are the ratchet straps that I use and they are perfect and able to withstand wear and tear for over 5 years now.

Parts of a ratchet strap

Before we take a look at using ratchet straps, lets quickly look at some of the important pieces that we will be using.

Ratchet strap with the parts labeled
  • A. Handle: tightens the ratchet
  • B. Release button: undo the ratchet
  • C. Teethe: notches that pawls dig into in order for ratchet to tighten
  • D. Windlass: what strap wraps around as the ratchet is tightened
  • E. Pawls: grab the teethe to tighten ratchet

Step 1: Make sure windlass is in horizontal position

You want to make sure the webbing channel (part of the windlass) of the ratchet strap is in the horizontal position.

Webbing channel on the windlass in horizontal position
Webbing channel on the windlass in horizontal position

This is going to make future steps much quicker and easier. This is commonly a forgotten step that gives people a lot of trouble.

If your webbing channel is already in the horizontal position, great, jump to step 2. If your windlass is not, let’s fix this. In order to get to the horizontal position, all you have to do is open and close the ratchet handle. As you do this, you will notice the windlass position changes.

Ratchet handle in open and closed position.

Once you notice that the webbing channel is horizontal (or close to it; it does not have to be exact) you can stop. There is one catch with this, you want the ratchet strap to be closed not open with the webbing channel in the horizontal position. This can take a couple of open/closes to get there, but I promise this will make things much easier moving forward.

Up close of horizontal webbing channel with the ratchet in closed position
Ratchet closed with webbing channel in horizontal position

Now that you have your ratchet strap in the closed position with the webbing channel horizontal, let’s move on to step 2.

Step 2: Thread the strap through the windlass

This is by far the most important part in regards to the ratchet straps working correctly. If you do not thread the strap properly, the ratchet strap will not work and will cause lots of frustration (trust me, I know first hand).

You want to hold the ratchet so that the handle is facing down.

Front and back of ratchet handle labeled

Now you can start to thread the strap through the webbing channel on the windlass. You must thread the strap from the back to the front. So the strap should be going towards the handle. If you do this the opposite direction, the ratchet will not be able to work.

Direction to thread the strap through the ratchet

If this is done correctly, you should have created a little pulley system with either end of the strap and the ratchet.

Pulley system created with strap thread through the ratchet correctly

Now let’s move on to step 3.

Step 3: Attach your hooks

Ensure that your hooks on either end are tightly secured. Make sure you place the strap over the object you are trying to secure. You want to do this with no flips or twists in the straps. This will look differently for everyone depending on what you are securing to.

Hooks attached to racks on top of car

Of note, not all ratchet straps use hooks on both ends. It’s possible your straps might come with something else like a butterfly strip or tie down attachment.

Tie down attachment on a set of ratchet straps
Tie down attachment on a set of ratchet straps

Now that both ends of the straps are secure, let’s move on.

Step 4: Pull excess strap

With both hooks secure, now you want to pull the loose end of the webbing (end you just passed through the windlass) to take up the slack. You want to pull it as tight as you can.

Arrow indicating which way to pull the excess stra
Direction to pull the excess strap

You want to remove as much slack as you can. If this is not done properly and too much slack remains, the racthet will not effectively be able to tighten. If you wrap too much webbing around the windlass it will become too thick and not be able to tighten anymore. BY REMOVING THE EXCESS SLACK YOU WILL PREVENT THIS FROM HAPPENING.

Jammed ratchet strap caused by excess strap in the ratchet
Jammed ratchet strap cause of too much strap in ratchet

Step 5: Crank the ratchet

Now that all the slack is removed, it is time to tighten and secure your cargo.

Initially, make sure you keep one hand on the loose end of the webbing. With the other hand, open the ratchet handle and then close it. You will notice that the webbing gets wrapped around the windlass. This will cause the strap to tighten around your cargo. Continue to open and close the ratchet until it is sufficently tight enough.

Pictures showing how to crank the ratchet to tighten down the strap
Cranking the ratchet to tighten

Of note, after the first couple tightens, you can release the strap as you will likely need 2 hands to open and close the ratchet (as it tightens it gets harder to open and close).

Once the ratchet strap is sufficiently tight enough, make sure that you close it. You want to make sure the ratchet ends in the locked position.

Strap fully tight and ratchet in locked position for travel
Strap fully tightened down and ratchet in locked position

Step 6: Secure the excess strap

Depending on what you are securing, often times there will be excess strap. It is very important to secure this excess prior to traveling. This will prevent any dangerous situations and excess load on the strap.

Obviosuly this will vary greatly depending on the vehicle and or what your set up looks like. For a car with something on the roof, I like to put the excess strap in the back door. This is very easy and a safe place to store the extra.

Excess strap hanging in the car and the door closed.
Excess strap closed in the car

If you are securing something in a truck bed, you can tie the extra strap to something in the bed. You may have to get creative with this, but trust me there is always an option.

Excess ratchet strap shown tied up in the bed of truck
Excess ratchet strap tied up in bed of truck

Step 7: Hold release button with handle and open

You have safely gotten to your destination with the cargo secure. Now it is time to loosen the strap and remove your cargo. This is quick and simple.

First, you have to hold the release button with the handle. This will look a little different on each make and model of straps.

Release button on the ratchet strap
Release button

So, while you hold the release button and handle open the ratchet fully. This means the handle will be in the full upright position. You can only get to this position if the release button is being held.

Picture showing the full open position of ratchet without holding release button vs full open position when holding the release button
A. Max open position without pushing release button; B. Max open position when pushing the release button

IT IS VERY IMPORTANT TO NOTE: do not have your fingers anywhere near the teeth as you fully open the ratchet. If your fingers are close, the teethe will grap and it will not feel good at all.

Once you get the ratchet in the fully open position you will hear an audible pop and this will release the tension.

Step 8: Pull the strap out

With the tension released, now you can pull the strap out of the windlass. Remove all of the strap so again there are 2 seperate pieces: the strap with the hook and the handle.

Now you can put the ratchet strap away for storage. Of note, I like to keep my straps folded up nicely to help prevent any excess wear and tear on the straps.

Condensed ratchet and strap for storage
Proper ratchet and strap storage


I hope you are now confident in using your ratchet straps. It took me lots of practice and reps to become efficient in using these straps. Now that I am sufficient though I use them all the time and they make life so much easier. I hope this helped you out to!

  • Parts of ratchet straps
  • Step 1: Make sure windlass is in horizontal position
  • Step 2: Thread the strap through the windlass
  • Step 3: Attach your hooks
  • Step 4: Pull excess strap
  • Step 5: Crank the ratchet
  • Step 6: Secure the excess strap
  • Step 7: Hold release button with handle and open
  • Step 8: Pull the strap out

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