How to Use a Ratchet Strap to Clamp Your Cargo

Pinning down your payload is a piece of cake using this kit

Gemma Johnstone
Written by Gemma Johnstone
Updated August 17, 2022
An orange ratchet strap on a trailer for safely moving stuff
Photo: Pranee PhotoSpace / Adobe Stock
Difficulty

Easy

You've got this!

Time to complete

30 minutes

Cost

$0

Roll up your sleeves!

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What you'll need:

TOOLS

  • Ratchet strap

Whether you’re packing your car for a move, taking a kayak on a camping trip, or moving a musty mattress, you don’t want your cargo shifting around precariously on top of your roof rack or in your truck bed. A rope, belt, or other homemade tie-down won’t cut it for safe, stress-free transportation. 

Ratchet straps are worth having in your arsenal of tools. Using durable polyester webbing and strong metal locks, they’re reliable and won’t tie you in knots. Learn how to use a ratchet strap or two to lock down your load tightly.

Prepping to Use a Ratchet Strap

There’s no onerous prep work when it comes to working ratchet straps, but there are some things you need to do:

  • Check the straps can support the size and weight of the load you're securing.

  • Give the straps a once over before using them. Don’t use any with fraying or tears.

  • If your straps have been gathering dust in storage, spraying them with an industrial lubricating oil or dry silicone spray helps smoothly mobilize the moving parts. 

  • Rake out the instructions for your ratchet straps, if you can find them. It’s worth checking any specific model configurations. 

  • Loosely place the untwisted ratchet strap around your cargo in preparation for securing.

  1. Open the Ratchet

    Find the release catch/lever. It’s a small handle in the middle of the moveable part of the ratchet. Usually, it’s just a case of lifting up or pushing down the handle to flip it open. This allows you to freely feed the webbing strap through (see next step).

  2. Thread the Ratchet Strap

    Find the slot at the bottom of the ratchet (called a “mandrel”), which holds the length of the strap. Pull the free end of the strap up through, leading into the take-up spool. 

    The strap you thread through should lie straight, overlapping the strap on the other side of the ratchet. Keep pulling until it feels taut. If you leave it too slack, you risk jamming the ratchet when you tighten it. You can go back and readjust and tighten it later, so don’t worry about getting it perfect at this stage.

  3. Secure Your Cargo

    Use the strap hooks to position and secure your cargo on the roof rack, truck bed sides, or van wall groves. If you’re transporting multiple items, you might need to hook one ratchet strap around the items to hold them together and then another to strap them in place. 

  4. Tighten the Ratchet

    A man tighting a ratchet strap for some wood planks
    Photo: gabort / Adobe Stock

    Crank the ratchet mechanism up and down, fully tightening the straps until your cargo is firmly in place. You’ll not be pumping on the ratchet for an age—four to five cranks is usually plenty.

    Pro tip: Don’t get carried away—over-tightening can lead to dents or scratches in your valuables or damage the strapping. You’ll know you’ve gone too tight if you can’t fit a finger between your load and the strapping. 

    Double check the strap hooks are secure and that the strap is laying flat against the cargo. Tie down any loose strap ends to stop them from flapping around distractingly when you're driving.

  5. Lock the Ratchet Strap

    You’re almost ready to hit the road! All you need to do now is flip the ratchet handle back and press on it to latch it closed. Listen for the click and tug on the strap and buckle to check it’s fully secure.

    If the handle doesn’t lock in place, you could have a faulty ratchet strap. You might have to postpone the trip until you replace it with a new one.

    Pro tip: Regularly check everything is still securely in place once you're on the road. Doing a quick inspection after the first ten minutes, when you’re tackling uneven terrain or speed bumps, and regularly on a long journey, makes sense. 

  6. Release the Strap to Remove the Cargo

    Once you’ve arrived at your destination, find the release tab (it’s typically on top of the ratchet). Open it up fully (usually by pulling and holding), and you should be able to loosen the strap on the non-fixed side easily.

    Unfasten all the strap hooks. Loosen the strap enough to allow you to remove it from around the cargo easily. Close and lock the ratchet in position again before storing.

DIY vs. Hiring a Pro

Sometimes it's just not possible or practical to transport cargo yourself—even if you’ve got a top-notch roof rack and ratchet straps. Difficult-to-move items, such as pianos or exercise machines, are best left in the hands of the pros.

For extra wide or cumbersome loads, long journeys, or if you have to make multiple trips, it makes more sense to call in professional movers near you. The cost to hire movers for a one-off item might be as low as $50 to $100, and it’s money well spent to guarantee safety, security, and convenience.

Additional Questions

When can I use a ratchet strap?

It’s not just locking down a heavy load on your roof rack or truck bed that ratchet straps come in handy for. Some other ingenious ideas for use include:

  • In place of clamps for woodwork enthusiasts

  • To hold large items securely in place against the walls of your garage

  • As handles to lift awkward, heavy items

  • For a quick patch-up job—think, securing a loose bumper while you get it to the auto repair shop

  • As a slackline or rope swing for adventurous kids

What’s the best way to store my ratchet strap?

The last thing you want is to pull out your ratchet straps for an urgent transport job, only to find them knotted and covered in mold and mildew or tears because of improper storage.

Fold the strap up carefully, hold it in place with a rubber band, and keep it in a cool, dry spot away from direct sun. Keep it away from anything sharp that could rub against the webbing, causing damage. 

How often should I replace ratchet straps?

Even with regular use, a well-cared-for, high-quality ratchet strap can last five years or more. Inspect it for any signs of wear and tear before each use and shell out for a new one if you notice any damage.

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Get quotes from top-rated pros.