Ratchet Straps: What You Need to Know

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Ratchet straps are probably the most common and recognizable form of load securement in the trucking industry. They allow for flexible securement of freight in all shapes and sizes. Here, we will tackle what to watch for, when not to use them, and how to protect your freight and reputation.


Ratchet Strap Working Load Limit

This is important. There should always be a tag on either the packaging or the ratchet strap itself with the working load limit. The working load limit is how much weight that strap can handle having up against it. Say you are securing a singular item to the wall of the trailer. You’re going from the wall of the trailer, around an item, back to the wall of the trailer. You’ll want to look at the working load limit of your ratchet strap and compare it to the weight of the cargo. If that article of cargo weighs 2,500lbs, but you only have one strap with a working load limit of 1,500lbs, that’s not enough strap weight. You are going to want to use multiple straps in that scenario.

Furthermore, in that example, you have a 4,000lb article of cargo and your straps have a 1,500lb working load limit. You’re going to need at least three of those straps. You always want your straps’ working load limit to exceed that of the weight of your cargo.


Damaged Ratchet Strap

Always inspect your ratchet straps and know when not to use them. The most common reason to stop using a strap is if you find it’s frayed, no matter the severity. Inspect the edges and even if it’s fraying a little, or tearing, that is enough to make that strap illegal according to FMCSA regulations. Thus, it is not safe nor legal to use and will likely result in an out-of-service violation.

Second, look for discoloration. If the original color of the strap is a dark color and it is getting light discoloration, it may have been exposed to the sun too long. This is known as UV degradation. That will dry out the strap, weaken the webbing, reduce its tensile strength, and make it unsafe for use.

Conversely, If the strap is wet, you do not want to use it until that strap is completely dry again. The moisture in a wet strap will cause its webbing to swell up. You can tighten it down and see water start to drip out of it. Once all the moisture has left the strap, that strap will then begin to loosen. You may have thought you had a good tight strap initially, but ten-fifteen miles down the road that tight strap you had is now just hanging loose. All of that moisture and expansion left the strap’s webbing causing it to return to its normal state. You always want to make sure the straps are fully dry before you use them.

Lastly, while not as common depending on your freight mix, you’ll also want to inspect your ratchet straps for:

  • Melting or charring
  • Knotting
  • Embedded materials
  • Damaged ratcheting mechanism
  • Acid or caustic burns
  • Weld spatter
  • Punctures
  • Worn stitching


Ratchet Strap Edge Protectors

After inspecting your straps, inspect your cargo. Always be aware of edge protection. Edge protection is necessary in two different scenarios. Both to protect your cargo from your strap or your strap from the cargo.

In example, you have cardboard boxes on a pallet. You don’t want to get too tight with your strap or you will collapse the edges or corners on those cardboard boxes. Use edge protection in this scenario to keep the edges or corners of the boxes collapsing while keeping your strap tight.

Protect your strap from your cargo. We mentioned frayed straps and this is what causes it. If the cargo has really stiff, sharp edges you’ll certainly want to use edge protection. The tightening of the strap, coupled with the tractor-trailer’s movement and vibrations, can force that sharp edge into your strap. It will fray it, tear it, or in some cases, cut it completely in half. The last thing you want is to get to the receiver and find that the load shifted or has been damaged due to a compromised strap.

There are several different methods for adequate edge protection. You can buy actual edge protectors at truck stops or other industry retailers. They are little plastic pieces in an L-shape that fit corners and edges. These hard plastic edge protectors are generally better to protect a cargo’s soft, collapsible edges. If you want to get creative for hard edges, you can use little pieces of rubber or scrap pieces of carpet. Anything that will withstand the pressure of the strap against the cargo will protect both.   

Lastly, regardless of who actually loads the trailer, you the driver, are responsible to ensure that the load is properly secured and road-ready. Thanks for reading and stay safe!

For more on cargo securement, check out this article!