At some stage or another when travelling off the beaten path, you’ve undoubtedly been at the receiving end of the sinking feeling that you’ve become stuck – and not going anywhere in a hurry! This is especially likely in soft sand or wet mud – and no matter whether you call it fun or unfortunate, your only goal now is a safe recovery.
It’s generally around this time that the self-proclaimed hero of the group offers up his bag of tricks, re-enacting scenes he last saw while watching the Camel Trophy on TV – and the only thing worse than being unprepared is trusting someone else that doesn’t know what they’re doing! It goes without saying that if you intend taking ‘the road less travelled’, first complete a proper 4×4 course in order to understand your vehicle’s capabilities and restrictions; then, advance your knowledge with a recovery course where you’re taught to use your gear correctly and safely.
Recovering a bogged down vehicle isn’t always difficult, leading many off road enthusiasts to think it’s cut and dry, never realising how much force and energy is involved in these exercises. Ensure that your vehicle has adequate recovery points and be careful not to mistake tie-down points with recovery points!
You’ve become stuck – now what?
- Are all four wheels spinning uselessly in the sand or mud, or is the bottom of the vehicle hung up on a tree stump, branch or a rock? Ensure that you assess the situation to consider your options as you wouldn’t want to create unnecessary damage – especially to the underneath of your vehicle.
- Clear all possible obstacles from under the stuck vehicle and make sure that it has a clear pathway out of the trap. It is always preferable to recover in as straight a line as possible, no matter whether you’re recovering going forward or backward – but as you’ll want to get out of the sticky situation and not deeper into it, it is normally better to recover the vehicle in the direction it came from.
- Be sure to always make use of rated straps and shackles; any reputable strap or rope will have a ‘birth certificate’ attached which shows the weight ratings, etc.
- Plan your safe recovery and remember that only ONE person is in charge of the operation to avert confusion. Ideally, this leader should be the most experienced in your desired recovery.
The snatch recovery
Simply put, a snatch strap is a length of elasticated nylon-webbing which has a loop on either end for attachment between two vehicles. The correct (and safe!) option is to attach it to RATED recovery-points with RATED shackles, either metal or RATED soft-shackles. It is extremely important to not only use rated-equipment, but to take note of their limitations since exceeding these could cause catastrophic failure which could result in serious injury and even death.
When the rescue vehicle pulls away and tightens the strap, its elasticated stretching property allows it to absorb and use the kinetic energy which will quite literally ‘snatch’ the stuck vehicle out of the obstacle.
In choosing which rated snatch strap to use, take into consideration the weight of the vehicle – and remember that a vehicle which is bogged down is translated to weigh significantly more than the vehicle on the road, so although your 4×4 may tip the scale at two tonnes, you will require a snatch strap which will handle the increased force of the trapped vehicle. The most common weight rating is 8 000 kilograms, but you also get 10 000 and even 15 000 kilogram straps. Make sure that the strap you are about to use is not damaged in any way!
How to recover a 4×4 with a snatch strap
- Attach your snatch strap to the stuck vehicle first, inserting your rated shackle through the end loop of your snatch strap, then through the vehicle’s rated recovery point.
- The pin of the shackle should go through the recovery point. Tighten the pin in the shackle until it is completely in/locked, then loosen it by half a turn – just enough prevent the pin from seizing or damaging the shackle.
- Lay the strap in a loose “S” shape of about one metre in length.
- Back up the rescue vehicle and repeat the attachment of the strap with the shackle ensuring that the pin is turned back by half a turn.
- Make sure that there are no twists or kinks in the kinetic strap – every twist or kink is a potential weak spot.
- Ensure everyone (except the two drivers) are at a safe distance. As the elasticated snatch will stretch like a rubber band, the ‘safe distance’ should be no less than twice the length of the stretched strap, but preferably more!
- The drivers in both vehicles must have clear communication with the person in charge – two way radios are ideal for this. The leader of the recovery process will decide when it is safe to proceed.
- Ensure that both drivers are wearing their seatbelts and that there are no occupants or passengers in the vehicles.
Both vehicles must be in low range. The rescue vehicle must set off in 2nd gear and the stuck vehicle needs to assist by letting its wheels turn. The first attempt must NOT be a violent effort as this is when things tend to go wrong! First assess if the vehicle moves; if not, clear more debris that could hinder recovery and repeat the process.
Do’s and Do not’s of snatch recovery:
- Always use a rated recovery point
- Always use rated kinetic straps and shackles
- Never recover from a tow-ball
- Make sure the strap is not damaged
- Ensure that any onlookers are standing at a safe distance from the recovery – a snatch strap is usually nine metres in length but measures 13 metres when fully extended. A safe distance would be twice the stretched length of the elasticated strap.
Although a snatch recovery becomes easier with experience, never wonder off into the sticks on your own! Should you become stuck and require support by means of a snatch or any other recovery, always ensure you are travelling with a second vehicle in case you need assistance.
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