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This technique can go wrong very easily.

People can die or get seriously injured during snatch strap recoveries. OTA asked 4WD Off Road Driver Training to demonstrate how to perform this operation correctly.


We see many snatch strap recoveries when we’re travelling: many of them are done badly and some quite dangerously.

The most common mistakes are too much panic, too much slack in the strap and too much acceleration from the tow vehicle. Here’s how to do it properly.

Unless you’re on a beach front, with a fast-rising tide, there’s no need to rush a snatch strap recovery operation. Get everyone out of the vehicles and survey what needs to be done.

Step One is the ‘bleeding’ obvious’: is the bogged vehicle in 4WD, with low range and any traction aids engaged? Can it be lightened easily and safely? If yes and it’s still bogged, it’s time to lower the tyre pressures on the bogged vehicle and on its trailer. Quite often, that’s all that’s needed to allow the vehicle to drive out.

Sometimes, however, if the driver has ‘buried’ the vehicle through excessive wheelspin, it’s necessary to dig out some sand from under the chassis and in front of each tyre, to create some belly clearance and ‘ramps’ for the tyres to climb.

Step Two happens when Step One doesn’t work. If the bogged vehicle is towing a trailer it must be uncoupled and a drive-out attempt made. If that works, it’s easy enough to turn the trailer nose slightly, to allow recoupling without running in the bog holes.

Step Three – attaching the snatch strap – happens when the recovering vehicle reverses in line with the front of the bogged vehicle and the strap is laid out between the two vehicles. The length of the slack amount in the strap is critical for safe recovery.

It’s best to loop the eye on the snatch strap through the tongue locking pin on a towbar – not a towball – or over a very strong rear recovery point – not a light-duty tie-down – on the tow vehicle. The other strap eye should loop over a very strong recovery point on the front of the bogged vehicle.

In the case of a very heavy bogged vehicle it’s best to use a ‘bridle’: a tree sling connecting two strong recovery points on the front of the bogged vehicle, with the bridle passed through the eye of the snatch strap. A bridle can also be used at the rear of the tow vehicle, to spread the load between two rear recovery points.

Ideally, ‘snatching’ should be done without the use of metal shackles, to eliminate the chance of shackle failure and a ‘whipping’ snatch strap, with the consequent risk of serious injury to the vehicle drivers and bystanders.

‘Soft’ shackles are made from synthetic rope and have far less mass than metal shackles.

If you have to use metal shackles, make sure they’re rated and are the strongest that can connect to the recovery points. To prevent shackle pins getting ‘frozen’ by the snatch strap forces you should screw the pins up finger-tight, then back them off a half-turn.

Step Four – setting the snatch strap – is the step that’s usually done incorrectly. The tow vehicle drives forward very slowly, until the strap lies straight between the two vehicles, with an ’S’ shaped amount of slack around one metre in length in the middle of the strap length.

One or more strap ‘dampers’ – purpose designed sand-filled bags or improvised ones, such as blankets – are placed over the strap, to restrict its reaction should the strap or a connection break.

Step Five – getting ready – is another step that’s often misunderstood. All bystanders must be well away from the scene, so that there are now only drivers in the vehicles, with their seatbelts fastened.

The tow vehicle driver engages second gear, low range and the bogged vehicle driver selects first gear, low range. Then the tow vehicle driver actuates the emergency flashers, indicating readiness.

Step Six – action – happens in strict order. The bogged vehicle driver flashes his headlights when ready to be pulled forward and uses light accelerator pressure to get the wheels turning slowly. The tow vehicle driver accelerates very gently, not flat-out and the energy that builds up as the strap slowly stretches should pop the bogged vehicle out of its wheel holes.

As it does so, the bogged vehicle driver toots the horn, indicating a successful recovery and stops gently.

If Step Six doesn’t work, it’s necessary to reset the strap and try again. Also, it may be necessary to dig out more sand around the tyres and chassis of the bogged vehicle, to make the next attempt successful.

Many people think that using CB radio is a better way of communicating between the two vehicles, but at OTA we prefer the flashing-headlight method.

There are several reasons for this. For a start, not everyone has a working CB radio! Another good reason is that the flashing-headlight method of communication means both drivers have both hands on their steering wheels. Yet another reason is that there’s enough to worry about, without the risk of dropping
a mike, or not pressing the call button sufficiently to ensure a full message gets through.

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