In the sixth part of our Fieldcraft Go-Rig Advanced Driving series, we will examine the use of snatch recovery straps. Snatch Straps, also referred as a “tug-ems”, should be the very first item any 4×4 or SUV owner purchases as part of a comprehensive 4×4 recovery kit. With the aid of another vehicle and a snatch strap, most vehicle recoveries out of deep sand or mud becomes effortless, without the need for a high-lift jack or winching with snatch strap recovery.
For the uninitiated, a snatch recovery strap differs from a normal towing rope in that it actually stores the kinetic energy, in very much the same way a rubber band does. When a snatch strap is connected to two vehicles, the special elastic property allows it to expand by more than 3 feet whilst storing the kinetic energy of the forward momentum of the recovery vehicle. Resultantly, the recovery “force” is much greater when the snatch strap returns to its normal length, than a normal tow rope. It is therefore quite possible for a small 4×4 vehicle to recover a much larger stuck 4×4 out of a precarious situation.
Any non-tensioned line recovery is referred to as a snatch recover, while a pre-tensioned line recovery would have been a normal towing operation.
It is important to note that a snatch strap has a working lifespan of only 10 recoveries, before it loses its elasticity and becomes a very expensive tow rope! Owing to this limited life expectancy, it is therefore standard 4×4 practise to always use the stuck vehicle’s snatch strap and not your own when recovering.
Most off-road shops will stock them and a good quality snatch strap should cost in the region of 70 to 130 dollars. The minimum width should be about 3 inches and about 30 ft in length. At the same time, ensure that you purchase a minimum of 4 “Bow or Anchor” shackles with a breaking strain of at least 7700 pounds. These shackles will be used to attach the snatch strap to the different vehicles’ mounting points. At the same time, purchase at least 6 to 7 ft of heavy-duty chain and a good quality tree trunk protector for your recovery kit, preferably from the same manufacturer.
There are some very important safety considerations when attempting a snatch recovery. First and foremost, once a snatch strap is connected to the two vehicles’ mounting points, it is always viewed as “live” and no one should be allowed to step over it at any time. Both vehicles’ directions should be lined up as straight as possible and the snatch strap should be laid out flat on the ground with no twists.
Connect one “eye” (at each end) of the kinetic strap to a mounting point of the stuck vehicle with the aid of a Bow shackle and repeat the procedure with another Bow shackle and the remaining snatch strap “eye”, with the recovery vehicle. Any bystanders must remain completely clear of the recovery operation at all times. It is even better practise to utilise your new tree trunk protector to spread the frontal load on the stuck vehicle. To do this, attach each end of the tree trunk protector to a front mounting point on the stuck vehicle, with the aid of two Bow shackles. Now utilise a third shackle to connect the one “eye” of the kinetic strap to the middle of the tree trunk protector.
A common mistake that many novice 4×4 off-roaders make during a recovery, is to use their tow bar to connect the snatch strap to. This is normally done, owing to a lack of visible mounting points on rescue vehicle and could prove fatal if the tow ball breaks off and become a ballistic missile to on-lookers. Rather create a mounting point by wrapping some chain around a suitable area of the chassis and then connecting the snatch strap to the end of the chain with a Bow or Anchor shackle.
In addition to the above safety aspects, it is important to note that a snatch strap should never be connected to the bull-bar of a stuck vehicle either. If a mounting point isn’t part of the chassis of a vehicle, don’t use it!
Once both vehicles are connected, (and before attempting the snatch recovery) ensure that any obstacles such as rocks or tree trunks are removed from the recovery path and that there is a minimum of 6 to 7 ft of slack in the snatch strap. Another good safety tip is to place a blanket, jacket or towel over the middle of the snatch strap. This will act as a dragging parachute in the event of the snatch strap or a shackle failing.
Ensure that the driver of both vehicles have selected low range, 2nd gear before the recovery starts. The front vehicle should now accelerate away at moderate speed whilst the stuck vehicle’s driver should release the clutch at exactly the same time. Should this fail to successfully recover the stuck vehicle, the front vehicle should reverse to the same position, but this time allowing for at least 9 to 10 ft of slack in the snatch strap. This ensures for a greater amount of kinetic energy to be stored and hence to be released during the recovery process.
Should the front vehicle not be able to get close enough to the stuck vehicle, for fear of getting bogged down as well, you may use two recovery straps connected to each other to double the length between the vehicles. It is important not to use a shackle to link the two snatch straps, as chances are good that it would fail and become a fatal bullet to bystanders. Rather take the “Eye” of the one kinetic strap and hook it through the “eye” of the second snatch strap. Now take a sturdy piece of wood or rolled up magazine and pull it through the protruding loop.
In summary, snatch straps are an essential part of off-road recovery gear. No matter what heavy duty tow ropes your packing, the weight difference between vehicles can’t be overcome for recovery without this handy tool. Ensure that you keep your snatch strap clean and out of direct sun light. Always examine your kinetic strap for small nicks and cuts, as even a 0.4-inch tear can reduce the breaking strain by as much as 50%!
About the author: Johan de Villiers
After originally trained by the 1994 West German Camel Trophy team, Johan has extensively traversed a number of Central and East African countries, including Tanzania, Zambia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Botswana, Namibia, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya and Zanzibar. On his return to corporate life, Johan has continued to enjoy the outdoor lifestyle and has since led numerous expeditions through Southern Africa. In addition to being a qualified Land Rover recovery expert, Johan is a qualified helicopter pilot, high altitude mountaineer and a regular contributor to various 4×4 publications. His personal vehicle is a highly modified Land Rover Defender 110 TD5.