Snatch recoveries can be extremely dangerous if done incorrectly. But done the right way, they are a vital part of safe four-wheel driving.



Whether youíve been offroading for the past 20 years or youíre just about to use your four-wheel driveís first tank of fuel, a snatch recovery is an invaluable technique. Itís quick, easy and requires a minimal amount of gear. But snatch recoveries have their downsides: theyíre tough on vehicles, tough on gear and potentially fatal if something gives way. So they should always be taken on with a clear head and solid plan.

In this edition of 4X4 Australia, weíre running you through the technique behind a typical snatch recovery. Itís a handy guide for new players, but it can also be a useful reminder for more experienced off-roaders.



1 Many things can cause a 4x4 to stop dead in its tracks, and the problem should determine the response. In the situation pictured on p162, forward momentum was halted by a lack of traction, with the Jeepís road tyres simply spinning in slick mud. With a curve in the track ahead, a rear recovery is in order. A different plan would be needed if there were a step or ledge behind the tyres.


2 Before we can begin setting up for a recovery, itís vital to ensure all gear is in safe working condition. A frayed or damaged snatch strap can greatly reduce its safe working load, leading to premature failure, vehicle damage and a Wrangler thatís still stuck in the mud.

Pay careful attention to the stitching at either end; the ends normally fail first.

Attach the strap

3 With the snatch strap passing visual inspection, itís time to attach it to the bogged vehicle. In a pinch, the towing pin of a receiverstyle towbar can work as shown here, although a hitch receiver will offer a stronger alternative, helping prevent the pin from bending, and allowing broader recovery options in the process.


4 With one end securely attached to the bogged 4x4, roll the strap out in the direction you intend to perform the recovery. As you roll the strap out, every effort should be made to keep it clean and dry. Mud, water, knots and twists can all severely lower the strapís safe working load.

Leave some slack

5 A snatch recovery works by transferring built-up energy from the free vehicle to the stranded one via the elasticised strap.

For this reason, you need a run up Ė of sorts. Leave at least 2-3m of slack in the strap when rolling it out, to ensure youíre able to gain enough momentum before the slack is taken up. The strap should be laid in a way that wonít tangle or knot it when you pull on it.

Connect the other end

6 With 2-3m of slack left, youíll be able to position the free vehicle and connect it. In this instance weíre using a rated recovery hitch with a rated bow shackle. In no circumstance are tow-balls, tongues or tie-down points to be used Ė these are all designed for a gradual application of vehicle weight and may not withstand the shock loading of a snatch recovery potentially creating a dangerous situation.

Fit an air brake

7 Often overlooked, an air brake is a vital piece of the puzzle for any snatch recovery. In a perfect world with perfect equipment, air brakes might not be necessary, but in reality, things often go wrong.

Failed straps, recovery points or mounting bolts may result in metal objects hurtling towards a window with a couple of tonnes of energy behind them. An air brake can direct those objects to earth and absorb some of the energy in the process.

8 Ensure plenty of room

With the recovery equipment fitted, itís time to ensure there is adequate room in the run-off area. If the stuck 4x4 comes out more easily than anticipated, youíll need a fair distance for run-off. To avoid potentially twisting either vehicleís chassis, itís vital to perform the recovery in a direction that is as straight as possible; ideally, less than 10 degrees.

Keep people well clear

9 In the event of something going pear-shaped in the midst of a recovery, itís vital to keep bystanders to a minimum.

Both vehicles should have a driver, but everyone else should be off to the sides Ė at least 1.5 times the length of the strap away from the vehicles. There is no reason for anyone else to be closer to the vehicles.

10 Communication

In a snatch recovery, communication is vital. If youíre using hand signals, a UHF, or even shouting to each other, both parties should know exactly whatís going to happen, what to expect and when to act. A count down via UHF is often the clearest way to direct the recovery effort.

11Ready the bogged vehicle

The bogged vehicle should be in low range and the lowest gear possible to provide maximum torque and control. If heading forwards, this will be first gear, although in our situation reverse was required.

A vehicleís driveline is weakest in reverse, with potential for damaged diff gears or shattered uni or CV joints, so moderation is important. Go as fast as you need but as slow as you can.

12Ready the free vehicle

With the bogged vehicle ready to go, the driver of the free vehicle should select low-range second gear to provide torque and control but also to allow appropriate speed.

Before commencing, the driver should be aware of the path theyíre driving and what could happen if the vehicle kicks out sideways when slack is taken up or a strap breaks.

13 Perform the recovery

With both drivers ready and bystanders out of the way, the signal to go should be given by the driver of the bogged vehicle. With the free vehicle accelerating to no more than 10km/h, the driver of the bogged vehicle should accelerate as soon as they feel the tug of the strap. This is to break suction in mud.

Too late can lead to a failed attempt while too early can cause the bogged vehicle to be sucked deeper.

14Assess for another attempt

If on the first attempt the vehicle isnít freed, stop and assess the situation.

The solution may be as simple as dropping tyre pressures or having a second attempt. But it could be more involved. Is there a previously unseen ledge or branch trapping the bogged vehicle? Repeated attempts at increasing speeds may free the vehicle but can also cause catastrophic damage.

15 Inspect the gear

With the bogged vehicle back on solid ground and stationary, disconnect the recovery equipment and perform another visual inspection before packing it away. Torn fibres or busted stitches are a death sentence for any strap.

Straps should always be thoroughly cleaned in hot soapy water after use.

Engrained sand or mud can cause internal damage.

Five things everyone gets wrong

No air brake (damper) Twist in the strap, reducing safe working load Using straps past their lifespan Too much speed Too many repeated attempts