A snatch strap is a critical piece of recovery gear, but it's also potentially dangerous. Many people have or know of horror stories of things going wrong with very dangerous consequences.
No recovery method is risk free. Indeed, 4WD itself (as with on road driving) is a long way from risk free. As with everything in life, what to do depends on the particulars of the situation and then minimising the risk as much as possible.
To safely snatch a vehicle from a bog:
1. Consider what other methods can be used to recover your vehicle. In sand especially, try the following options first.
Before you get bogged...
- Engage low range
- Approach the boggy or soft area with as much speed as is safe and in a low gear - usually 2L. Ensure that there is lots of revs, usually about 3500. Don't stop at all if you can help if. I know this sounds contradictory, but if you are slipping in the sand try to slow down while still keeping the revs up, but don't stop! Try to avoid changing gears.
- If you can get out, try again with more speed and more revs.
- If you do stop moving totally, then stop spinning your wheels if you don't get traction quickly, or you will get bogged more. It's a fine line between too much to dig you in, and too little to slow your momentum.
- A passenger or two (or three or more) pushing can get you through a small soft patch so that you might not get bogged. Adult passengers should be ready to jump out on soft sand and bypasses, as a quick shove might be enough to keep you moving through. Keep going til you are past the soft patch; don't stop for your passengers until you are on harder ground. It might seem mean, but it's better than having them push the car out again.
- If the wheels are dug in, then dig the sand out and try again.
- If you have traction mats, then now is the time to use them.
- Can you lower your tyre pressure any more? If you're not at 20psi or below, then you should have been before you got on the beach. Dropping down to 18psi is good for the beach, and you can cautiously go down to 15psi for a boggy patch, just make sure you reinflate once you're out.
2. If the above isn't enough to get you out, then you may need to snatch. Only attempt this if the recovering car is capable enough - this is where anyone with turbo diesel is your friend and unfortunately, a Suzuki isn't much help at all.
3. Attach the snatch strap to the bogged car. Sometimes it's easier to snatch backwards and try the boggy patch again, sometimes it's best to statch forward through the boggy patch and beyond.
Attach the snatch strap to both cars to rated recovery points with rated shackles, ensuring that there are no twists. Remember that tow points are not recovery points. If you don't know if you have rated points then check your vehicle manual; they may need to be installed as an aftermarket accessory. Ensure (before you leave) that your shackles will fit through your recovery points - the Kluger is notorious for having rated recovery points as standard, but they are too small to fit most shackles though! (Since the Kluger doesn't have low range either, there's a good chance that they will get bogged anyway...)
Using one snatch strap is generally preferable, however there may be occasions where two are needed to be joined to give the recovery car a better position. NEVER ever join two straps with a shackle - if something breaks this could be deadly. Instead, loop one inside the other to make a figure eight. If you ever want to get them apart again, then place a rolled up magazine, newspaper or similar in between before you use it.
4. Dig out any sand which has gotten caught around the wheels or low clearance of the car
5. Use a towel, tarp, blanket, specialised recovery dampener or something to wrap around the middle of the snatch strap. If something fails and snaps, then the dampener will help to absorb some of the force so the strap doesn't fly and become a dangerous missle. This is a critical step which isoften overlooked. Skipping this step could result in a broken windscreen, a lost eye, a concussion or worse.
6. Get all passengers into a safe position. Depending on your surroundings, this may be out of the cars and further up the track. In other situations, it may be in the vehicles. The photo below was taken by the passenger in the bogged car. It was on a very busy bypass track with many, many cars going through at speed (see step one.) The track is very chaotic and busy, and steering is unreliable in sand. It was decided that the risk of a broken strap was less than the risk of being hit by car going past. Ensure that all shovels, eskys etc have been moved out if the way and that there is a clear path.
7. Agree on the plan. How far will the recovery car need to pull the bogged car? What is the stopping point? Is there a point where the recovery car can stop the tension on the strap, but still have both cars carefully moving to harder ground before removing the strap? What is the communication? Decide on hand signals, horn honking or using radios. This is a situation where it may be safer to have the passengers in the vehicle and communicating with each car, so that the drivers can use both hands for driving. Make sure any onlookers are out of the way and aware of what's happening.
8. Time to start snatching. The recovery vehicle (which should be in low range, lots of revs etc) should start to move to tighten the slack in the strap. Once it's tight, keep going until the bogged car is free. The driver in the bogged car should try to get revs up (without spinning wheels) and get as much traction as possible. At the same time, s/he needs to be cautious that s/he doesn't get a lot of traction quickly and shoot forward. Skill, good planning and good execution are all required. The driver of the recovery vehicle needs to be aware of it's limitations. If it loses traction, then stop immediately (using prearranged signals) before you get two bogged cars. Reassess the situation, and try something else if needed.
9. Once both vehicles are out, stop as soon as it is safe to. The driver of the bogged car needs to take extreme care not to drive over the strap while it's still connected. Disconnect the strap and the shackles, and make sure that all recovery gear (shovels, towels, shackles etc) go back into the car(s). Reinflate tyres back to 18psi if needed.
10. Continue on your merry way, enjoying your 4WDing adventure!