Whilst we all use snatch straps as a first preference for a quick recovery in “motionally challenged” situations, we must always be aware of the fact that Snatch Straps are bloody dangerous bits of equipment if not used properly. It doesn’t matter how experienced we are, if we allow complacency to sneak in, accidents will happen. The recent tragic death of a young bloke on an end of year footy trip, struck by a snapped tow bar on the end of a snatch strap, should cause all of us to re-assess how we handle our recovery equipment.
When hooking the strap to a vehicle, only ever connect to a rated recovery point and use only rated bow shackles or hooks.
Never ever snatch off a tow ball. Tow balls are tested to withstand a load of approx. 3.5 tonnes. When using a snatch strap, due to the elasticity of the strap, the load can be magnified to in excess of 8 to 10 tonnes. This is well in excess of the capability of the tow ball and will cause breakage. The tow ball then becomes a deadly projectile as it is slung by the retracting snatch strap.
When hooking a strap to the rear of the vehicle, the best option is to remove the tow ball tongue from its housing and secure the strap by placing the strap eye inside the housing and securing it with the pin the holds the tongue in place. Prior to heading out on a trip, unless I am towing a trailer, the tongue is always removed from my vehicle and left at home.
Ensure that all twists are removed from the strap to allow it to work as it was designed to do. Any twists will reduce the elasticity of the strap and cause the strap to fail much earlier.
Always place a damper over the strap, to direct the energy downwards should a failure occur. The same principal applies when winching. This damper can be an old coat, blanket, spud bag or rubber mat out of the car. Alternatively you can head into your 4WD shop and grab a purpose made one, doesn’t matter what you use as long as you use something.
Ensure that any bystanders not directly involved in the recovery move to a safe place well clear of the actual recovery. To the side of area is the safest as the most dangerous areas are going to be fore and aft of the direction of the recovery.
Ensure you have radio contact or have pre-determined signals to communicate when each driver is ready to start the recovery exercise and when to stop. This applies equally to when the attempt is successful or not.
The sole aim of a snatch recovery is to provide the bogged vehicle with just enough assisting momentum to drive out under its own steam. It is not desirable to totally drag the vehicle out as this has the potential to cause damage to both vehicles, the recovery equipment and to bystanders so should be avoided.
Snatch straps work through energy stored within the elasticity of the strap. ie if you stretch the strap, the elasticity will spring it back to its normal length, therefore multiplying the pulling force of the towing vehicle, allowing for a smoother recovery with minimal effort. Accordingly, to determine how much pulling force is required to move the bogged vehicle, becomes a matter of trial and error. With the initial attempt, the towing vehicle only needs to pull away slowly in low gear with the bogged driver also attempting to drive out at the same time. If this fails to provide enough momentum, repeat the process with a little more slack in the strap. From there on, you can slowly increase the speed of the towing vehicle until the desired result is achieved.
I learnt a very valuable lesson the first time that I saw a snatch strap used. We were cutting firewood with a bunch of mates and one of them decided to drag a log out of the bush up into the paddock we were in. He hooked the strap around the log and to the tow loop on the back of his MQ Patrol. He then reversed back to the log giving him as much slack in the strap as he could get, before booting it as hard as the Patrol would go. The first effort shifted the log about a metre before it dug into the top of the bank he was trying to pull it up over and busted the strap. The next trick was for the driver to tie a knot in the strap, (shortening the stretch effect) and going hard again. This resulted in a huge crack like a rifle shot and a bolt from the plate that holds the tow loop bouncing off trees a couple of hundred metres down in the bush. Fortunately the other three bolts held, but if the one that snapped had of hit anyone, they would be very lucky to survive. The moral of this story is that “Easy does it”.
To maximise the life of your snatch strap, make sure it is washed and dried when you get home, before packing it away ready for the next trip.
Please, for everyones sake, let’s make 4WDing as safe as we possibly can.