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RESOURCES - 4x4 Recovery Guidelines

These are purely guidelines for vehicle recovery, due to the multiplicity of variables involved SecureTech can not guarantee the efficacy of the operation, the safety of by-standers, participants or property. As such we recommend that you attend a professional recovery course as well as utilising the downloadable instructions on our website.

With all recoveries the following should apply,

  • Use rated alloy recovery alloy bow shackles with a WORK LOAD LIMIT of not less than 2000kg to attach the strap, cable or rope used. ( Fed Spec RR-C-271b)

  • On a rated shackle the pin and body will be of a different diameter (pin is generally thicker).

  • The body will be embossed with the Work Load Limit (WLL) and batch no.

  • After hand tightening a shackle loosen the pin a quarter turn back, this will make it easier to open after the recovery.

  • A good range will be from 2 Tons to 6.5 Tons to cover all situations.

  • Do not use damaged ropes or straps.

  • Do not knot ropes or straps.

  • A standard tow bar or tow ball is unsuitable as an attachment point for recovery.

  • Ensure that you have suitable recovery points to the front and rear of all vehicles involved in a recovery.

  • Follow all safety and usage instructions.

  • Always recover in a straight line.

  • Keep participants and observers well clear of ropes, straps or cables in case of recoil due to a failure (as a rule generally twice the length of the cable, strap or rope utilised).

  • Dampen cables, ropes and straps with recovery blankets (one per vehicle).

  • Protect cables from cutting or abrasion when pulling over obstacles; also check that there are no sharp edges on the underside of vehicle that may cause a failure.

  • Keep straps or ropes away from hot exhausts.

  • Regularly inspect your equipment especially after use.

  • If damaged return to SecureTech for inspection and possible repair.

  • Straps and ropes are not to be used for lifting equipment.

  • Evaluate the recovery and where possible make the stuck vehicle easier to extricate by digging if badly stuck in mud or packing out ruts or axle twisters.

  • Never step over a tensioned cable, rope or strap.


Pull/Winch Extension Strap:


Made of polyester with limited stretch, it is used to pull or tow stuck vehicles through or over obstacles where a degree of control is required. Always attempt to recover in a straight line. Once securely attached to both vehicles take up the slack, the recovering unit then moves off at a moderate pace to start the recovery. Used as the first line of defence, movement should be gentle with as few jerks as possible. Pull straps can also be used to extend a winch cable.


Kinetic Energy Snatch Straps and ropes:


Made of polyamide, most kinetic straps stretch 20—30% of their length. This is a short sharp elastic rebound and is used to extricate a severely bogged down vehicle from sand or mud. The strap is normally laid back over itself in an ‘S’ shape (about 1, 5 metres, or half of overall length). The recovery vehicle takes off normally in 1st gear, low range in a straight line away from the stuck vehicle and stretches the strap to its fullest. Practice will allow a good driver to stop before the strap stops him, thereby allowing full utilisation of the kinetic capability and not straining the strap or recovery points on the vehicles. Sometimes this procedure may have to be repeated with a new strap or rope and if the vehicle is still partially stuck it may need to be winched. The kinetic energy recovery rope is used similarly to recover severely stuck vehicles from sand or mud, possibly after a kinetic strap, the rope is an ultrahigh elongation, high tenacity, plaited polyamide rope and can elongate 30-40%. In both cases recovery from rest to reuse is once in 24 hours. Kinetic energy snatch straps and ropes are generally regarded as the last line of defence.

Kinetic straps and ropes should never be used to anchor a winching operation or extend a winch cable.

Tree Protector Strap:


Protects the delicate bark of a tree when using a manual or electric winch, thereby providing a secure anchor point. Your tree trunk protector should be 100 mm wide, and 2—4 metres long. Winch in a straight line so as not to chafe and ring bark trees. Ideally straps having a same rating and function should be joined — in other words, do not join a snatch strap to a pull strap.

Straps and ropes should be washed after use in sand or mud to remove abrasive particles. Thereafter they should be dried in shade as the fibre is sensitive to UV rays. A strap from a reputable manufacturer should have a label stitched in detailing not only compliance to SANS 94 but full technical spec:

  • Manufacturers name

  • Material

  • Strength

  • Length

  • Application

  • Work Load Limit (laden vehicle mass)

  • Factor of safety and/or minimum break strength


NB: Without the above details, an unlabelled strap should be used with caution as a tow strap or thrown away. Your strap should be purchased in accordance with the vehicle you drive in terms of the work load limit. End loops should be well constructed with a loose, movable sleeve to prevent wear and tear and allow full protection.

Kinetic capability (kinetic strap used as an example).

One often sees multiple use of a strap. A good rule of thumb is that, after one rigorous snatch, the kinetic capability has been utilised and the strap requires eight hours for every 10% of stretch to ‘creep back’ or be restored to its original length and kinetic capability, thus, to get back to 30% (full) extension requires 24 hours of rest.

The percentage of stretch is calculated according to the measured length of a strap. In other words, a 10% stretch on a 10-metre strap would be one metre. For example, when such a strap has stretched to 13 metres and no longer returns to its labelled length, it has lost its kinetic capability. It can be used as a pull strap in future.

Tip: There are two phases to the recovery of a strap: namely, the latent phase, which is over time, and an immediate phase on rebound, which restores a small portion of kinetic capability. It is important that you should understand that the maximum percentage of stretch quoted i.e. 30% is also the point at which a failure could occur!

Tip: Important factors influencing kinetic capability:

  • Mass of the two vehicles.

  • How badly ‘stuck’ the vehicle to be recovered is.

  • Traction available to the recovering vehicle — in other words, the road surface.

  • Distance between vehicles and the speed at which the recovery vehicle moves.


Recovery Safety Lanyard:


The lanyard is used when recovering vehicles from a recovery point for added safety; it is made of low elongation (5%) high tenacity polyester webbing and is attached to the vehicle and over the strap, rope or cable by two ring hitch knots


Recovery Blanket:

The blanket is used to dampen the shock in the case of the failure of a strap, cable, shackle or recovery point .The unit is like a tube and is fitted over the recovery equipment in use (rope, strap or cable), the compartment at the base is filled with sand to provide the weight that dampens recoil in the event of a failure. One must carefully evaluate a recovery, by way of an example if doing a vehicle to vehicle recovery at least two blankets should be used, close to each vehicle, if multiple points are used in winching with snatch blocks more blankets would be required.


Recovery Bridle:

The bridle is used to balance or spread the load across two anchor points when recovering a stuck vehicle in much the same way as if one had done this with a choker or drag chain. However as it is made from low elongation (5%), high tenacity polyester webbing it is softer on vehicles in the case of a rebound. The safe option is to use the bridle in conjunction with two lanyards as well.

Joining Recovery straps and ropes:

Firstly only join straps and ropes with the same rating and function. To ensure that the fabric which makes up the eyes of the rope or webbing does not melt and bind onto each other due to the force of the recovery a link is inserted between the two eyes to separate them Made out of layers of webbing aggressively stitched together the semi-rigid link takes the place of the traditionally used branch or newspaper and what’s more it has a retention strap with a quick release fastener to ensure that it stays in place whilst the straps or ropes are not yet under tension. On this point Secure Tech would like to point out that it is not safe practice to join straps or ropes with a shackle as should a failure occur the shackle will become a potentially deadly missile!

A few tips for safe winching:

  • Make sure bystanders are well clear of the winching area. As a rule of thumb, bystanders should keep away from the area extending from the winching vehicle to the point where the cable is attached. This is in case of a cable snap, which could cause the cable to whip around and injure bystanders in the cable’s ‘line of fire’ (this distance should be twice the length of the extended cable).

  • If the cable is under great strain, it is wise to dampen the cable at a point about 1/3 of the length of the paid-out cable closest to the clevis hook using a recovery blanket (NB. Use of multiple blankets). In the event of a cable snap, the weight of the blanket will prevent the cable from whipping.

  • When using a tree as an anchor point, always use a tree protector to prevent damage to the bark. The tree protector should be positioned close to the base of the tree.

  • Use a cable guide to roll the cable onto the drum evenly.

  • Always use winching gloves when handling cable. This will protect your hands from burns and cuts from broken strands. Strong leather gardening gloves will do. Cuts heal slowly in the bush.

  • Ensure that the winch cable is correctly attached to a sturdy towing eye or bow shackle and don’t loop the cable back around connecting it onto itself, as this could damage it.

  • Beware of loose clothing that might get caught up in the cable or snagged in the drum.

  • Always ensure that there are at least five complete turns of cable left on the drum before winching, as the rope fastener will not support a heavy load.

  • Never engage or disengage the clutch when there is a load on the winch.

  • When using a winch to move loads, make sure that the winching vehicle’s foot-brake is depressed. This anchors the vehicle to the ground firmly with all four wheels.

  • Do not move the vehicle to assist the winch. The combination of the winch and the vehicle pulling together could overload the cable or the winch itself.


The winching procedure itself is quite straightforward. First secure the wheels of the winching or anchor vehicle. Ensure the cable is firmly attached to the damaged vehicle and begin to take up the slack. Before you put the cable under heavy strain, inspect its full length and all attachment points.

Try to avoid pulling at an angle as this creates drag and reduces the winch’s pulling power. However, if you attach a snatch block, you can winch around corners while keeping the pull straight.

The long lead on the remote control will allow you to stand well clear. Your best position is behind the driver’s door where you can control the engine’s revs and brake, and have the necessary protection in case of a cable snap as an additional safety precaution open the bonnet of the winching vehicle as well. Evaluate the need to use the footbrake to hold either the winching vehicle or the anchor vehicle (if winching off an anchor vehicle) as the force can cause a vehicles to slide.

Whenever possible, use a snatch block and position the anchor vehicle at sufficient distance to be on firm ground.

Avoid running the winch at full power for a protracted period. You should pause frequently to cool the winch and allow the engine to recharge the battery (your winch should cool off if it becomes hot to the touch).

When you have successfully completed a winch recovery, your next step is to examine carefully the extent of damage if any to the vehicle. Remember to take special note of the state of the underside and suspension which may have sustained damage. Do a routine check of oil, water and battery levels and see that you repack the vehicle properly before you set off.

Tip: Unload a heavily laden vehicle to reduce the strain on the winch.


  • Never step over or stand close to a tensioned cable.

  • Don’t forget gloves.

  • All vehicles venturing off-road should have adequate recovery points that draw off the chassis — both front and rear.

  • Watch hands near the fair lead rollers and watch the control, use a cable guide.

  • Develop winch commands and work as a team, e.g.:
    Out — a clockwise hand movement above your head.
    In — a anti-clockwise hand movement at waist level.
    Intermittent movement of control — open and close thumb and fore-finger.

  • Never winch with a frayed or badly kinked cable.

  • When winching and using a bow shackle, the shackle pin should be at right angles to the direction of pull; otherwise the force can stretch the shackle, making it difficult to undo.

  • Never use your clevis hook as a strap attachment for recovery (mounting point). This could pull the cable into the roll, making it difficult to remove. Remember maximum pulling power is on the last layer of cable on the drum and decreases as you add layers.

  • For self-winching without an anchor point, a sand anchor, spare tyre (buried in the sand) or a steel stake can be used.


'Cable splitting'

Your snatch block can be used to re-route the direction of your winch cable, but its main function is ‘doubling up’; simply put, this is when extra power is required (i.e. when you cannot run enough cable off your winch drum). You then ‘split’ the cable through a snatch block and back to the winch. This ‘doubles’ the capacity of your winch by giving you two lines pulling at the rated capacity, less about 10% for friction on the sheave (the enclosed wheel in the snatch block).

NB: This is only applicable when both lines run parallel. ‘Doubling’ also halves the line speed.

The hand winch:

A hand winch is considerably cheaper than an electric unit. Obviously it is portable and can be used to the front or rear of a stuck vehicle. When not in use, the cable, handle and winch can be stored out of the way. The typical unit comes with a cable and a handle for winching in and out. Jaws in the winch grip move the cable as the handle is cranked. All safety methods should be followed and a snatch block may be used. To lengthen a cable, you can safely use a pull strap. A hand winch is a highly effective piece of equipment which requires a fair amount of manual effort — more than enough reason to improve your driving skills!

The drag chain:

An overlooked piece of equipment, the drag chain consists of a length of rated, welded, steel-link chain with two removable clevis-type grab hooks able to link back over the chain and lock in place. The minimum breaking strain should not be less than 8 000 kg and should have a minimum length of 3 metres.


Typical uses are:

  • Where recovery points do not exist, the chain can be locked around the chassis on both sides to form an inverted ‘V’. In this way both sides of the chassis share the load.

  • A section of chain can also be used with a high-lift jack if no high-lift point exists.

  • The chain can be used to anchor off large rocks for recovery.

  • Towing in emergency situations (as a last resort).

  • The chain can be tied around obstacles such as trees which have to be moved.
    Do not use a strap for this as you are likely to chafe the webbing.


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