Natural anchors are anything that you find suitable to attach a cable to – trees, rocks or signposts. (Signposts on gravel roads are unreliable and pull out of the ground very easily.) If you are going to use a tree as an anchor, protect the tree by using a tree-strap to prevent the steel cable from cutting into the bark as this can kill a healthy tree. Attach the strap as close to the ground as possible.
The strength of an anchor depends on how badly the vehicle is bogged and how much preparation is made before winching begins. Assess the strength of the anchor first – if it appears weak, then pre-preparation to the vehicle will need to be extensive. If the anchor is fool-proof, little or no preparation may be needed, and if winching fails nothing is lost and some digging and clearing can be done.
Have someone monitor the condition of an anchor during recovery. If it appears to be loosened by the winching, then halt
the process before it is weakened further because even a weak anchor is better than no anchor at all. To put less stress on the anchor
more clearing around the wheels and jacking must be done before further winching.
If there is no anchor to which a winch cable can be attached, a man-made anchor can be created. No man-made anchor of any reliability can be made without a lot of effort.
Anchor construction tools:
• Heavy hammer
• Iron standard/s or purpose designed stakes
• Danforth boat anchor
• Chain, shackles and anchor strap
Creating an anchor:
• Drive steel stakes into the ground at 45° and about two metres apart and then, using straps and chains, attach the cable to the stakes as close to the ground as possible. Create ‘Vs’ between the top and bottom of each stake.
• Danforth-type boat anchors also work well if the ground is soft. This is because the harder the pull, the deeper they drive into the mud – in theory. The angle of pull must be as close to the ground as possible. The Danforth is bulky and overly heavy for expedition use.
• A long length of chain run along the ground secured with ten or more long tent pegs. The more difficult the winching operation, the more tent pegs will be required. This man-made anchor takes little effort and if the vehicle is not deeply bogged it is a quick and effective way of creating a light-duty anchor.
• As a last resort a spare wheel can be buried either horizontally or vertically, which is the more conventional but less effective way. The winch cable is passed through the middle of the wheel and attached to a steel bar. After burying the spare wheel, dig out from under the vehicle making sure that no earth is supporting the vehicle’s weight. This is a last resort because burying the wheel is very hard work and despite perseverance it is often a waste of time.
Remember: the harder the effort put into an anchor, the better its effectiveness. Before using your man-made anchor, which under most conditions will be suitable only for a light-weight pull, dig out channels in front of all four wheels to allow easier forward movement. Do not be in too much of a hurry when preparing the anchor or digging out earth from under the vehicle. If you try to winch before you are absolutely ready, you may fail – and have to go through the entire process again.
Releasing a vacuum
Mud can sometimes be the most difficult stuff. When it is particularly thick it creates a vacuum under a vehicle and no matter how much winching and heaving, the vehicle just won’t move. When this occurs the vehicle’s progress is halted as much by the lack of traction as by the vacuum. Here a combination of high-lift jack and winch is required.
Place the jack about a meter in front of the bogged vehicle and lift up the jacking step to shoulder height. Run the winch cable over the jacking step to the anchor. Tilt the jack away from the vehicle and take up the tension. Now, with someone supporting the jack, begin winching in. As the cable is retrieved the jack is pulled upright, simultaneously pulling the vehicle forward and up, releasing the vacuum. Repeat this as many times as required.
Using hub capstan winches
It is easier to run the cable from the anchor to the vehicle, and not the other way. The cable is guided through a groove in the capstan and secured with a knot or buckle. If you are using rope then it should be wound around the capstan at least five times, crossing over itself. The direction of wind and the gear selected (forward or reverse) will determine the direction of pull. Hub capstans on both wheels on the same axle must be used simultaneously as the axle differential will not allow winching on a single hub. Because rear half-shafts and differentials are generally stronger than those in front, it is recommended that the rear wheels are used for pulling. Using hub capstans can damage the vehicle if the cables are allowed to get too short when the wheels are pulled together by the narrowing angles between the two lines.
using a snatch block
The snatch block is a heavy-duty single-line pulley. It is used to increase the pulling power of the winch or change the direction of pull.
During self recovery the snatch block is attached to the anchor. Run the cable from the bogged vehicle through the pulley and back to the vehicle where the cable is then attached. This is where dual towing eyes are very useful. Normal winching at half retrieval speed and double the pulling force is then performed.
During two-vehicle recovery where the free vehicle’s winch is used, attach the snatch block to the bogged vehicle. Run the cable from the winching vehicle through the snatch block and back to the vehicle where the cable is then attached to a towing eye. If your winch is rated at or under 6000 lbs pulling power, then it is very likely that one day your winch will be under-powered for a job and a snatch block will be necessary.
If you have a winch fitted you will be in a good position to help another vehicle that has bogged down.
To prepare for winching:
• If the area is slippery, anchor the winch-equipped vehicle by chaining it to a tree, a second vehicle or by digging holes into which the front wheels will be driven.
• The line of the winch cable should follow the route that the
bogged vehicle will move along when it is pulled out. If the winch
is pulling from an angle, the winch cable will gather on the one
side of the drum.
• Clear a path in front of the wheels of the bogged vehicle and remove any obstacles in its path.
• Once the stricken vehicle is attached to the winch cable and the cable is pulled taut, everyone should stand well clear.
• By opening the bonnet during the winching operation, the windscreen will be protected from damage should anything break.
• The winching vehicle should have its engine running to keep the battery charged and the operator’s foot should be on the brake.
• The driver of the bogged vehicle should engage low-range second and gently release the clutch as the winch takes up tension, rotating the wheels slowly to assist the winch. Avoid spinning the wheels.
• When the vehicle is free, drive clear of the obstacle. Avoid driving over the winch cable.
• Where an anchor point is not in front of the bogged vehicle, or in the case of lack of space in front of a bogged vehicle in which to allow the winch equipped vehicle access, the snatch block is used to change the direction of pull.
Using a snatch block to pull a vehicle over an obstacle
If you wish to drive through very deep mud or climb a slippery slope and you suspect that your vehicle will not be able to do it without some assistance from the vehicle accompanying you, the use of a snatch block to change the direction of pull may be the solution. Attach the snatch block to an anchor on the other side of the obstacle. Run the winch cable from one vehicle, through the snatch block and back again to the second vehicle. As the second vehicle reverses on terra-firma it will pull the first up and over the obstacle. Now with one vehicle through, it can use the cable and pull the second vehicle directly towards it over the obstacle. No matter how easy the pull, always have a competent person at the wheel of the vehicle being pulled as in the event of equipment failure the driver must know how to stop the vehicle safely.
Using kinetic straps
Kinetic or tuggum straps are dangerous but highly effective. Because of the immense loads that a kinetic strap can store and release, breakages of the strap or mounting points during this kind of recovery can injure or kill. So often kinetic recoveries are done without a lot of thought as to what the consequences might be in the event of the failure of one component or other.
Important rules for using kinetic straps:
• Do not use the snatch strap if the vehicle is badly bogged i.e. with its weight resting on its chassis. Use a jack and spade to put the weight back onto the wheels first.
• The pulling vehicle must be similar in size and weight to the vehicle being pulled.
• The pulling vehicle must run in a straight line. Do not attempt to pull at an angle of more than 10°.
• Use bow-shackles to attach the snatch strap to the vehicles.
• Always use safety loops on both ends.
• Do not compromise on the security of attachment points. Use both tow eyes if the vehicle is fitted with them.
Attach the kinetic strap to the front or back of the bogged vehicle. Consider first which will be the most effortless direction of travel.
Then follow this procedure:
• Manoeuvre the recovery vehicle to the bogged vehicle and stop at a point no less than half the total length of the snatch strap.
• Attach the snatch strap to the bogged vehicle, making sure that there are no knots in the strap.
• Lay a blanket over the strap or attach a safety line (ski rope is ideal). In the case of the strap breaking the weight of the blanket will rapidly absorb the energy of the broken strap.
• With a go-ahead signal from the driver of the bogged vehicle, the recovery vehicle moves off at normal take-off speed in first gear. Accelerate very gently and keep the speed constant. As the pull of the rope is felt, try to maintain a constant speed and continue to accelerate very gently – it is not engine power and torque that are doing the work, but the vehicle’s momentum and energy being transferred through the elasticity of the strap.
Unfortunately, if the bogged vehicle is badly stuck, something will break. If it is an attachment it becomes dangerous to both bystanders and drivers.
Double kinetic-straps used together.
Having the towing vehicle move off with excessive speed does not increase the pulling force. However, doubling the length of the strap together with a higher speed does have the desired result. To do this a joint must be made linking the two straps. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES join two straps together with shackles. Should one strap break the shackles become a deadly missile.
To make a safe join:
• Pass the loop of strap A through the loop of strap B.
• Take the end of strap B and pass it through the loop of strap A
• Place a stick or even a thick bunch of grass in the new loop made. This is so that the knot cannot over-tighten.
Safe use, care and maintenance of snatch straps
Never have a light vehicle try to ‘snatch’ a heavy vehicle that is deeply bogged. It may recoil and hit the bogged vehicle.
Case history: A Suzuki Jeep attempted to snatch a Land Rover Defender. The Suzuki took off at full speed from a distance of only about a meter from the Land Rover (which was the incorrect procedure anyway), The Suzuki came to the end of the stretchability of the strap and instead of the Land Rover moving forward the Suzuki recoiled and smashed into the Land Rover. Both vehicles, and the Suzuki driver, needed to be repaired.
Never have a heavy vehicle try to ‘snatch’ a light vehicle that is deeply bogged.
Case history: The SADF in northern Namibia some years ago used a military snatch strap, normally used to free armoured vehicles weighing up to 20 tons, on a deeply bogged Land Rover and an armoured troop-carrier was used as the tow vehicle. Instead of the snatch strap breaking, the Land Rover’s chassis was torn from both axles, which remained firmly stuck in the mud.
Clean nylon straps with washing-up liquid after use. Dirt abrades fibers and speeds deterioration. Beware of detergents attacking the nylon. With extended use their stretchability deteriorates and they quickly become dangerous.
Measure the static length before use. Write it down. When the length of the strap has increased by 10% of its original length, it is no longer suitable for snatch operations. However, it still has many uses; long distance towing, extra long tree protector etc.
Using a high-lift jack
There are few bogging down situations that cannot be overcome with a high-lift jack, a spade and a strong back. The high-lift jack is without doubt the most valuable piece of equipment that an off-roader can carry. The jack discussed here is the American standard brick red-coloured unit that has been around for many decades. Although there are competitive jacks on the market, the ‘old favourite’ is virtually unbreakable and as long as it is kept well lubricated it is reliable. Unfortunately, more and more ‘off-road’ vehicles are being introduced with fancy curved plastic bumpers – impractical for bush work because of the absence of points where a high-lift jack can be used. There are cases where a vehicle has bogged down so completely that jacking has been the only way out.
The jacking mechanism is used in the following way:
To lift a vehicle:
• Stand the jack under the jacking point and push the operating lever (small L-shaped lever on top of the lifting mechanism) down.
• Raise the jacking arm to the upright position to hoist the entire mechanism up the shaft so that the jacking foot is positioned under the jacking point of the vehicle.
• Adjust the jacking foot position exactly. Once this is done pull the arm down, thereby lifting and firmly locating the foot under the vehicle jacking point. Should the position need changing, lift the arm and re-adjust. Once satisfied with the foot’s position, lower the arm once again all the way down until the lifting pin enters the perforations in the upright shaft or ‘ladder’. It will click into place.
• Lift the arm to the upright position until a click is heard.
• Pull the operating lever into the upper position. It will click into
place. The jacking foot will be held at that height. The vehicle is ready to be lifted.
• Hold the lifting arm with both hands. Gripping it firmly, pull it down once again until the pin locates and clicks into place. Lift the arm to the upright position and the second lifting pin will locate itself. Continue until the vehicle’s wheel/s are off the ground.
To lower a vehicle:
• Raise the jacking arm to the upright position.
• Push the operating lever down.
• Gripping the arm with both hands, lower the lever so as to release the lifting pin. At this point the vehicle’s weight is in your hands. If you do not have a good grip and your weight is pressing down on the arm it can shoot up and cause injury. Have bystanders
stand well clear.
• From this point jack the vehicle down by lifting and lowering the arm to its full extent.
High-lift jacks can be dangerous.
• When lifting or lowering a vehicle, hold the jacking arm firmly and with both hands. If released at the halfway point while under load it will shoot upwards with great force. It can smash teeth, cause concussion and the upward movement can release the lifting pin, causing the arm to drop by itself, starting an auto-jacking sequence which rapidly lowers the vehicle onto the ground. Once this auto-jacking has started it is too dangerous to try and stop it running its full course. Holding the jacking arm firmly is especially important when lowering a vehicle.
• When the jack is left unattended and under load, the jacking arm must ALWAYS be left in the upright position, clipped to the upright with the supplied wire clip. In any other position the jack poses a threat to anyone close to it.
• High-lift jacks are unstable. Never climb under a vehicle that is supported only by a high-lift jack. If you need to dig under the vehicle, do what you can before you jack it up.
The following situations demonstrate how the high-lift jack can be used to extricate a vehicle:
Jack and push
Imagine that your vehicle is stuck on soft ground with the axles grounded on a ridge; or you have dropped into a gully and two or more wheels are off the ground and spinning. If the ground is soft, place the jack on its broad base and jack up the vehicle, high enough so that the one set of wheels is higher than the ridge on which the axle has been caught. Now push the vehicle sideways. The vehicle will pivot on the jack and land on the ground with the wheels on the ridge, thereby clearing the axle from the obstacle. In some situations you may need to do the same with the both front and rear axles.
Spare tyres attached to the tailgate may have to be removed or swung clear as the falling jack may catch on them and damage the vehicle bodywork. If they are removed from a separate wheel carrying frame, the frame can be closed and used to protect the rear of the vehicle from the jack during this operation. Unlike the air jack, the high-lift jack is perfect for this technique but beware that vehicle body damage can result if carried out carelessly. Whatever you do, practice with the high lift before you need it!
Jack and pack
Quite often the ground under the jack is soft and slushy and in these cases the jack and push method is not effective – the vehicle topples off the jack, the wheels dig into the mud or sand and the vehicle settles back onto its chassis. In this situation the best course of action is to jack up the wheels that are dug in the most deeply. Once this has been done find something to place under them – sand ladders, Trac-mats, carpets, rocks, branches or logs – in fact anything lying around (in wet mud, grass seems to make matters worse). Lie items in the direction of travel so that the wheels can gain some momentum as they ride over them. If all four wheels are deeply dug in, this must be done to all wheels.
Before attempting to drive out think about the gear ratio to use. Should you use a gear ratio that is too low, the result may be wheel-spin, and you may not only undo all your hard work but still have a bogged vehicle. Select the highest gear you think may work – try to remember the gear ratio that was getting you through difficulties beforehand, because once off the mats or logs you must be able to keep moving without a gear change. Selecting this gear ratio is critical and for each vehicle and for each situation it differs. The vehicle is then lowered and with everyone pushing, the clutch is let out gently with acceleration as smooth as possible. Avoid wheel spin.
The high-lift jack can also be used as a hand winch. Heavy manila rope must be used (the stretch of nylon rope renders it ineffective).
Proceed as follows:
• Remove the steel foot from the jack by sliding out the pin.
• Lay a length of rope from the bottom of the jack to the bogged vehicle. Do not attach it to the jack.
• Attach a cable or rope to the top of the jack and then onto the anchor.
• Position the lifting foot of the jack at its lowest position.
• Join a short length of chain to make a loop. Lay this loop across the rope at the bottom of the jack. Pass your hand through the loop and underneath the rope. Grip the chain and pull it through so that the chain loops around and grabs the rope.
• Using a D-shackle, attach the end of the chain you are holding to the hole in the base of the jacking foot.
The jack is used as if lifting a vehicle. As the rope is pulled taut, the chain grips the rope. When the jack is at its highest point, slacken the rope and chain, slide the jack back down to its lowest position, slide the rope through the chain, and begin jacking again. Although it is a time consuming process, it is often successful when conventional winching techniques have failed.
Care of a high-lift jack
The traditional Hi-Lift out of the USA is still the favourite despite its habit of jamming under load. It’s a valid criticism and to prevent this the lifting mechanism must be kept clean and well lubricated. Have a can of Q-20 handy and at the first sign of slicking, give it a good spray. If the jack is carried on the outside of the vehicle, some method of preventing the mechanism being coated with dust should be devised such as the jack-nappy, a washable nylon sleeve that covers the mechanism.
Using Air jacks
The jack and pack technique is the same as with the high-lift jack. The jack and push technique is different. Unlike a high-lift, two people are needed to operate an air jack.
Air bag techniques:
• The air jack must be slid under the vehicle with none of it protruding. In the field this is often very difficult. If the jack has part of itself protruding it will bend and bulge as it is inflated. This can burst the bag and topple when the vehicle’s weight is on it.
• Place rubber floor mats between the bag and the vehicle. Be careful of protrusions, stones and thorns puncturing the bag.
• Close the valve on the bag.
• Insert the inflator into the exhaust pipe and rev the engine.
• A vehicle will become very unstable during jacking.
• If there is a hole in the exhaust system, pack it away and try something else.
• If you just push the vehicle off the jack there is every likelihood that the bag will get punctured. Instead, deflate the bag as the vehicle is pushed.
• Over-inflating the bag produces the most hideous bang. It’s probably dangerous. The best bags are fitted with pressure release valves.
Using sand ladders
An experienced driver will call for a sand ladder before too much digging is required. If the vehicle has been allowed to dig itself in to the extent that the vehicle’s weight is resting on the axles or chassis, a great deal of digging and jacking will be required. Do not dig a little and then attempt to drive out. This is a waste of time – if the attempt is unsuccessful the entire digging effort will have been wasted because the spinning wheels will replace the sand you have removed. Dig until you are sure that more digging would be a waste of time.
Dig channels in front of the wheels that appear to have the least traction and lie the ladders in front of them. If in doubt as to the wheels under which to lay the ladders, select the front wheels, since once the vehicle gets moving the rear wheels will also get the benefit of the extra traction (assuming you are driving out forward).
If in sand with the rear wheels sunken and the front wheels remaining clear, place the ladders under the rear wheels. Dig out a channel in front of the other wheels too, so they do not have to roll over any ridges of sand that may have built up in front of them. In very deep sand the sand ladders may get buried when the vehicle drives over them, so mark the position of the ladders with a spade.
Unfortunately for those doing the pushing, this may mean a bit of a walk, as it is important for the vehicle to be driven to firmer ground before it is stopped. The sand ladders will have to be dug up and carried. Attaching a rope to tow them out is not wise as the extra drag can cause the vehicle to bog down again.
Recovery DVD video
To complement this chapter I have made a one-hour 4×4 Recovery DVD. It covers just about all the elements in this chapter. Video is such a good tool for 4×4 training but off-road, nothing is ever the same each time we go out. This is much in evidence in the video as not all the recovery techniques work first time, even with the ‘experts’. Highly entertaining, often funny and highly informative, it will have you glued to your seat.
Available from www.4xforumshop.co.za or by calling 0861 115 161. Also available in most bookstores and wherever 4×4 equipment is sold.