Off road recovery

It is inevitable that at some point all drivers become stuck when driving off road. It is important that vehicles are recovered using safe techniques.  To this end we have included a section on techniques and equipment, to help those members who are familiarising themselves with the world of off roading for the first time.

The art of recovery in an off road situation comes down to the simple process of applying enough force to the stuck vehicle to pull, or push, it from the position in which it has become stuck. This will usually involve the use of another vehicle attached to the stranded vehicle to pull it free from the obstruction, or out of the bog in which it has become trapped.

It is important to have sufficient recovery points front and rear of your vehicle.  Recovery points serve only one purpose, which is to allow the safe and secure attachment of ropes or strops to the vehicles that are stuck. The rope needs to be attached to the recovery point and connected to the vehicle in such a way as not to damage it and transmit the forces into the vehicle safely.

Using the above criteria it would be possible to design from scratch suitable recovery points for your vehicle, fortunately the hard work has already been done and there is a range of off the shelf, and reasonably priced, recovery points to suit all makes of off road vehicle.

Rear Recovery Points – All Vehicles

For the rear of all vehicles the simplest recovery point will be a standard 50mm tow ball. If this is fixed to the vehicle in the manufactures recommended way it should prove more than adequate for recovery purposes. It should be fixed either directly to the rear of the chassis or to an approved drop plate. If it is fixed to an adjustable drop plate the carrier should be set at a height in line with the chassis for recovery work.

If your vehicle is not used for towing trailers the tow ball can be fixed directly to the rear cross member of Land Rovers. The fixing should use Grade 8.8 bolts and a spreader plate of a suitable size to distribute the load into the chassis.  These should be more substantial than a couple of washers under the bolt heads. The spreader plate used on coil sprung military Land Rovers is 190mm x 110mm x 10mm thick!

Front Recovery Points – Coil Sprung Land Rovers

At the front of 90’s 110’s, Defenders and pre 1985 Classic Range Rovers the simplest recovery points will be a pair of ‘Jate’ rings fixed through the front chassis legs. These replace the pear shaped lashing eyes which should not be used for recovery purposes and are only designed for lashing vehicles down during transport. Jate rings should always be used in pairs with a bridle between them to spread the load.

Front Recovery Points – Leaf Sprung Land Rovers

At the front of leaf sprung Land Rovers bumper D rings provide suitable recovery points. They attach using the two bumper mounting bolts plus two additional bolts through the bumper. These should be fitted in pairs and used with a bridle as for Jate rings. Bumper D rings should not be confused with the lifting eyes fitted to the bumpers of Lightweights and 101 Forward Control Land Rovers which are only designed to take a vertical pull when the vehicles were slung under helicopters.

Front Recovery Points – Classic Range Rover Post 1985 and Discovery 1989 to 1998

Due to the position of the front spoiler on these models it is not possible to use Jate rings even though the mounting holes are present. One option is to fit Jackmates, available from David Bowyer, which are 10mm thick steel plates that bolt to the sides of the chassis and provide not only a recovery point but also a suitable place for the use of a high lift jack. Terrain Master also market a similar recovery point for these vehicles.

Front Recovery Points – Suzuki

Given the light weight construction of the Suzuki SJ series the front tow point should be sufficient for most recoveries,

Suppliers

Companies specialising in the supply of recovery equipment all have adverts in the major monthly magazines. Two recommended suppliers are David Bowyer and Terrain Master, both of which produce catalogues and are always willing to offer advice if you are unsure of your requirements. As well as recovery points they also supply ropes, strops, shackles etc.

Ropes & Strops

The rope being used to recover a stuck vehicle has to meet a number of basic requirements.

  1. It should have a minimum breaking strain greater than the maximum load to which it will be subject during the recovery. This sounds obvious but how many people actually know how much force it takes to recover a stuck vehicle ? It is very difficult to accurately judge and depends on many factors including ground conditions, gradient, weight of vehicle etc.
  2. It should have spliced eyes to allow easy attachment to the vehicles. Tying knots in wet muddy rope is not easy and will result in one of two scenarios; either the knot will come undone during the recovery with the potential for injury, or the knot will be tightened so much by the recovery that you will never get it undone again.

Types of Rope

There are many different types of rope available but for off road vehicle use only a few are appropriate. All ropes used today in off road situations will be of man made fibres. These ropes offer several advantages over natural fibres which make them particularly suitable for recovery. Firstly their breaking strength can be accurately calculated, and secondly they are not absorbent, which means they will not soak up lots of mud and water and become heavy and difficult to handle during use.

Nylon and Polypropylene Ropes

For RTV trials use the selection of a tow rope is simple. The recommendation is a 24mm Nylon or Polypropylene rope with soft eyes spliced into the ends. These ropes are available from all the big off road equipment suppliers. All of the ropes sold for this purpose are comparable, but for the little extra it costs it is best to buy a rope with protective flexible sleeves over the eyes which prevent chafing on the recovery point. It should be at least 4.5m long, but not too long as on most courses there is limited room.

A rope of this specification normally has a breaking strain of 12 tons. It has some “give” to absorb some of the shock loading during the recovery. The shock loading on the vehicles can be kept to an acceptable limit by restraint on the part of the recovering vehicle. The recovering vehicle should gently take up the strain, rather than merely hitching up and heading off into the distance at full throttle.
Kinetic Energy Recovery Ropes (KERR)

These are also made from nylon, however, their multi–plait construction, typically 12 strands woven together, gives them much more stretch than a standard nylon rope. KERR’s were originally developed by the Army for recovering stuck tanks, although these are somewhat larger than the sort used with light 4x4 vehicles. Kinetic ropes can be extremely useful in some situations, but used carelessly can be extremely dangerous. They exert tremendous force on both vehicles involved so all recovery points, and the chassis they are fixed to, should be in good condition. The correct use of kinetic ropes requires considerable explanation, for advice speak to any of the experienced club members.

Bridles

These are short lengths of rope, slightly thinner than the main tow rope, used to join recovery points together to spread the load, i.e. used between a pair of Jate rings with the bridle passed through the soft eye of the main tow rope. These are made from the same materials as tow ropes and also have soft eyes spliced in to each end.

Additional Recovery Paraphernalia

Shackles

A couple of good quality shackles should be carried when driving off road and will prove invaluable for attaching ropes to recovery points which are fixed eyes. These should have a ¾” (20mm) pin and can be either “bow” shackles or “D” shackles. When in use the pin should be tightened and then undone a half a turn which makes it possible to undo again after the recovery. When towing another vehicle on the road the pins should be tightened and nipped up with a pair of pliers to stop them vibrating loose.

It is also useful to carry a ½” shackle for towing normal cars on the road as the ¾” shackle will probably not fit through the towing eye.

Shackles should always be cleaned after use and the threads checked for damage and should be discarded if there are any signs of distortion in the pin or body of the shackle.

Shackles should never be used to join two ropes together as in the event of a failure of either rope the shackle will be propelled at great speed towards the other vehicle.

Spades

It’s not immediately obvious why a spade would be required until you have had to dig a hole with just your hands in wet clay to reach the recovery point of a vehicle sunk in to the tops of the wheels ! Apart from digging out recovery points a spade will also come in useful for many tasks; digging out under vehicles high centred on a ridge, digging down in front of the wheels to allow material to be inserted to aid traction, or even to dig a dead man anchor as a winch point if there are no trees or other vehicles to use.

For convenience, especially when digging under a vehicle, the spade should have a short handle and preferable not too big a blade. Both of these criteria are met by ex army spades with the added bonus that you can buy them for around £5 at shows or through the specialist ex army dealers. They are also short enough to fit in the back of a short wheelbase Land Rover.

Gloves

Gloves serve two purposes: Protection: They protect your hands from scratches and cuts, and should always be warn when handling winch cables. They will also stop your hands getting torn to shreds should you get stuck anywhere in the undergrowth.

Secondly they keep your hands clean. Getting your hands dirty does not seem like a problem until you get back in your vehicle and transfer wet sticky clay all over your nice clean trim. Even in the more utilitarian vehicles, like Land Rover’s with rubber mats and pvc seats, once you hands are covered in wet clay all the controls become slippery and more difficult to operate.

You can buy your gloves from the specialist off road centres but it’s far cheaper to buy rigging gloves from a hire shop such as ITS where they will cost about £3 a pair.

High Lift Jack

Essential for wheel changing off road the high lift jack can also be used for a hundred and one other tasks. As well as changing wheels it can be used to lift wheels out of ruts, as a short pull hand winch, to move heavy obstacles etc. If modified to allow the handle to be easily removed (remove the split pin, drill through both sides of the handle and replace the split pin with a pip pin) the handle can be used as extra leverage on wheel braces to undo tight wheel nuts.

When you buy your high lift jack run a file or some coarse wet and dry paper over the rack to remove and burrs and give the rack and mechanism a light oil. The jack should be kept clean and the easiest way is to blast off the muck with a pressure washer when you stop at the jet wash on the way home from an event to clean your vehicle and then spray with a light oil once dry.

There is, of course lots of other equipment that can be carried and if you have a winch the list of winching accessories is longer still. How much equipment you choose to take depends upon where you will be going and who with. All equipment should be firmly secured to prevent it flying around the inside of the vehicle in the event of an accident.

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