What is a snatch strap and how does it work?

By Unsealed 4X4 11 Min Read

The snatch strap is a staple item in our recovery kits, but do you really know what it is, how it works and how to use it?

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If ever one invention simplified the process of vehicle recovery, it was the snatch strap. Much quicker and easier to use than a winch, they are reasonably lightweight and compact to carry in your vehicle.

What is a snatch strap and what do you need to know when buying one?

Most recovery kits will contain either one or two straps, and all the needed hardware and attachments (shackles and tree trunk protector) to use them – including a good pair of gloves. But snatch straps do eventually wear out (we will get to that later) and you may wish to purchase another spare one.

When buying a snatch strap it’s important to know how much your loaded vehicle weighs… and then ignore that and buy the next one up. When the ‘polite’ rule of snatching is ‘if you are the one that needs recovering, your own snatch strap is used’ is the norm and you’ve purchased one suitable for your vehicle… why is this?

You will invariably come across some poor sod bellied out on the low tide mark, and he won’t have one. Nobody with half a heart is going to leave him there… even if he does weigh a tonne more than your vehicle does. Unless that is, he doesn’t have a suitable recovery point and you value your life, in which case the kindest thing to do is grab a shovel and help him dig, or grab the recovery boards.

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But how exactly do snatch straps work? 

A snatch strap is a length of nylon webbing with loops (or eyelets) at both ends, which uses kinetic energy to ‘pop’ a vehicle out of a bogging situation. They are generally around nine metres long and come in various breaking strains – similar to a load rating on a cable. Whilst most ‘pre-packed’ recovery kits come with the highest rated straps, do double-check.

The best straps are made from 100 per cent nylon, as polyester does not hold the same stretch and snap-back properties. Specifically how a snatch strap works is by the use of kinetic energy – think of it like stretching a rubber band and then letting go of one end, in essence, a slingshot effect – and they can stretch under load by 20-30 per cent. The energy stored is enough to recover most vehicles out of bogging situations.

Do not ever use a snatch strap as part of a winching operation, to tow a vehicle or in circumstances where intricate recovery moments are required… and never use them to pull out something like a tree stump unless you want one embedded in your back window. Their stretching properties can be dangerous when not used in the correct manner; it is also for this reason they should NEVER be connected to a non-rated recovery point and especially NEVER to a tow ball. The power in a rebounding snatch strap can tear off a tow ball and launch it at high speed… and right in through the windscreen like a missile. People have been killed or seriously injured this way. This is also why a cable damper is used in all snatch strap recoveries.

How does a snatch strap recovery work?

So now you now know the theory behind snatch straps but do you know how to use one? Before you do any recovery with a snatch strap, ensure both vehicles have rated recovery points. If one vehicle doesn’t then you are safer trying to dig it out, road-build, or grab your recovery boards – it’s not worth the danger of shackles whizzing through the air. If both vehicles are okay:

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Prior to reaching for the strap, conduct a visual inspection of the bogging. Look at what is stopping the vehicle (it will be either traction or ground clearance). If ground clearance is the issue (i.e. the vehicle is ‘bottoming out’), grab a long-handled shovel and move away the mud/dirt, sand, snow, log or rocks. Likewise, it’s a good idea to clear a track ahead of the wheels to make forward (or rearward) progress easier. All of this preparation means there will be less stress placed on the recovery points and on the snatch strap, making for a far safer recovery.

Hooking up a snatch strap

Unroll the snatch strap between the two vehicles to ensure there is enough length. If it’s too short, reverse the recovery vehicle back closer. You are looking at 2-3 metres of slack with the vehicles as in-line as possible. Do a final check to ensure there are no twists in the snatch strap.

Attach the strap to the two vehicles by using a rated bow-shackle (or soft shackle) through the eyelets at either end. The strap eyelet should attach to the bow of the shackle; the pin goes through the rated recovery point on the vehicle.

19 Tjm Snatch

Tighten the pin, then back it off half a turn; this prevents the pin binding in the shackle under load and making it impossible to remove.

Note: Make sure the bow shackle is rated to suit the weight of the vehicle. This rating, also classed as a Working Load Limit (WLL), should be stamped on the outside edge of the shackle. Hardware store ‘D-shackles’ are not rated and can fail and turn into lethal projectiles.

10 Ol 4.5t Shackle
11 Arb Soft Connect Shackle 3

4×4 recovery tips

  • Place a cable damper over the middle section of the snatch strap;
  • All bystanders should be well out of the way;
  • Ensure that both drivers involved in the recovery are able to communicate via UHF – timing is crucial in this type of recovery;
  • If a third person is able to coordinate, have them also in radio contact but standing well out of the way and off to the side;
  • The recovery vehicle drives slowly forward until the second vehicle can advise that most of the slack has been taken up in the strap. Do NOT step over a snatch strap that is under tension;
  • Before any recovery is done, both drivers need to ensure – and this goes without saying – that they are both wearing their seatbelts. The force of the rebound can throw an unsuspecting driver into the steering wheel if they aren’t strapped in;
  • The stuck vehicle should be in first gear low range (in idle, clutch in if a manual) and ready to drive out;
  • The recovery vehicle will move forward in low-range second gear at the ‘all ready, go’ signal of the driver in the bogged vehicle, via radio or hand signal. Excessive speed is dangerous, go as slow as you can but fast enough to give the snatch strap a chance to rebound;
  • The driver of the stuck vehicle should release the clutch and/or drive forward when they feel the jerk of the snatch strap pulling them. The vehicle will literally ‘pop’ out of the bogging; and
  • Once the vehicle is free and able to drive forward, both vehicles can stop and be disconnected from the snatch strap.

Take as much time as you can

If the vehicle does not come out after the first attempt, re-evaluate the situation and attempt to remove any obstacles that may be in the way. Also, consider lowering tyre pressures on the stuck vehicle to give it more traction. If necessary, try the recovery at a slightly faster pace, but bear in mind that this will increase the ‘shock load’ on the recovery points, with the potential for damage if you overdo it.

Once the stuck vehicle has been recovered, inspect the snatch strap for nicks, frayed stitching and other damage and if all is okay, roll it up and put it back in your recovery bag. If it is dirty and caked in mud, you will need to clean it – so pop it in a plastic bag, give it a good hosing when you get it home and drape it over your clothesline until completely dry. Never pack away a wet snatch strap, as they can rot, and bear in mind that straps have a ‘snatch-life’ and after several uses they will lose their elasticity and need to be replaced.

And there you have it. Now you know exactly how a snatch strap works and how to use one safely.


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