Winchless Recovery Techniques

With the amount of rain we’re having this year, and the effect that this is having on our off road outings, it seemed relevant to write this article for those joining us on our tours or just anyone that needs a few tips.

Brief intro

The following article is intended to help with the recovery of your vehicle or others without the aid of a winch (This will be covered in a later article). It is always safest to travel with another 4×4 not only for personal safety but for ease of recovery. Without the use of a winch you must rely on either another 4×4 to recover you or your digging abilities.
If travelling on a green lane you shouldn’t really be getting stuck as this generally means the green lane is unsuitable for driving and doing so would cause more damage. But the un-expected can happen, whether it’s because of driver error or just an unexpected change in terrain, so being prepared is always a good thing.
As always safety is the most important thing when carrying out a recovery. Simple things such as; ensuring all your shackles and strops/ropes are rated to a suitable pulling force, ensuring all spectators are out of the vehicle and are standing well away from the vehicles and quite a common one….make sure whatever you are using as a recovery point is up to the job, manufacturer tow points aren’t always suitable for off-road recovery so make sure you check first!

Recovery Equipment

In the current market there is a vast number of different recovery items available. The main things that you should carry at all times when greenlaning and off-roading are:

  • Rated Strops and ropes
  • Rated Shackles
  • A good Shovel
  • A good pair of gloves

Other items that can be very useful but not always necessary are:

  • Waffle boards
  • Sand Ladders
  • Snatch Strap
  • Electric and Hydraulic winches
  • Hand winch
  • Off-Road jack such as Hi-Lift, Farm Jack….etc

Recovery techniques:

Below are a few recovery techniques that are commonly used to recover a vehicle:

Ok. So you’re in the centre of a convoy off-roading or greenlaning and a section comes up that the lead vehicle gets through fine but for some reason you come to a halt. The first thing to do is try and reverse back out and attempt it again with a different line or different technique, we will assume your unsuccessful at this and remain stranded. At this moment let the lead vehicle know you have stopped either over a CB radio, flashing of your lights or another pre-determined signal. Now assess why and how you’re stuck, are you cross axled? Or grounded on something? Or do you just not have enough grip? Its necessary to get out the vehicle so you can assess the situation and best form of attack. Apply the hand brake and leave the engine running.

What’s your next move?

Backwards with vehicles

This is generally the most common recovery as pulling you’re vehicle backwards even just a few feet will enable you to start driving again which then allows you to either turn back and find another way around or attempt the section again with a bit more momentum, we often find that most of the time when you get stuck its due to going just a bit too slow, momentum is definetely a good friend to have!
Get out the vehicle and assess the best way to recover you’re self backwards with the other vehicle. How stuck are you? This will really determine how you will recover yourself. Ask all your passengers to get out and stand well away from the vehicles for their safety. Next manoeuvre the vehicle behind to distance where are he will not risk getting stuck and has good traction. Attach your rope to both vehicles, ensuring there’s slack, with the shackles on the appropriate recovery points. The best technique and the preferred is to attach it to at least two points this will not only result in a nice straight line pull but also half’s the strain on each recovery point compared to just using one. It is possible to use one but care must be taken in this instance as this could overload the recovery point either breaking, bending or misshaping it or the chassis.
Next discuss signalling for recovery if you aren’t lucky enough to have radios. A raise of the hand to take up slack, another to start pulling and switching on of hazard lights to emergency stop in the event of something going wrong.
Next return to you vehicle and ensure everyone is standing well back from the vehicles. Put both vehicles it into low box, reverse with diff lock but don’t let the clutch up yet. You’re vehicle will only need to do this to assist with recovery if needed. Signal to the recovery vehicle to take up the slack. Once the slack has been taken up you will feel as small amount of force backwards. Let the hand brake off. Next signal again to tell the recovery vehicle to start pulling. This will either be enough force to pull you out if you’re only lightly stuck. If you don’t move try to let the clutch up in reverse to try and help with the backwards momentum. If still unsuccessful then all stop. And reassess the situation. Is it because the recovery vehicle has no grip? Are you just very stuck? If it is just the case of the latter then a snatch type of recovery can be used. I will cover this in advanced techniques.

Forward recovery with vehicles

Assess the ground ahead of you. If recovered can you easily carry on without needing to recovered again. If the answer is yes it may be best to recover your vehicle forwards. This is assuming it’s not easier or just as easy than recovering backwards. The process for forward recovery is much the same as a rear recovery with the added bonus that you can see the vehicle in front more clearly. Follow the same procedure ensuring good recovery points are used spreading the load if possible. Ensuring that you keep the recovery rope/ strop tight so that you don’t drive over it.

Advanced techniques

Snatch type recovery. As you can tell from its name it involves the recovery vehicle snatching the stuck vehicle which normal recovers the vehicle well because of the extra momentum. This should really only used as a last resort as it puts a very large amount of strain on the recovery points and vehicles. On the snatch recovery at least two recovery points should be used. The same safety procedures apply as the other types of recovery but this time do not take up the slack. Instead when everybody is ready the recovery vehicle should accelerate away from the stuck vehicle, but only at a slow speed. The stuck vehicle will then be pulled out quick quickly. The best technique for this is to start off slow and slowly make the snatch a bit faster. Bearing in mind that the fast you go the more strain you will put on the recovery points which can lead to a failure. So carry out this type of recovery at your own risk! Ideally this should be performed with a special Snatch Strap, or kinetic tow rope as they can sometimes be called, basically a tow rope that has some stretch to it to cushion the snatching force….these can be an incredibly useful bit of kit.

Forwards and backwards with no vehicles

There will be times when a vehicle is not need to assist in the recovery or these following techniques can help with the recovery when using another vehicle. These following techniques will require a bit of manual labour. So get ready to get dirty.

An easy way to help with recovery is to dig a small trench that slowly gets shallower in front of the wheels this will help the wheels climb out easier. Small stones and rocks put in these “trenches” will also aid traction significantly.
The use of waffle boards and sand ladders will also aid recovery by producing extra traction for the tyres.


You now have a basic understanding of recovery. But the only way to become confident is to practice it. Try even practicing on firm level ground with a vehicle that’s not stuck. Soon this will become second nature to you and make you a better driver, you will start to plan you route with the idea that if it goes wrong it will be in the best possible placement for a vehicle to recover you. And remember, everyone has been stuck at some point! And it adds to the fun of being able to drive where others can’t! Some of our favourite trips have involved hours of recovery!!

P.S. as always remember your camera!!

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