People have been using ropes to pull vehicles out of sticky situations since ropes and wheels were first invented. In recent times, the ancient art of tugging a stuck vehicle loose has modernized, thanks to the invention of kinetic recovery ropes.
Kinetic recovery (also referred to as snatch recovery) uses the kinetic energy stored in a flexible rope or strap, built up by the recovery vehicle accelerating forward, to yank (a.k.a, snatch) the stuck vehicle free.
This contrasts with static towing, where the recovery vehicle slowly moves forward to tighten the tension on the tow strap and pulls on the stuck vehicle without any sudden tugging.
Kinetic rope recovery has emerged as a go-to technique in off-road recovery in recent years, with rapid advances in synthetic rope technology.
The major advantage of kinetic recovery over static towing is that the jerking force of a kinetic rope can tug a vehicle free from sticky mud or snow where a stack strap or rope won’t do the job.
Another advantage of kinetic recovery is that a lighter vehicle can potentially pull a heavier vehicle free–something that might be impossible with a static tow. Kinetic energy ropes are made of soft synthetic fiber which makes them safer (when done correctly) than some other recovery techniques such as winching with metal cable.
In this article, we’ll go through the basics of using a kinetic recovery rope. For info on choosing the best rope or strap for your needs, check out our guide to choosing a kinetic recovery rope.
How to Use a Kinetic Energy Rope
Kinetic recovery ropes are relatively straightforward to use, but do require some know-how to use correctly. And as with all vehicle recovery situations, taking proper safety precautions is essential to avoiding accidents.
Here, we’ll provide an overview of basic kinetic rope usage, but this isn’t a substitute for real-world training. We highly recommend you get training from a qualified instructor. Off-roading clubs are a good place to get leads on formal training.
Trainers certified by organizations such as the International 4-Wheel Drive Trainers Association offer off-road training programs that will cover various recovery techniques and scenarios.
Step 1: Assess the situation
The first order of business when planning a recovery is to assess the situation for safety risks and determine the best recovery technique. Determine if a kinetic rope recovery is the best option.
If the vehicle is stuck in a sticky substance such as mud, sand or snow, where suction and soft ground is preventing movement, kinetic recovery may be the best technique to tug it free.
You’ll also need space for the recovery vehicle to accelerate, build up speed, pull the stuck vehicle free and then slow down to a stop again. If you don’t have room for this, another technique may be in order.
Both vehicles will need appropriate recovery points that are able to withstand the forces involved in the kinetic recovery.
Step 2: Position recovery vehicle
The recovery vehicle should be in line with the stuck vehicle so that it can be pulled forward or backwards, depending on the situation.
The vehicles should be separated at a distance so that the recovery rope can be connected just a bit of slack between the vehicles. So for a 30-foot recovery rope, the vehicles should be about 30 feet apart.
Step 3: Connect kinetic recovery rope
Attached the recovery rope to recovery points connected to the frame of the vehicle. Referred to your owner’s manual to find these location.
Most stock bumpers are not adequate recovery points and should be avoided. That said, aftermarket bumpers designed for off-roading are often sturdier, connecting securely to the vehicle’s frame, and feature strong recovery points that can be used for kinetic recovery.
With an appropriate adaptor, some tow hitches can be used as recovery points as well, but never loop the rope around a standard ball hitch, as the force may rip the ball off, sending it flying dangerously through the air.
Also, never connect a kinetic recovery rope to the vehicle’s axles as this can damage your vehicle’s suspension and drivetrain.
To connect the rope to the recovery points, you’ll want some shackles to look through or around the recovery point and connect through the rope eye.
Put the stuck vehicle in neutral gear. Put the recovery vehicle in first gear.
Step 4: Pull stuck vehicle free
With the rope connected, drive the recovery vehicle forward to the point where the rope is taught, but not yet stretched. Then back up just a bit to allow slack in the rope. Make sure not to drive over the rope.
This slack in the rope allows the recovery vehicle to drive away from the stuck vehicle to build up a bit of momentum before the recovery rope is pulled taught and begins to stretch.
Before you begin to pull the rope taught, places some kind of damper — e.g., car mat, blanket, or purpose-designed winch line damper — over the rope to prevent it whipping if it breaks.
When you and the driver of the stuck vehicle are ready, drive forward to stretch the rope and give the stuck vehicle a gentle tug. The driver of the stuck vehicle should let off the break. If that doesn’t work, back up a bit further and try again. You can slightly increase the gas to build up a bit more momentum.
The amount of slack can vary, depending on how much of a pull is needed. But never back up more than 25 percent of the length of the rope. For a 30-foot rope, the closest the recovery vehicle would get to the stuck vehicle is around 22 feet (~75 percent the length of the rope).
You can slowly increase your acceleration and distance on subsequent attempts, as described above. Keep the speed of the recovery vehicle under 15 miles per hour. Stop attempting kinetic recovery if the pull between the vehicles becomes jarring. A kinetic recovery should be a fairly smooth affair. If the vehicles are being jerked violently, you’re using too much slack and/or speed.
If kinetic rope recovery doesn’t work, a winch recovery could be the next step.
Make sure that your recovery rope or strap isn’t too old or damaged to be used in vehicle recovery. Visually inspect your rope for damage and if you know a rope’s integrity has been compromised, such as being run over on hard ground, don’t use it for off-road recovery anymore. When a compromised rope straps, it has the potential to do serious injury.
Make sure all equipment — rope, shackles, vehicle recovery points, etc. — is rated to handle the weight of the vehicles involved. Only use rated shackles. Make sure that anyone who isn’t directly involved in the recovery stays at least 50 feet away from the recovery area.
How long should my kinetic recovery rope be?
Generally, a recovery rope in the 20- to 30-foot range will work well in most situations. We recommend a rope around 30 feet. For more information on the options, check out our guide to various kinetic recovery ropes.
What size (weight rating) recovery rope do I need?
A good rule of thumb is to use a kinetic recovery rope with a breaking strength around three times the gross vehicle weight rating of the stuck vehicle. To recover stock Jeep Wrangler that weighs around 4000 lbs, for instance, you’d need a rope with at least a 12000-pound breaking strength. Pick a rope rated appropriately to recover your vehicle, based on its gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR).
How much does a kinetic recovery rope weigh?
Weights of kinetic recovery ropes vary by manufacturer and depend on the length and thickness of the rope. Typically they weigh in the 3-10 pound range.
How long should your recovery rope be?
Most kinetic recovery ropes come in either 20-foot or 30-foot lengths. Either will work just fine. A shorter rope works best in tighter situations. The longer rope allows you to stay further away, which can be advantageous for avoiding the mud and sand that trapped the stuck vehicle.