Assessing the situation
As with any potentially hazardous situation, you always want to stop, take a breath, and slowly plan out your actions. The brutal truth is that most stuck situations are due to driver error – misreading the ground, or obstacle, or not understanding the vehicle limits. We all make mistakes here, often for the best of reasons, like not wanting to over-stress a vehicle. Freely admitting to this at the beginning lets you go about the recovery in the right spirit. Cheerful acceptance should be the mindset… no reason to be agitated, embarrassed or humiliated.
You will generally have all the time in the world to recover your vehicle, and should take all the time that is necessary. The first step is to realize that you need to proceed with something other than engine force. This could be a number of situations. You could be physically stuck on something, and not able to move forward or backward, your tires could be sunk into the ground, you may be having trouble getting over an obstacle, or you may just want the assuredness that comes from having a winch power you over something.
Taking a lesson from the technical rescue classes I took as an EMT, it makes sense to begin assessment with an outer circle inspection. Walk around the vehicle at least once. Identify all possible dangers while carrying out the recovery. Is the vehicle resting against a tree? Does the trail get more difficult further down the road? Are there potential anchor points ahead or behind the vehicle? Is the vehicle on a dangerous slope?
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The next step is to identify exactly what is causing you to be stuck, and to identify any potential issues to your recovery. This is the ‘inner circle’ inspection. Start at the front bumper, and work meticulously backward. Is the front bumper hung up on something? Can you get to the winch cable? Is there any danger in hitting the radiator? Could the front suspension get hung on something and get damaged? Is the frame just stuck on a rock? Is there any possible damage to the fuel tank? Is the rear axle or drive-shaft hung on something? Are the tires sunk in the dirt?
Depending on the way your truck is stuck, there may be any number of items resisting the forward progress of your vehicle. All of these things combine together when performing a recovery. First, a vehicle has it’s own internal resistance due to drive-line components and tire rolling resistance. With 33” tires at 15psi and bearing, seal, and differential resistance, it all begins to add up. The terrain itself inherently offer’s its own resistance. The resistance on firm ground is much different than the resistance in deep mud or snow. In general, it requires 7% of the vehicle’s weight to move a vehicle on firm ground, and 50% or more in mud or snow. Lastly, there is a resistance of ground slope. This one is the most obvious because we know it takes more force to walk up a hill than down. In general, a 30° slope generates a resistance of 50% of the vehicle’s weight. At 45°, the resistance grows to 70%. And of course, a 0° slope adds zero resistance. The last thing that is overlooked is the obstacle that is keeping you from moving forward. If there is a large rock in front of a tire, or the belly is resting on soil, this can contribute a large resistance force to the recovery process. Depending on the rock’s height and angle, it can add resistance of 100% of the vehicle’s weight. All of these factors can compound on top of each other, and are important to keep in mind when choosing your recovery method.
Once you have identified exactly why and how you are stuck, it’s time to begin planning the best way to recover.
Plan out the recovery
Once you complete your stuck assessment, it is time to plan the extraction. Depending on how you are stuck, different tactics could benefit you. These are covered in the coming pages. When planning out the recovery, it is important to consider all possible options. Sometimes the most obvious choice is not always the simplest choice. For instance, instead of pulling out a winch, and setting up a pull-pal anchor point, it may be easiest to just use a sand ladder. The difference could be a half-hour worth of work.
Sometimes a combination of methods is necessary so as not over-stress any component of the vehicle or the recovery equipment. A combination of digging out in front of the wheels or stacking rocks, and winching can decrease the required winching force by a large factor.
During the planning phase, you will not only plan the recovery in your mind, but also to begin assembling the proper supplies for the method you choose. Think through each part that you will need, and ensure they are present. Lay out the parts, and make the connections in a methodical manner. There’s no reason to be running around.
Envision the recovery
Once you have made all the proper connections, and before actually going through with the recovery, look at the set up and envision the forces on each part. Make extra sure that the components are rated to the expected pull force. Envision how the vehicle will move during the recovery. Will you encounter any potential hazards that were identified during the assessment?
Envision where the equipment will fly if a component fails. Keep people well away from those areas. For instance, if using a snatch block for a change of direction pull, anywhere inside the V is considered a no-go area.
Carry out the recovery while keeping in mind the warnings specific to that method. The individual method details are covered in depth in the coming sections.