last updated 18/10/2017
Prepare yourself for an epic read. This article is the culmination of 12 years of research. It is the most comprehensive how to drive on sand guide in the universe. It’s so good it will be turned into a book. Perhaps a best seller. Grab a drink, relax and settle in for an extended read.
Sand driving is a common form of offroading. Beaches, dune systems, deserts – they’re all sandy. A country like Australia, with its expansive deserts and coastline distributed with beautiful sandy beaches, means sand driving is very common. I love driving on a sandy beach. Cruise along, elbow out window, watch the surf, explore the beach, pretend to know how to “read” the beach for fish producing areas, find a good spot and pull up for some fishing, relaxing, swimming and a few cold brews. It doesn’t come without risk though. This article is a comprehensive guide on how to drive on sand. Use at your own risk, this guide is based on my opinions and experiences. I am not an authority on any subject, just ask my wife (spatulacraft is one exception).
What qualifies me to write this guide? A lot of sand driving in really boggy, soft sand. I owned a Suzuki Sierra (also known as Samurai) for around 8 years, specifically purchased for beach work. In that time it did more km off road than it did on. Name a beach in Western Australia and I’ve probably driven on it. I spent most of my spare time exploring WA beaches, dune bashing through coastal dune systems, camping on the coast chasing salmon and general beach fishing. Since then I’ve got the Hilux and have continued to visit sandy places including beaches and inland sandy deserts throughout Australia. Some beaches in Australia are rather treacherous. Needless to say I’ve been in some difficult positions and have had plenty of varied experiences.
Approach Angle: the steepest angle a vehicle can approach and drive up without making contact with the ground.
Bust the bead: Separating the tyre bead from the rim, causing the air seal to be lost and the tyre to instantly deflate. In itself does not damage the tyre or rim, unless the vehicle is driven with the tyre deflated. Provided there is no tyre damage, the tyre can be reinflated using various methods to re-seat the bead.
Hump-dee-doo: deep, uneven ruts where vehicles have become bogged, usually due to running too high tyre pressures. They can typically be found on sand dune ascents. The action of the vehicle’s differentials causes two diagonally opposite wheels to create deeper ruts in the sand than the other diagonal wheels. Once formed, hump-dee-doos progressively get worse from other vehicles traversing the track. As the diagonally opposite wheels of a passing vehicle drop into the ruts, the action of the vehicle’s differentials cause the wheels in the deeper ruts to spin freely in the same manner that caused the ruts in the first place, making the ruts deeper with each vehicle passing.
Narrow, boggy, sloping beach: A beach with deep soft sand and little distance between the water’s edge and the dunes / vegetation. There is little to no level area of beach, it slopes down towards the water.
Tyre bead: The part of the tyre that makes contact with the rim. It forms the seal that keeps air in the tyre and is also where the rim transfers torque to the tyre.
Tyre profile: Height of tyre sidewall. That is, the distance from the tyre tread to the rim.
Tyre Pressure for Sand
You may have heard someone say “this model 4WD is crap, I once saw it sink straight down in sand.” You may have seen one 4WD effortlessly pass a struggling 4WD in sand, with an explanation that 4WD “A” is better than 4WD “B”. The reasoning in both scenarios is completely invalid. The observed differences can, with a high degree of certainty, be attributed to tyre pressure. The one thing that dominates a vehicle’s ability to drive in sand, to the extent that all other factors are largely insignificant, is tyre pressure.
Any guide to sand driving will make this point clear. Even the crappy guides. Reduce tyre pressures on sand! It makes so much difference. You will get further driving in sand in 2WD with correct tyre pressure than you can in 4WD with pressure that is too high. Under most conditions, if it feels like you are ploughing through the sand, then your tyres are too hard. You should be sitting on top. There aren’t many situations where you will churn through sand half bogged if your tyres are at the correct pressure.
Don’t reduce pressure just enough to make it through. Reduce so you are floating on top, comfortably driving through. It will improve fuel economy, reduce wear on your engine and minimize damage to the surface. Each time you force your way through sand at too high tyre pressure you make it harder for the next guy by cutting up the track. It also works your motor terribly hard. You can smell a vehicle that hasn’t aired down enough – the motor is cooking.
What is the best pressure for sand? The pressure that allows your vehicle to float on top of the sand. If you’re not floating on top your pressure is too high. The actual figure depends on vehicle weight, loading, the tyre and the sand. If you’re not sure, keep airing down in increments until your 4WD floats on top. You will feel it because the car becomes so easy to drive. Typical pressures for soft sand would be 18 psi for a heavy vehicle, 15 psi for an average vehicle or 12 psi for a light vehicle. Keep airing down until it feels right, but don’t reduce pressure to the extent that your rims could run on your tread. Keep an eye on how flat the tyre appears.
You may hear arguments from people against reducing tyre pressure due to the risk of busting a tyre bead. They’ve never had to air down, travel ok in sand with hard tyres so have no reason to take the risk of busting a bead. I’m not sure what sand they are driving on, but some beaches you won’t make two metres without airing down. If someone hasn’t aired down before, or only marginally aired down, then they have never driven in soft sand. There is no alternative. It is true that reduced pressure increases the risk of busting the bead. The lower the pressure, the greater the risk. At around 15 psi it’s pretty difficult to bust a bead. Usually it would only happen whilst showing off or hooning. Otherwise around 15 psi is safe if you take some care and don’t drive too aggressively. Out of the thousands of km I have run at reduced pressure, I have busted the bead on one occasion. That was when running extreme low pressure, around 6 psi, and trying to out do a friend up a sand dune.
Tyre pressure can be reduced further as required, but care needs to be taken not to bottom out your rim into the tyre tread, and not to bust the bead. Avoid impacts, sudden turns and any violent manoeuvres. I’ve driven at 8 psi all day up and down a soft beach and through sand dune tracks without a problem. I was careful. At very low tyre pressures you also risk sand getting trapped between the bead and rim, causing a slow air leak as the bead no longer seals adequately. This has happened to me a few times and is annoying to rectify, as you have to break the bead to clean the sand out. Driving carefully to avoid busting the bead will also avoid sand between the bead and rim.
You’ll need some sort of pressure gauge or a set of tyre deflators to air down. I use tyre deflators because I drive on sand so regularly. They save time and effort. All four tyres are aired down at the same time, and they stop automatically at the set pressure. A pressure gauge is still required to check pressure and air down further as required. If you plan to do a lot of sand driving you should get a pressure gauge designed specifically to measure low tyre pressures. Ordinary pressure gauges lose accuracy at typical sand driving pressures and are pretty useless below 10 psi. You’ll also need a compressor to air up once you’ve finished on the sand. My compressor is hard wired and permanently installed with air hose in the back of the Hilux, ready to go at any time. Again that’s because I use it so much.
Don’t drive on a hard surface with under-inflated tyres. You risk tyre overheating, tyre damage and / or blowout. Don’t drive on rocky or jagged surfaces with very low tyre pressure. Again you risk tyre damage. Tyres are very vulnerable to hard, rough or sharp objects when at very low pressure, especially the bulging sidewalls. If you need to traverse a rocky outcrop when your tyres are set to very low pressure, the official recommendation would be to air up. However airing up and down a hundred times a day is not practical. If you aren’t going to air up, drive over the rocky outcrop with extreme care. Idle through in first gear low range. Pick your line carefully to avoid the worst rocks. Pay special attention to any areas where the tyre sidewall may contact the rocks. Eject your heaviest passengers and get them to walk. Minimize the risk of tyre damage. The best tyre pressure for rock is less than highway pressure to give the tyre some flex and reduce impact loads and stress fractures, but greater than sand pressure to protect the tyre from pinches and side wall damage. See this article for a complete guide to tyre pressure.
Tyres don’t make much difference. Flotation is key on sand, and that is governed by tyre pressure. Wide tyres don’t have much effect. Tyre surface contact with the ground is again governed by tyre pressure and not the dimensions of the tyre. Click here to see why.
Tyre profile is important if you want to traverse soft sand. Low profile tyres have little capacity to reduce pressure, as the rim will contact the inside tread and damage the tyre. So larger diameter tyres, and smaller rims or wheels, are better because they afford more room to reduce tyre pressures. The trendy new 4WDs with large wheels and low profile tyres are no good for soft sand. There is no room to deform the tyre through reduced pressure. At least they look good.
Larger overall diameter, independent of ability to reduce pressure, is helpful in sand too. As a tyre penetrates the surface of the sand (becomes bogged) some parts of the contact patch are no longer horizontal and the relationship between pressure and contact patch becomes distorted. Pressure dictates contact patch perpendicular to the direction of force. When penetrating the surface the tyre’s contact patch becomes larger than what the pressure dictates since some of the contact patch is no longer perpendicular to the weight of the vehicle. A larger diameter tyre will provide better flotation under these conditions. A good example are the huge rear wheels on tractors and their incredible ability to not get bogged.
Tread pattern doesn’t matter much when driving on sand. Some say less aggressive tread patterns are better because they don’t dig as much, providing better flotation. Same story for worn tyres being better than new. Sounds logical but I can’t say I’ve noticed much difference in the field.
You still want a strong tyre for serious sand work. Best option in my opinion is an all terrain tyre with a good reputation. I’m running Bridgestone D694LT (also known as Revo 2). There are some exotic specialist tyres out there but they’re not suitable for touring.
Vehicle Setup for Sand Driving
The following vehicle characteristics are best for sand driving:
– Light weight. You won’t see any photos of the Sierra bogged in this article. It’s almost unboggable. It’s just too light. It may stop advancing up a hill or in very deep sand, but if you continue spinning the wheels it won’t sink and will easily back out with reduced tyre pressure.
– Plenty of power. This helps driving up long sand dunes and through deep sand. A diesel performance chip can help if you have a diesel and you’re doing a lot of soft sand work. The Sierra is under powered, and although it would never get bogged it did fail to reach the top of several sand dunes simply from running out of speed due to insufficient engine power.
– High approach angle. To conquer large and / or steep sand dunes you are likely going to need a run up, and that means smashing into the foot of the sand dune at speed. I’ve seen vehicles damaged in this manner. My Hilux had a close encounter with a dune face, denting the bash plate nicely and giving me some macho clout. Some bullbars provide better approach angle than others. I reckon if I had the big bulbous chrome looking Toyota bull bar on my vehicle it may have got left behind in the dune after impact. The ARB bullbar I’ve got affords a better approach angle. If you do bottom out at speed into the foot of a dune, check that you haven’t left anything behind in the sand – number plate, bumper, underbody guards, parts of the chassis, etc.
– Reasonable ground clearance. Doesn’t need to be huge, just enough to not bottom out in wheel ruts. Soft roaders, despite their poor ground clearance, can still be used on sand that isn’t too boggy. Deep sand is best reserved for vehicles with good ground clearance.
– Low range gearbox for soft sand. Get bogged and you’ll need it. Taking off in deep soft sand works a vehicle very hard. Without low range you’ll struggle to take off, the engine will stall, you will bugger the clutch or overheat the transmission. I’ve seen owners of big powerful 8 cylinder 4WDs too proud to use low range due to plenty of low end grunt. In one case it was a bogged brand new automatic V8 landcruiser. He was down to the axles in sand so he aired down and tried to take off in high range. The engine roared, the revs climbed high but the wheels barely moved. All that slippage and heat transfer through the automatic gearbox cannot be good and he had to revert to low range to get out anyway. In general you should always use low range in soft sand.
– Diff lockers don’t make much difference for general sand driving, except for climbing firmer sand tracks with hump-dee-doos that may lift a wheel off the ground. If driving through soft sand diff lockers can make it worse, rapidly digging in both sides of the vehicle when bogged and beaching the car on it’s chassis. Without a diff locker, as you become bogged, it’s likely one wheel per axle won’t spin much. The wheels that are spinning will unweighten as they articulate down and as they continue to spin the reduced weight will cause them to dig in less, whilst the wheel that isn’t spinning won’t dig in at all. This means less shovel work when recovering from the bog. However having all wheels spin with a diff locker can be enough to power through deep sand, so it’s a trade off. Regardless, diff lockers aren’t crucial for capable sand performance. My old Suzuki Sierra was the best on sand vehicle I’ve ever driven or traveled with, yet it had completely open diffs and poor articulation from the stiff stock leaf springs.
– All these factors combined are less important than tyre pressure. The bulk of a vehicle’s ability to traverse sand comes from running correct air pressure.
Effect of Slope When Driving on Sand
The two bogged vehicles in the photos above have one thing in common. They are driving across a cross slope (a beach sloping down towards the water). Driving downhill or over level sand is easy. At the right tyre pressure you will float on top, regardless of how soft and deep the sand is. Cross slopes and up hill slopes introduce problems. Slope only has to be minor, almost unnoticeable, to start making a significant impact in sand. Traversing a cross slope causes a 4WD to slip sideways down the slope, with the driver correcting by turning up the slope. The sand provides very little lateral support to prevent the sideways slide. Ploughing sideways through soft sand bleeds off speed quickly and the end result is often getting bogged. Driving up hill of course is against gravity which again makes progress difficult.
When stopped, bogged or not, the surest way of being able to advance again is by driving down hill. Regardless of how small the slope is, it makes a difference. Taking off on a cross slope or up hill is difficult.
Driving Techniques for Sand
So you’ve chucked the shovel in the back, you’ve aired down and you’re ready to go. Here are some techniques to help with sand driving.
– Use low range for anything apart from hard packed sand. It will reduce wear on your drivetrain and make it easier to take off.
– Maintain adequate speed through boggy sand or up sand dunes. As soon as your engine rpm drops, respond with more throttle input. Don’t wait for your car to noticeably slow down. Anticipate speed drops up inclines and through boggy sand by adjusting throttle in advance. You need to avoid losing momentum in boggy sand. It’s very hard to get going once you’re stuck.
– When ascending steep sand dunes, approach square to the dune, at right angles to the slope. Gain speed and select a gear that will provide the right balance of speed and torque before hitting the base of the dune. Maintain speed by adjusting throttle according to the point above, responding quickly to any change in engine rpm. Don’t wait for the car to slow down. If your engine is dying at full throttle but you’re not getting bogged, you might need a lower gear. If your engine is holding rpm but you are bogging down you might need more speed and a higher gear. Reduce speed as you approach the top. Judge your slow down so that you can stop safely at the top of the dune in case of oncoming traffic and to give you a chance to assess what’s on the other side. In fact it’s a good idea to check the other side on foot before attempting it in the vehicle in case of hazards on the other side.
– When descending steep dunes you need to keep the car square to the dune slope. You can descend much steeper dunes then what is possible to ascend, so it’s extremely important to align correctly as there is increased roll over risk on steeper angles. Align your car before entering the descent. If very steep get out and check your car’s alignment with the dune. Make a plan, pick your route, find a target to aim for, or get a spotter to help you maintain alignment square to the dune. Inch down in first or second gear low range, feet off the pedals or very light constant throttle input. Some suggest second gear is better to avoid going too slow. Both first and second have worked for me. Never use the brakes – doing so will increase the risk of sideways action. Don’t change gears. Don’t operate the clutch. Be ready to gently blip the throttle to help re-align the car if it drifts sideways. Adjust your alignment first by steering gently rather than blipping the throttle. Respond early if the car comes out of alignment with square to the dune face. The earlier you correct, the gentler you can do it and the less rollover risk you introduce. Blipping the throttle will help re-align the car if steering alone can’t, however it is dangerous. There is potential to over correct, lose control of the vehicle, and tumble down the slope.
– If you fail to advance up a steep sand dune and you need to reverse, take care. This is a dangerous situation. You need to maintain the car at right angles to the dune face, which is harder to do in reverse. It is especially dangerous if the dune falls off to the sides of the track, introducing an additional roll over hazard if you simply reverse off track. Follow the same strategies as driving down a steep dune as in the point above. If the dune is really steep there is a greater case for a spotter because it’s harder to judge your position when reversing. Most of the time a dune you attempt to ascend won’t be excessively steep so this circumstance is rare. If you are planning a very steep dune ascent, first consider what will happen if you don’t make it.
– In a vehicle with automatic transmission, you may need to manually select gears to preventing gear hunting and to ensure the correct gear stays locked in whilst you negotiate a dune or obstacle.
– Take care around blind corners through dune tracks and over crests. Head on collisions have occurred.
– Use the minimum speed you can get away with. Don’t be a hoon. Keep it safe among other vehicles and people using the beach or dunes. This also minimizes wear on your vehicle.
– Make wide, gentle turns. Sharp turns take away speed and risk bogging. They also risk a roll over, even on level sand, if the outside wheels dig into the sand. Plus they risk busting tyre beads.
– Switch off electronic traction aids. Your wheels will continuously experience some level of slip on sand, causing electronic traction aids to go berserk. Your car will be constantly beeping at you and will always be shuddering with the traction control going into overdrive as it tries to eliminate wheel spin. The constant activation of traction control in sand wears out the electronic brake actuators and brake pads and also transmits a shock load through your drivetrain which can contribute to drivetrain failure. So turn traction aids off. Turn electronic traction aids back on (or diff lockers if you have them) if you encounter hump-dee-doos.
– Keep your distance from the car in front. This gives you options if they get bogged or decide to stop somewhere inconvenient.
– If you are the leading vehicle in a convoy, consider those behind you before stopping and placing them in difficult positions.
– Follow the tracks or wheel ruts of previous vehicles. The sand is more compacted there. Make your own compacted sand by going forward and reverse over a section. This will create an area where you can gain more speed over a short distance for advancing up a dune or recovering another vehicle. If the ruts have been traversed by a vehicle with hard tyres then it can be more boggy in the ruts so keep that in mind for deeply chopped up ruts.
– Allow ruts to hold your car straight and use only gentle steering input. Often people over-use the steering wheel, especially since steering feedback is so poor on sand, not allowing the vehicle to fall into and follow ruts. This causes the car to plough sideways through the sand which digs the vehicle down and makes it difficult to advance. Don’t fight the ruts. Use the ruts rather than steering to keep your car straight or to follow a bend.
– Once bogged first try backing up on your tracks. If that doesn’t work, stop. Keep your feet off the pedals. Avoid making it worse. Get out, have a look, air down more, use a shovel to clear the chassis from the sand and from impeding the wheels, make a plan. If you avoid making it worse you will nearly always be able to self extract without too much effort. Very rarely is snatching necessary.
– If stuck, try to get free in the direction that is most down hill, and turn your front wheels to the side that will point your car more into the direction of the down hill slope. If you are struggling, churning through some deep sand with little progress, often all that’s required is to turn the wheels the other way and / or go in reverse to get the advantage of the slope, freeing the car and allowing it to come back to the surface. Then you can give the direction you wanted to go initially another try or make a new plan to get through.
– If stuck on a cross slope and you’d like to go down the cross slope to make it easier to become unstuck, it may be better to go in reverse. When travelling forward the rear end may slide down faster than what the front wheels can turn down, keeping your vehicle in an uphill orientation. When reversing ,the sideways sliding rear end helps to arrange the car so it’s travelling down the cross slope making it easier to advance.
– Look out for sudden drop offs. On a beach they are formed by wave erosion, especially during storms, and by small creeks emptying into the ocean. In dune systems they are formed by wind. They can cause vehicle damage and roll overs if descended incorrectly. Be especially vigilant around midday, when the high sun, lack of shadows and uniform colour of sand can make drop offs difficult to spot. Descend drop offs using the same strategies as descending steep dunes.
– If traversing a cross slope and you lose the rear end down the slope, avoid turning up the slope to correct. It’s likely you will lose speed and get bogged. If the track permits, turn down the slope, straighten up the car, get some speed, then drive up.
– Bury your spare tyre deep in sand if you need an anchor point for winching. Dig to at least 1m deep. Use a tree protector or similar to avoid damaging your wheel. Allow several beers to provide energy for so much shovel work.
– Anticipate understeer, especially when accelerating. Reduce throttle input to reduce understeer.
– If driving in a rut which you wish to exit, be wary of the vehicle suddenly veering off to the side once the ruts are clear – you may find yourself heading into oncoming traffic or off the side of a dune. A technique to minimize this risk is to jerk the steering wheel in the direction you want to exit, then return it to centre. Always return to centre regardless of the vehicle’s response. You don’t know whether the vehicle will stay in the ruts or free itself. Returning the steering wheel to centre will ensure you don’t suddenly veer off to the side. If it stays in the rut, repeat the process until you get free, each time returning the steering wheel to centre. If you have difficulty exiting a rut, lift off the accelerator pedal at the same time you jerk the wheel to help the front wheels bite and the rear end swing around.
– Keep thumbs on the outside of the steering wheel to avoid them getting broken.
– Recovery tracks are good in sand. Get a set if you plan to do a lot of sand work. If your vehicle is completely beached, resting on its underbelly, with the tyres barely touching the ground, dig the sand out from under the car before using recovery tracks. Otherwise your wheels will simply spin on the recovery tracks, wearing them out.
– Take a tide chart for the area you are beach driving. Don’t drive along the beach on a rising tide. Plan your travels around a dropping or low tide. If you are not organized enough to take a tide chart or be familiar with the forecast tides, stick to flat wide beaches, keep away from the high tide mark and avoid treacherous sections of beach altogether.
– Do not stop in places that are hard to take off from. Stop only on firm sand, with the vehicle on level ground or pointing down hill.
– Monitor engine temperature. Driving slowly through soft sand heavily loads the engine and does not provide much air flow, potentially overheating your engine.
– If stuck due to uneven terrain or hump-dee-doos without diff lockers, dig out sand from under the tyres that have the most traction. This will place weight onto the tyres that are spinning freely and allow you to drive out. Using the brakes and accelerating at the same time (poor man’s diff lock) whilst stuck in this scenario doesn’t work if you have standard open diffs. Open diffs have no way of multiplying torque, regardless of the effect of braking. Braking and accelerating at the same time may help with diffs that are capable of multiplying torque, such as limited slip diffs.
Narrow, Boggy, Sloping Beaches
Another name for a narrow, boggy, sloping beach is 4WD graveyard. If you get stuck anywhere else there is no problem. Take your time, crack open a beer, eat some lunch, try a few things, whip out the shovel, reduce tyre pressure. Get assistance if there are others nearby. Phone a friend. Set up camp and deal with it in the morning. Get stuck on a narrow, boggy, sloping beach and you have yourself a race against time and a potential catastrophe. To drive out, you need to drive up hill, away from the water. There is no option to retreat down hill. Your car will always want to drift down, into the water. The more you try to get out, the more your car ploughs sideways into the surf. As the waves wash in and out around your stricken car, they wash sand out from beneath the tyres, further pulling your car down. Throw in a rising tide and you have a recipe for a 4WD burial.
Narrow, boggy, sloping beaches get special treatment because of the unique risks they pose. The guidelines are:
– Avoid narrow, boggy, sloping beaches. Do not drive on them.
– Avoid the temptation to drive onto the wet sand. Sometimes it’s firm, sometimes it’s like quicksand, and you need to drive up hill to get out. If it’s a wide, flat, hard packed beach then driving on the wet sand is ok if you know it’s firm. Be wary of muddy areas on tidal flats.
– When driving on a beach, pay attention to what’s ahead. Watch for the beach starting to become narrow and sloping. Stop before you get into a difficult position.
– If too risky to proceed, make a plan for turning around. Do not perform a U-turn into the water. The best option is to reverse over your tracks until the beach is wide and flat enough to safely perform a U-turn. Another option is to reverse into a break in the dunes, allowing you to drive out forward onto the beach in the other direction. Perhaps the shoulder at the top of the beach is wide enough to perform a 3-point turn. Just don’t drive down towards the water.
– When performing a U-turn your car will slow down as the turn progresses. The slowest part of the turn is the final part. This is the time where you are most likely to get stuck. So when performing a U-turn, gain speed and start the turn from closer to the water, and turn up the beach away from the water. The portion of the turn closest to the water will be at your highest speed so there is less risk of getting stuck. You will also have more momentum to continue the up hill portion of the turn. At the slowest part of the turn you are away from the water with space to drive downhill if you get into trouble while you exit the turn. Turn the other way, starting from the top of the beach and turning into the water, means at your slowest point you will be nearest to the water, and you need to drive uphill as you exit the turn.
Using Snatch Straps
Snatch straps are dangerous. People die from using them. In sand you can reduce the risk by digging out the stricken car before attempting a snatch and reducing the stricken car’s tyre pressure as much as possible. If you don’t dig, the bogged car is like an anchor, and you will be placing recovery hitches, shackles and snatch strap under excessive stress, risking breakage, with sometimes fatal results. Free the car as best you can as if you were trying to drive it out, then snatch gently. Reduce tyre pressure so the stricken vehicle will contribute more to the recovery, allowing a gentler snatch. Follow normal snatch procedures – inspect strap before use, use only rated recovery hitches and shackles, place blankets over strap to dampen movement in case of breakage, only the driver remains in the vehicles, keep bystanders well away from the recovery and at right angles to the pulling direction, co-ordinate snatching between vehicles through CB radio or using horn or some other communication, snatch as gently as possible and if after a few attempts without success stop and re-assess rather than continuing to increase snatch speed. Something extra I like to do, if the recovery is occurring from behind, is slouch in the seat so my head is below the height of the headrest, protected from any flying shackles, recovery hitches or other pieces of 4WD. If the recovery is happening in front, duck down below the dashboard so you can barely see above it to minimize how much head you have exposed to potential projectiles.
If snatching on a narrow, boggy, sloping beach, the recovery vehicle will be higher on the shoulder of the beach, the bogged vehicle will be low towards the water and the snatch strap will be diagonally across the beach. The snatch strap will not be aligned with the pulling direction of the recovery vehicle. On any snatch you want the snatch strap and both vehicles aligned as much as possible in a straight line. When you go to snatch, there is insufficient lateral traction provided by the sand to keep the recovery vehicle up on the shoulder of the beach. The rear end of the recovery vehicle will get pulled down towards the water so that it is aligned with the direction of the snatch strap. This introduces two problems. Firstly the recovery vehicle is now pulling up hill, which means it’s much less effective at pulling. Secondly the recovery vehicle is now at risk of sliding down the beach and getting bogged.
An alternative approach to snatching in this scenario is to snatch very slowly. Both the bogged vehicle and the recovery vehicle crawl in first gear low range, churning through the sand, slowly making progress. This avoids the high impact force that would otherwise pull the rear end of the recovery vehicle down towards the water. The recovery vehicle can stay high on the beach without risking itself to the surf, and keep churning away slowly pulling out the bogged car. If both vehicles are running very low tyre pressures, it should work. You may need to reduce to around 6 psi. This method is also a less risky in terms of breaking the recovery gear.
In Case of Emergency
You’re stuck on a narrow, boggy, sloping beach. The tide is rising. There are no other vehicles to help. You have no winch or recovery tracks or other recovery equipment. If you want to save your vehicle you need to act quickly. Once the car is sucked into the sand by the water there is no way to recover. Act before that happens.
– Remove everything from the vehicle. Do not compromise. Do not waste time deciding what to take out. Small or large, heavy or light, take it out. Lots of small things accumulate to a significant weight – it all makes a difference. If the rear seats in the car are easy to remove, take them out too. There’s another reason why taking all your stuff out of your car is a good idea, which you’ll see below.
– Your wife, heavy or light, also needs to be removed and kept quiet. Yes you are stupid for putting the vehicle in this position, but for now everyone must work together and remain focused on the recovery.
– Reduce tyres to ridiculously low pressure. You are risking tyre damage and busting a tyre bead. The return for your risk is the chance to save your 4WD. Try a pressure of around 5 psi.
– Plan to drive out forward. It is extremely difficult to drive up a boggy sloping beach in reverse. The front end of the car is almost impossible to control. It swings around like a pendulum.
– Dig around your car so the chassis is clear of the ground and there is no sand impeding the front of each tyre.
– Throw crap under the tyres – floor mats, boogie board, blankets, sleeping bag, tent, tarps, vegetation, sticks, anything you can find. It will all get ruined, but may save your car. Hard things like camping tables and chairs may be too risky for your tyres and for people nearby.
– Apologise to the car for putting it into this position and for the pain you are about to inflict on it. Stroke the dashboard gently. Reminisce about the good times. There’s a chance this may be the last time you ever drive it.
– Do not hesitate when you go to move forward. You want maximum effort from the start. You may get traction for only a brief moment. In that time you want to gain as much speed as possible, hopefully enough to pull your car up out of the ruts and drive up the beach towards safety.
– Get anyone with you to help by pushing. It doesn’t do much, but could be the difference between getting out or not. Be careful if you’ve chucked stuff under the tyres – it could get thrown at the people pushing, causing injury.
– Select 1st gear low range, push the throttle hard and swiftly take off. If in an auto transmission, lock it in 1st. You don’t want it shifting up prematurely then bogging down from insufficient torque. Regulate throttle to maintain engine rpm just below redline. Engine rpm can drop quickly if you hit a patch of traction. Be ready for it so you maintain rpm and maximize speed gained. Churn through the sand and power up the beach. If you feel the car has pulled out and is easily floating on top, quickly change to second gear to get more speed to help travel up the sloping beach away from the water. If your car is churning through deep sand and making slow progress, continue to maintain rpm and do not change gear.
– If you’re still bogged you have one last thing to try. Dig out around your chassis and tyres again and attempt to take off in the same manner, but this time turn your front wheels down hill towards the water. Similar to a stalling plane, you are trying to point the nose down, gain some speed, then pull up to avoid the imminent catastrophe. This move is risky – failure will bring you further into the water. Maintain rpm, maximize speed and select gears according to the point above.
– Start turning up the beach, away from the water, and towards safety. Don’t slow down until you are completely clear. Don’t let the painful noise coming from your motor deter you from keeping your foot planted. Use every bit of speed you have.
– If this fails, take one last look at your car as it gets swallowed by the surf. Start thinking of a good story to explain to your insurance company. At least you’ve saved all your stuff.