Ropes for Towing – Heavy Pulling

Having bought or owned for some time,one of the world’s best 4×4’s why not start using it occasionally for some mild off-roading! Maybe you have already got the bug and sampled the vehicle’s true off-road prowess.

Either way, my series is to show you what other ropes, jacks, and winches later on, are available and how to use them, both effectively and safely.

For most, a gentle green laning day is a perfect start in becoming acquainted with what could be, or what maybe already, a life long wonderful hobby and pastime – driving your Land Rover product ‘off-road’.
For others, joining one of our school sessions, will be your first introduction.

Either way, always go prepared. I consider that the first piece of off-road kit to purchase is a good long and strong nylon tow rope and a bridle to attach it to your vehicle. The second item would be a high lift jack, but more about that in another chapter.

The Recoverline KERR rope

‘KERR’ stands for ‘Kinetic Energy Recovery Rope’. This is the rope to carry in your kit. Sooner or later either you or someone else will need a recovery ranging from a mild pull out to a more serious yank out of deep mud! I designed and developed the Recoverline KERR rope in the mid eighties in conjunction with Marlow Ropes when they were looking for a recovery rope system for ‘light skin’ military Land Rovers. The British Army had been using KERR ropes for de-bogging 60 tonne Challenger tanks made from multiplait 90mm dia (3.5 inch) nylon rope. That’s some rope!

Over the course of time we evaluated many different lengths and diameters of multiplait 8 strand nylon rope and eventually settled on the ‘ideal’ specification. This was 8 metres between bearing points and 24mm diameter, giving a minimum breaking capacity of 12 tonnes with an elongation of approximately 30% at full load. The soft eye splices are protected with polyester lay flat tubing with the splices being made with 5 tucks with the ‘ends’ split, dogged (bound with twine) and heat sealed.

The non-rotating 8 plait construction is used to avoid the inherent problems such as kinking and hocking associated with conventional 3 strand ropes. The use of multiplait construction is also ideal as the rope is more supple and is therefore easier to handle.

This is quite a high specification, but remember, in a serious recovery situation the load is phenomenal. Before I explain how the Recoverline KERR rope works, lets consider general ‘getting stuck’ and getting the vehicle out.

Recovery situations can be potentially dangerous, especially when attempting to ‘pluck’ a well stuck vehicle out of the mire, or if wedged in deep ruts.

Personally, I prefer to use either an electric winch to recover either myself or another 4×4, as the recovery is fully under control at the ‘touch of a button’. Or equally safe is using a Brano or Tirfor hand winch. But by employing a rope recovery it is generally much quicker to de – bog a stuck vehicle.

When carrying out a recovery, by whatever method, do check first that the stuck vehicle isn’t stuck fast on an enormous rock or log hidden under the vehicle. The last thing you want is to damage the steering gear, axles, exhaust system or what-have-you.

Maybe just three or four people could push the vehicle out of it’s predicament, but be careful not to get trapped between the side of the vehicle and a tree or a bank as the vehicle gains traction, and definitely watch out for flying mud from those spinning road wheels!

Mild Recovery

The Recoverline KERR rope can of course be used for a gentle pull out. It’s long length of 8 metres (27 feet) will enable the recovery vehicle to find good ground to pull from.

When using ropes just as in any recovery situation make sure that there is good communication between the parties concerned, that the stuck vehicle’s driver knows when he or she is about to be recovered, and that his or her handbrake is off – you may laugh! Also remember to have the engine running to both run the power steering, and assist with the road wheels if necessary. This also ensures the steering lock unit isn’t locked – you may laugh again! The driver of the stuck vehicle must communicate with the recovery driver in front, either directly with hand signals, headlight flashing, CB radio or via an assistant standing to one side between the vehicles to say that he or she is ready.

By all means assist the rope recovery with road wheels turning slowly in first or second gear in low ratio to try and gain traction. But be careful not to overrun the rope and definitely don’t get a front wheel over the rope as it could get taken around the tyre with disastrous results, if the recovery vehicle goes off again at warp 9 and he or she thinks you are catching them up. At best, the rope will tighten around the front swivel housing and squash the flexible brake pipe. At worst, you could get your axle ripped off as the recovery vehicle goes charging off.

Heavy KERR Recoveries

When a Recoverline KERR rope is used to recover a fairly stuck load, this is where the ‘kinetic energy’ that is stored up in the nylon rope does it’s job.

The energy is created by the speed times the weight of the recovery vehicle. As the rope is literally stretched to its maximum being pulled towards the recovery vehicle, much like a powerful elastic band!

Imagine a well stuck vehicle. Always use a bridle made from 3 strand 24mm diameter nylon rope about 2 metres long with soft eye splices at each end. Attach this bridle to the stuck vehicle after rigging it through the protected eye splice of the KERR rope. NEVER EVER rig a shackle directly on to the end of a KERR rope.

If that shackle should break through blowing apart you would have a flying missile which would travel back along the length of rope towards the recovery vehicle and embed itself through its tailgate or rear window which would be exceedingly dangerous.

The same goes if a towing or recovery point fails, please refer to my last chapter on safety issues. I digress, back to attaching the bridle to the front of the stuck vehicle to those strong Jate Rings, ‘Bumper D Rings’ or Jackmates. Here you can use shackles, as by using one at each end of the bridle you are halving the load and protecting the chassis rather than yanking the stuck vehicle from one side only.

The shackles need to be not less than 20mm (3/4 inch). Some will say that you must only use ‘tested’ shackles, but in general terms a 20 x 20 mm (pin & body) is good for about 3.25 tonnes SWL (Safe Working Load) times the recognised safety factor of 6 gives you a capacity of nearly 20 tonnes. I’ve never broken a shackle yet and I have got to admit I’ve done one or two pretty daft things!

Snake the KERR rope on the ground as shown in the pictures and attach the other end to a good central recovery point. Yes, you could use a bridle that end too, or use a safety rope as shown as well. But in my experience, a good well fitted towing unit on a sound chassis is fine.

My advice is to only have one helper as an assistant plus the two drivers in rigging the KERR rope and bridle. All the bystanders to stand clear during the operation and all the passengers must vacate the two vehicles.

Once the two drivers and the assistant have discussed the recovery techniques the assistant stands well clear on the driver’s side to confirm they are both ready and signals to the recovery driver to GO. The towing vehicle accelerates to its maximum permitted speed (see table) and snatches the rope at that speed. If the stuck vehicle is only mildly stuck there is no need to assist recovery by having its wheels turning.

If however the stuck vehicle is really well and truly stuck then that driver should be in gear with the clutch depressed just prior to the recovery commencing. Just as the rope becomes taut, let the clutch out with just a little acceleration. Make sure that you don’t stall the engine and definitely don’t overrun the rope.

The towing vehicle may be slowed or even halted as the Recoverline approaches maximum elongation. It’s at this point that the kinetic energy is converted into the potential energy of the stretched rope. This build up of energy is transferred by the rope to the stuck vehicle.

After a very slight pause the stuck vehicle should be free. If the vehicle is not recovered by the first attempt, simply repeat the process by reversing back and re-laying the Recoverline. But make sure first that there isn’t a large rock or stump wedging the vehicle solid.

In fact, gain lots of experience is safely learning the correct ‘take up’ speed by slowly building up to it. It is better and far safer to shift the stuck vehicle just a metre at a time than catapult it into the back of your recovery vehicle!

As you can see from the table, the heavier the load, the less you should charge away from it. The reasons are of course is you will exert far greater strains on the towing attachment points.


All recovery procedures are potentially dangerous. Two possible reasons for the failure are either:

1. A rope failure. Unlikely to happen unless you totally go over the top by flying off at too great a speed with the stuck vehicle planted over a tree stump. Unlike a steel wire rope, if the rope breaks it will travel back along its axis. The stored energy is potentially lethal if something breaks for any reason. For instance a worn or damaged rope.

2. A towing or recovery point failure. This is far more dangerous and more likely to occur than a rope failure. The possibility is that part of the towing unit might be catapulted by the recoiling rope at an enormous speed. This can be very serious.

Safety Precautions

1. Use only good, sound and strong recovery points and use a bridle on the front of the stuck vehicle. Maybe also use a safety rope on the back of the recovery vehicle (see right).

2. Passengers should not be carried during recovery operations.

3. Do not exceed the maximum speeds as set out in the table.

4. Spectators should stand well clear of the recovery for obvious reasons.

Maintenance and Inspection

All nylon ropes must be kept clear of heat and acid. Consequently, Recoverline should be kept clear of exhaust systems and battery acids. It is also important to avoid chafing. A simple method of checking the condition of the rope, and one which ensures that it has not been severely overloaded, can be carried out by lifting one pair of the strands clear of another pair passing underneath.

Should these two pairs of strands be fused together, this would indicate that the rope has been severely overloaded and should be rejected. This check, combined with visual inspection along the rope’s length to ensure that there are no cuts to any of the rope strands, acts as a satisfactory assessment.


The greatest care has been taken to ensure that Recoverline when new has more than adequate safety factor for the envisaged vehicle recovery. It should be understood, however, that the attachment points are also adequate for the recovery.

Loads of up to 7.5 tonnes could be induced on each vehicle in the most extreme circumstances as discussed.

David Bowyer’s Off Road Centre, Goodwinch, or any of our agents disclaims all responsibility for any injury or damage however caused, during recovery operations.

Telephone: 01363 82666


Goodwinch Ltd, Oakleaf Way. Gunn. Barnstaple. Devon. Ex32 7NZ

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