Your 4×4 is stuck on the beach and the tide is coming in. There is no point on which to anchor your winch. It’s a scary situation. What do you do? Gary Swemmer tells how to use a spare tyre as an anchor.
With Gary Swemmer
If you have ever watched a winch in action you no doubt share my awe and respect for these incredible recovery tools.
The pulling power of a winch is an impressive thing to witness. On many occasions I’ve seen 4x4s so severely stuck that it was hard to believe they could ever be recovered. But with a winch bolted up front, I have yet to encounter a 4×4 that could not recover itself from a sticky situation.
There are countless scenarios in which a 4×4 can find itself drastically stuck, but none as frightening as a deserted beach, a pushing tide and waves lapping against sunken tyres. A situation like this is particularly scary because it is impossible to dig the vehicle out. Wet sand collapses on itself and there’s generally not much time before the ocean rises and claims your 4×4.
If you are on your own, your best chance of recovery is a powerful winch. Unfortunately, most beaches lack options as far as winch-anchor points go. If you’re lucky, there may be a strong palm tree nearby, but that’s unlikely. So what do you do?
Most importantly, you need to move quickly and deliberately, but before you can do that, you need a game plan.
Start by taking a minute or two to evaluate the situation, observe where the high-tide water mark is, and then take out your spare wheel. The plan is to dig a large hole above the waterline and bury your spare so that it can act as a winch anchor. Hopefully, your spare wheel will be mounted on your vehicle’s rear bumper or roof rack, and not under your 4×4, inaccessible in the sand!
You must dig a hole for the tyre well above the high water mark. It will not help much to recover your vehicle to a point that will still be engulfed in waves later on.
Digging a large hole may seem like a straightforward operation, but there are some points to consider.
With the threat of a rising tide, there’s a good chance you may get just one opportunity to recovery your 4×4 before the water reaches it. For this reason, it’s crucial that you dig a generously deep hole. When testing this method, we tried multiple hole depths and surprisingly many of them failed.
The success of this process is determined by the weight of the sand that surrounds the wheel. In effect, you need the sand to outweigh your fully laden 4×4, so a shallow hole is not going to cut it. At a bare minimum, you want to dig at least a metre deep. More importantly, it’s not the weight of the sand above the wheel that will anchor the vehicle – it’s the bulk of sand that stretches between the 4×4 and the point where the wheel is buried. Therefore it’s crucial to dig a channel that leads up to the hole. This “groove” serves as a guide for the winch cable, so that the winch pulls in a straight-line direction, and not upwards. The moment the winch cable pulls in an upward direction, the only weight acting against your 4×4 is the sand buried on top of the spare wheel, and in that event, the wheel will simply unearth itself and your vehicle will still be stuck.
Once you’ve dug a sufficiently deep hole, you can then wrap the winch cable through the rim and hook it back on itself; drop the wheel in the hole, place the winch cable in the channel you have dug and cover the wheel with sand. Place some form of dampener tool over the winch cable and start winching.
If the winch starts pulling upwards, and not directly towards the vehicle, stop winching immediately and make sure that the channel leading up to the wheel is deep enough.
However, as the old saying goes, prevention is better than cure. Ordinarily, waterlogged sand is a safe surface to drive on. The sand you need to be aware of is the type that is significantly mixed with broken seashells. This type of sand tends to shift under the weight of a vehicle and has the properties of quicksand when mixed with water and an endless wave action.
So look out for those shelly beaches, and be safe out there!
• This method is generally referred to as dead man’s anchor. – Ed