This is the 6th in a series on 4×4 vehicle recovery techniques and equipment, brought to you by 4×4 Mega World and SA4x4 Magazine and written by 4×4 guide, 4×4 instructor and overlanding specialist Bernie Williams. Each month’s content will be accompanied by a short video which you can view at the end of this blog.

In today’s day and age, with access to all the information we have ever wanted at the click of a button, it is scary to see how uninformed people really are. As a result of this, we often hear about how things go horribly wrong when it comes to recoveries.

Which brings us to shackles. These are a key element in the recovery bag, and there are a few types available. For our purposes, they are typically a piece of cast metal or strong nylon rope used to attach a recovery strap to a point on the vehicle.  As with the straps, there is always a right and wrong application.

Bow Shackle
Bow Shackle
Shackle types

D-shackle: These are NOT to be used for any form of recovery. D shackles are only used for lifting applications and are designed to take weight or stress in only one direction. They deform if stress is applied at an angle, which means you will not be able to loosen the pin and will then have to either cut the shackle with a grinder or cut your R1,000+ recovery strap. If you have one in your kit, please throw it away or use it as a sinker on your next fishing trip.

Bow shackle: Bow shackles are rated to take a specific load, which is printed on the shackle itself (with a huge margin of safety built-in). They are also designed to take weight or stress at various angles without deforming. In our industry, the 3.75-ton shackle is the most commonly used size. The bigger shackles with a higher load rating can create a problem in that the ‘pin’ diameter is a lot thicker and does not go through most of the aftermarket recovery points.

Soft shackle: Soft shackles are the new buzz in the industry but they have been around for ages. People in the yachting industry have been using them in various forms for years, but typically use a lighter version than the 4×4 industry standard. They come with varying weight ratings so make sure that the rating is indicated on the actual shackle and that you buy it from a reputable dealer. It is also important to know that they have been tested and are not just a cheap rip-off.

Soft Shackle
Soft Shackle
Bow shackle or soft shackle? Pluses and minuses

First off, there is a massive difference in weight between a soft shackle and a metal bow shackle.

Soft shackles float in water, so the chances of losing them are slim. On the downside, they are very expensive. I can purchase five steel bow shackles for the price of one quality-rated soft shackle. Where you are scoring here is in the weight saving, as weight is truly the enemy when it comes to equipping a 4×4.

Soft shackles also need to be taken care of. Once you have used them and you get home, wash them. Simply rinse off in cold water and leave out to dry in a shady spot. Remember, do not use soap and do not dry out in the sun – both of these will destroy your soft shackle.

Bow shackle pins are easily lost in sand or mud. Guys have come up with all kinds of plans to try and counter this (including using string to tie the pin to the shackle) but the tethers don’t last. I have even resorted to painting the pins bright colours like red or yellow to help find them. Once you get home, remember to clean your bow shackles; a good rinse under the tap is good enough.

Bow shackles should NEVER be used to join two straps together. Because of their weight, they carry HUGE energy. If something goes wrong you will have a projectile in the middle of your recovery with potentially catastrophic results.

Soft shackles are a far better bet for joining recovery straps together because they are so light. However, they are not well suited for shock loads, so only use them for steady towing, rather than kinetic recoveries. There are other far safer means of joining straps which we will be demonstrating soon.

There are many videos available on YouTube where stress or break tests are performed on both soft and hard shackles. Interestingly, the metal bow shackle can handle up to 25 times its rated strength before it fails. Soft shackles are usually good for about one and a half times their rating.

So what do I use? Soft or bow shackle?

That is like asking how long is a piece of string. My suggestion would be to have at least two of each. Why do I say that? When it comes to recoveries in water or muddy conditions, I would use the soft shackle simply because you won’t lose it that easily. For recoveries in dry conditions, I would use the bow shackle.

Having said that, common sense should always prevail and remember SAFETY FIRST! Make use of a safety harness on BOTH ends of the strap you are using. Yes, I know it takes time and effort, but rather make the effort than risk serious injury.  Safe off-roading!

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Recovery Series - Part 6

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For more videos on this multi-part recovery series, please go to the Recovery Playlist here.

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