The “UCI Lift”, also known as the “Mike Berry Lift” was developed by UCI’s founder Mike Berry over 30 years ago. Mike has over 40 years of experience lifting and recovering vehicles and over 35 years of teaching others how to do the same. Using other standard lifting techniques and seeing their weaknesses and potential hazards, Mike set out to create a safer way of lifting vehicles. The goal was to create a safe and efficient lifting technique that could be used no matter what position the vehicle was lying on the bottom in and being able to finish with the vehicle right-side-up and leveled off for towing and removal. Through trial and error, Mike perfected a new lifting technique he called the, “UCI Lift.” This technique might be new to you; however, it has been used now for over 30 years safely and effectively by UCI and has been taught safely to thousands of Public Safety Divers.
The technique is now starting to be used by other instructors and public safety agencies and we just wanted to set the record straight on its name, history, design and development. As you know, things like this can get lost, forgotten or skewed by others. UCI has developed many of today’s search and recovery techniques and the UCI-Lift is one we are very proud of.
To support the technique, UCI has also designed the UCI-VLS (Vehicle Lifting System) which is a four 2,000-pound lift bag system that was specifically designed to support the UCI-Lift. The UCI Lift can be used by divers inflating the lift bags themselves or by conducting a “surface lift” where the divers rig the bags and surface personnel inflate the bags using air hoses. Which method you use will depend on your SOPs or SOGs, training, depth and bag selection.
Unfortunately, UCI DOES NOT have a company currently authorized to make our bags.
One of the most common methods of lifting a vehicle is called the “Straight Lift.” It gets its name based on the lifting attempt, which is attaching two or four lift bags along the sides of the vehicle and attempting to lift the vehicle in the position it was found in (on its wheels or upside down) and bringing it to the surface evenly. The main problem with a straight lift is that it is hard to fill the bags evenly to bring it safely to the surface, especially in deeper water (greater than 10 feet). Keep in mind the engine end of the vehicle is a lot heavier than the trunk end, so it’s very easy for the bags on the trunk end to be over inflated causing the trunk end to lift before the engine end.
When this happens you usually “lose the lift,” meaning the lift is not under control. Even with good communication, if one lift bag is filled too much, the vehicle can start to come off the bottom and cause the vehicle to flip over.
Lifting from each end of the vehicle
Another method is attaching the lift bags to the front and rear of the vehicle. This method is called the, “End-To-End” method. The problem with this method is the vehicle can be unstable in this position as it is being lifted and again, it’s hard to communicate and control the inflation of the bags evenly. It’s very easy for the trunk bags to be over inflated causing the truck end to lift off the bottom and cause the lift to be lost. This method also requires the divers to attempt to rig the bags to the A-frame of the vehicle which is difficult if not impossible to reach.
Bags placed inside and/or on top of the vehicle
Other methods include divers opening the vehicle doors and placing lift bags inside the vehicle or, opening doors or breaking out windows and putting straps inside the vehicle to attach lift bags on top of the vehicle and/or sides of the vehicle. These methods can cause damage to the vehicle and a loss of evidence. As UCI divers our goal is to recover evidence, which includes vehicles, exactly like we found it. When recovering a vehicle, our goal is not to breakout windows or open doors causing damage and the vehicle’s contents to escape and to be lost.
Flipping “Up-Side-Down” Vehicles
Many vehicles, due to the depth of the water, will come to rest on the bottom up-side-down. When recovering a vehicle in this position using one of the mentioned lifting methods, flipping the vehicle right side up can be difficult if not impossible.
When attaching tow straps or chains to a vehicle, the divers want to attach to an area or point that is easy and safe to reach and one that will hold the lift. So, the primary target area becomes the axles of the vehicle and if the axles cannot be reached, the wheel spokes then become the secondary target (if the gaps between the spokes are large enough to get the chain or straps through).