This month, rather than talk about a purely technical issue, we’d like to touch a bit on RV safety. Maybe we should consider this a technical issue because if there’s a goof-up on the subject here, you will want to know the technical aspects of handling first aid while waiting for 9-1-1 responders. We’re talking about backing up safely.
One of the trickiest and most-dreaded activities for many RVers is backing the RV into a “back-it-in” site. It may not be so problematic for the driver of a motorhome, but getting a fifth-wheel or travel trailer into a campsite can make some drivers break out in a cold sweat. Often the problem isn’t so much, “how do you back up?” but rather, “how do you see back there?” Here’s where the importance of a spotter, and good spotter-to-driver communication, comes in.
But before we talk about that fine art of communication, let’s touch on safety.
We can’t think of a worse way to spoil an RV trip than accidentally backing over someone with your rig. It’s just unimaginable. So here are a few tips to keep your helper safe while guiding you and the rig into your space.
- First, AGREE on what signal means what. We’ve included a chart of suggested signals from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Make sure everyone is on the same page. This not only enhances safety, but it’ll go a long way to keeping peace in the family.
- The spotter must ALWAYS maintain visual contact with the driver.
- If you, as the driver, lose sight of the spotter, STOP immediately, and don’t continue backing until you have a clear view of the spotter again.
- Don’t ask the spotter to do ANYTHING other than spot. If you’ve got kids with you, have someone else watch them (from a safe distance away) or keep them in the rig until you’re settled.
- If you’re spotting, DON’T do anything that could distract. Yank the earbuds out, and leave the iPod in the rig. Don’t answer the cellphone.
- Consider investing in an inexpensive “safety orange” vest—you most decidedly want that spotter to be VISIBLE.
- Do your best NOT to have to back your rig into a space after dark. The last suggestion is sometimes difficult, but whenever possible, get off the road earlier, rather than later. Not only does it make it easier to set up camp safely, it’s also a lot easier on the nerves.
What about using walkie-talkies or cellphones to give signals? We’ve tried both hand signals and high-tech devices. If you can make the tech work for you, more power to you. Sometimes there can be a bit of confusion when verbalizing directions. Depending on the perspectives of the spotter and the driver, when she says, “go left,” which left is it? We’ve also found that the squelch control on some walkie-talkies can clip off the first syllable of an instruction, or sometimes the spotter may not get the button pushed before the talking starts.
With cellphones, you’ll need to put the driver’s cellphone on speaker, or else that’s just one more thing to get in the way of safely manipulating the steering wheel and driving controls.
Another trick we’ve found in settling the rig in the site is relatively simple. Where possible, have the spotter stand in clear view of where the rear corner of the rig should finally land. And drivers, don’t hesitate to get out from behind the wheel and take a good walk around. Sizing up the situation from the ground can do a whole lot to help you visualize what the spotter is trying to tell you.
Don’t be in a hurry. Rushing to get the rig parked, especially in difficult sites, or if you’re still learning how to back up, is a sure way to create more problems. We know, in a big campground, one of the best crowd sports is to watch some poor fellow try and back that big rig in. It’s surely hard on the nerves, and sometimes the pride.
And a word to you in the audience. Don’t try to “help out” unless you’re asked for help. Having more than one spotter doesn’t just multiply the issue, it creates hassles on an exponential scale. If you want to watch, hide behind the curtain so when you laugh that poor bloke won’t hear you. It could be you next time.
Listen to Russ and Tiña’s weekly podcast on a variety of RV topics at yourRVPodcast.com.