Accurate communication is a vital part of off-road driving. In order to traverse obstacles safely and successfully, a driver needs information. But that does not mean that every bystander should shout instructions, says Francois Rossouw. Only experienced off-road enthusiasts should lend a hand.
It doesn’t matter how far you lean out of your 4×4’s window, it’s almost impossible to see what’s waiting directly in front of your vehicle when you’re sitting behind the steering wheel. And of course, this can be a problem if you’re on a 4×4 trail. When you’re facing a challenging obstacle, you need to know what’s directly in front of your tyres, because your margin for error is very small. A few centimetres this way or that way can make a world of difference.
For this reason, it’s vitally important to have someone outside the vehicle who can offer instructions on where exactly to place the wheels. But that doesn’t mean that every spectator should offer his or her opinion to the driver. I’m always amused when drivers are bombarded with dozens of contradictory commands. How are they supposed to know what to do? Only the most experienced person in the vicinity should offer instructions. Negotiating an off-road obstacle is often a tense and stressful situation, and being shouted at by everyone around you doesn’t help.In fact, it tends to have the opposite result.
During a recent guided trip through the Namib, there was an inexperienced gentleman in the group who buried his vehicle up to its chassis on multiple occasions. But he has very receptive to advice, so after a day of practice and guidance, he could tackle even the highest dunes successfully. Of course, this quickly restored his confidence. It wasn’t long before he started offering advice to the other members. It was truly funny to hear him shouting “Okay, put foot and do not release the throttle until you reach the top,” constantly over his radio. And when someone did not make it up a dune on the first try, he made his disappointment known by saying: “Why did you not listen when I spoke to you?”
This brings me to another issue regarding two-way radios. It is important to remember that the rest of the convoy often has no idea who you are addressing over the system. It might seem obvious to you, but unless you identify both yourself and the person you want to speak to, your message might be misinterpreted. And that could lead to disaster.
I once accompanied a large party through the desert – the convoy consisted of at least 20 vehicles. Needless to say, this meant that the vehicles were often spread out over a long distance. And on one particular occasion, three large dunes were being traversed simultaneously. An Isuzu driver in the front of the convoy went over a dune, and promptly got stuck on the other side. He told the driver behind him to wait while he rescued his 4×4 from the sand. Unfortunately, a vehicle at the back of the convoy had also gotten stuck, and once it had been recovered, the driver shouted that the route was clear. The driver waiting behind the stuck Isuzu took this as his signal to start up the dune, and not wanting to suffer the same fate as that of the Isuzu owner, attacked the sandy slope with every ounce of power his Discovery could offer. He went flying over the top. And found the Isuzu blocking his path on the other side.
The driver pressed down hard on the brake, but there was no way to stop the vehicle in time. The Discovery ploughed into the rear of the Isuzu and reduced the bakkie’s length by at least 50 centimetres. Luckily, no one had been injured, and by winching the bent sections of both vehicles into reasonable shape, we could continue. But if even one person had mentioned the name of the driver he was addressing, this whole mess could have been avoided.
I still believe that two-way radios are one of the most essential 4×4 overland accessories one could own. There is simply no better way to share information while travelling, provided they are used correctly. When I travel in convoy, I make sure that everyone sticks to correct radio procedure. It might seem overly technical and formal, but it prevents costly misunderstandings.