Backing up your RV can be extremely intimidating and, at times, a real challenge. No amount of forward driving experience can help a driver with backing up. All drivers need to practice, practice, practice in safe surroundings until they become familiar with the way their vehicle backs up compared to the direction the steering wheel is turned.
Here are some tips to help you learn the fine art of backing up:
Know your vehicle’s blind spots. In a medium-sized truck for example, blind spots can extend up to 16 feet in front and 160 feet behind a vehicle. Drivers need to remember that mirrors can never give the whole picture while backing.
Do a walk-around. Walking around a vehicle gives the driver a firsthand view of the backing area and any limitations. Be sure and check for children, pets, soft or muddy areas, potholes, tire hazards and other potential dangers.
Know the clearances. When performing a walk-around, drivers can check for obstructions, low hanging trees, wires, and any other potential clearance-related problems.
Use a spotter. A driver should use another person to help when backing if possible. The driver and spotter should use pre-arranged hand signals instead of verbal ones and make sure they understand each other’s signals/gestures. Keep the signal person (spotter) in view at all times and do not have the spotter walking backwards while giving instructions.
Consider that the driver of the RV is typically 50-70 feet away from the back-end of the vehicle and looking in a 6 inch-wide mirror. Verbal directions aimed at someone who is that far away isn’t likely to work effectively. The engine noise alone can prohibit hearing the verbal commands. Walkie-talkies may be of some help but again, engine noise may interfere. Using prearranged hand gestures as signals work best provided they are unique and highly visible.
There are four basic hand signals to help direct a vehicle into virtually any parking situation. The first thing to note is to always keep your arms away from your body and don’t tuck your elbows in. Stretch your arms out to help exaggerate the gestures and make it easy for the driver to see.
- Come Straight Back
Holding your arms straight out in front, bend your arms up at the elbow only. Then lower your arm from the elbow only to the beginning position with your arms extended. This gesture should be done slowly but moving constantly. If you are the spotter, imagine you are pulling the vehicle back toward you with every motion.
- Move Right or Move Left
Holding your arms straight out in front, bend your arms up at the elbow with the fingers pointed up. Turn one palm in and one out depending on the direction you want the rear of the vehicle to go – i.e. to move right, the right palm facing forward. Signal by bending your arm at the elbow to point the direction you want the rear of the vehicle to go. One gesture signals to start the gradual turn and continuing the signal means to continue to turn the steering wheel creating a tighter or sharper turn.
- Distance To Go
Face the driver, put your arms in front of you. Slowly close the distance by bringing your hands together to match the actual distance to go to reach the final spot.
Face the driver and put your arms straight up over the head crossing at the wrists to form an “X”. Having your arms extended over your head when you cross wrists will ensure that the driver does not lose sight of the signal.
All of these signals are easy to learn and to use and like everything else, practice makes perfect. You will impress the other campers with your professional signaling techniques and eliminate some, if not all, of the entertainment value (head shaking, pointing and snickering) commonly associated with watching people park an RV.