Backing Your Rig

Let me take a minute and talk about backing your rig, especially into a campsite. A surprising number of RVers seem to have problems in this area—usually caused by a lack of communication between the driver and the co-pilot (acting as spotter).

The last thing that you want to be is the campsite entertainment for the afternoon as you try to back your rig into your campsite while your co-pilot is waving his/her arms in crazy motions that are more comical than helpful.

First, however, learn to position your RV properly even before you start to back into a campsite. Even though it may seem contrary to some people, get in the habit of hugging the side of the road closest to your campsite. For example, if you are going to be backing into a campsite by making a hard left turn (having the front end of the RV swing to the right), then get as close to the left side of the road as you can—thus leaving lots of maneuvering room for your front end as it swings toward the right.

The same is true from the right side. Hug the right side of the road, so that your rig has plenty of room as the nose swings to the left.

The most important part of teamwork between the driver and the co-pilot is communication— having the co-pilot know what signals to give, when to give them, and how to give them. (If the motorhome backs into a tree or a water spigot, the co-pilot didn’t do the proper job.)

Some RVers find that using walkie talkies on a CB channel works well for them, whereas other RVers prefer the newer smaller FSR radios. I have tried both methods of voice communication, but I find myself much more comfortable and at ease when my co-pilot is giving me visual hand signals only—and I can concentrate on her directions.

The first thing for both the driver and co-pilot to understand is that the co-pilot needs to stay in visual contact with the driver. Always stand to the side of the motorhome and behind it, so that you can be seen in the side mirrors of the motorhome.

If the driver cannot see the co-pilot, the motorhome should not move. If you are the co-pilot giving hand signals to the driver and the rig does not respond to your hand signals, that is your signal that you can’t be seen by the driver.

Four Simple Hand Signals

There are only four (or five if you are a purist) very simple hand signals that need to be used by the co-pilot to safely help the driver get the rig backed into the campsite. The one thing to remember as the co-pilot is that you point in the direction that the rear end of the motorhome should move—not the direction that the driver should turn the steering wheel.

OK, here are the only four simple hand signals that you need to know.

Back Up—Straight. A hand motion with your open palm facing you and making a backward gesture (sort of like waving goodbye backwards) is the signal for the driver to start backing up—in a straight line. This signal has two forms—a wide sweep of the hand means come on back, you have plenty of room. However, a small sweep of the hand (almost a finger wiggle) means to come on back but very slowly.

Move to Left or Right. When the co-pilot wants the rear of the motorhome to be coming over to the right or to the left, he/she simply points in that direction—usually using an index finger pointing and poking in the intended direction is easiest to see and understand. When the driver sees this signal, he/she continues to slowly backup but turns the steering wheel to make the rear of the coach go in the direction indicated by the co-pilot.

If the co-pilot switches back to the "Back Up" signal, continue backing up but slowly straighten out the steering wheel so that you are backing in a straight line.

Stop! The most important signal for both the driver and co-pilot to understand is the closed fist up in the air—which means stop (not soon, but right now).

Go Back Out. If the co-pilot determines that you are not in the correct position, simply reversing the “Back Up” hand signal means “get outta here) or “go back out.”

With these simple hand signals, my co-pilot has backed me into a very tight campsite that had me doing S-turns between large trees. Not a problem when the driver and co-pilot know how to work as a team. (However, I was still rather amazed when I saw the motorhome parked in its final campsite location.)

For the purists lurking about, what is the fifth hand signal that I mentioned? Some folks might make the case that the "Move Left" and "Move Right" hand signals are really two different signals. To each his own.

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