• Off-roading 101: The spotter; the driver without a wheel

    A spotter maneuvers the pickup truck using hand signals

    A spotter maneuvers the pickup truck using hand signals

    In off-roading jargon, the spotter is a person who acts as the eyes of the person behind the wheel, while going over difficult terrain. He, and yes, even a she, is the one who gets out of the vehicle, steps right in front, and guides the driver though usually uneven terrain, water crossings, wades through the water or mud pit, just to check if the terrain ahead is negotiable for both man and machine. Sounds simple? It’s much more complicated than that.

    A spotter, in most cases, has to walk backwards, in off-road conditions, to act as the remote-eyes of the driver and provide signals whether to stop, go forward, turn left, turn right, apply how much brakes and relay how much acceleration is needed to enable the vehicle to negotiate the extreme driving surface. Do remember that the driver, despite his high perched sitting position, has a very limited or little view of what’s immediately in front of him or her. Even the most seasoned off-roader will require a spotter in the most adverse of off-road driving conditions; unless of course the said driver has a photographic memory, and has the capability to process the information into driving inputs to avoid getting stranded or at worst rolling over or falling into a ravine.

    The ideal spotter has to be someone who has at least the basic off-road driving knowledge patted down in order to lead the driver and vehicle out of harm’s way. It’s amazing how even on not-so-well prepared off-road vehicles and drivers, what a good spotter can do. But what makes a good spotter, first and foremost is, that he or she must had the complete trust on confidence of the driver. This is because the driver is basically relinquishing half of the control of the vehicle to the spotter, as he takes orders form the spotter through atleast 95 percent of the time. This is done through non-verbal communication, usually though hand signals, so it is imperative that there is a good meeting of the minds of both driver and spotter. The driver will always have the option to “fire” his spotter once he is not comfortable with the directions his spotter is giving. It must be said though, that a spotter is worthless if the driver refuses to follow his or her directions.

    In off-roading, it is also essential that drivers have a mature mindset; and have a ‘whatever may happen will happen attitude,’ so that in the event that anything untoward happens to the vehicle during the spotting process, there should be no one to blame. Many friendships have been broken in off-roading due to the lack of the said attitude. If and when the unfortunate thing happens and a driver will just look for someone to blame, then maybe that driver may not be suited for this sport.

    The General rule for spotting

    is as follows:
    Communication of the spotter should be in hand signals, it is less confusing for the driver to decide if the spotter means his left or your left after all you are facing each other.

    There can be only one spotter; any more and the driver will just be confused on who to follow.

    For the ‘usyosero’ spotters in the crowd, if you see a better line, call the spotter’s attention and have a quiet conference with him or her.

    The spotter directs all the helpers in the stacking of rocks or pushing the vehicle.

    The driver must keep an eye on his spotter. If the driver can’t see his spotter, he must stop and call out for him because he may drive over his spotter who is walking backwards–keeping his eyes on you, instead of where he is walking.

    Driver inputs to the vehicle has to be no more or no less than as ordered by his spotter.

    Drivers convey to the spotter if he is uncomfortable with the spotters decision. This are the friendship breakers, should anything untoward happens.

    Spotters must take time to view the terrain and understand what’s ahead for the driver to signal the right inputs and directions to the driver.

    Spotters must make it a point to be seen at all times by the driver.

    Stand well away from the front of the vehicle, but never far enough to be clearly seen by the driver.

    Commonly used hand signals for a spotter:
    A closed fist held up high means to stop immediately!

    Waving your hand back and moving them in a speed indicates how fast or slow you want the driver to go.

    Point to the right or left where the driver must steer. The driver must steer in the direction the spotter is pointing towards at.

    When the spotter puts the palm of the hands facing downward in a pushing motion, the signal means “slow down.”

    When the spotter puts the palm of the hands facing the driver, the signals means the driver to go in reverse.

    Combination signals can also be used. For example, one hand signals “a little bit,” while the other hand signals a right or left turn, indicates a very short maneuver towards a certain direction.

    So there it is. Some off-road spotting basics for both the spotter and the driver. Remember though, never go out into the trails without one (spotter). Also keep in mind that the spotter is also your winch recovery man if and incase you get stranded. But that’s another article. Keep it safe and enjoy.


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