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Backing Your Motorhome, Travel Trailer or Fifth Wheel ... Good Communication is the Key

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by Steven Fletcher
Once, when we were new to RVing, we pulled into a state campground late in the afternoon. I was tired and probably a little more stressed than normal after driving up a narrow winding canyon road.

It was off season and there was no ranger at the gate only a camp host. We looked out over a mostly empty park and Fran pointed and said 'that's a nice site over there.'

She got out of the truck and stood in the next site over as I started to back in. All the time Fran is hollering and waving but certainly wasn't much help. Well I tried and tried but I just couldn't back it in. I finally gave up and backed into a less desirable site across the road. It wasn't easy either to back into either but it was doable.

After getting the rig parked I got out of the truck and Fran said "why didn't you park in the site I was standing in? It would have been easy to back into." And it would have too!

The point of my story is that for most of us backing a motorhome, travel trailer or fifth wheel is a team sport. And the key to good teamwork is good communication. Good communication begins before you start backing in.

Nowadays Fran and I use our FRS radios when we're backing the rig and I highly recommend them. Using the radios eliminates yelling and allows much more information to be exchanged between driver and spotter. As the driver I don't normally have to say much so I turn the volume up and set the radio on the seat beside me.

If you don't want to use radios then you and your spouse should have specific signals. To avoid confusion your signals should be distinct and deliberate. Use your whole arm instead of just waving your hand. The basic signals you will need are stop, left, right, straight back and distance.

You should agree what left, right and straight mean too. Does the direction refer to which way the RV needs to go or which way the steering wheel needs to turn.

Unless my dyslexia is working overtime I don't need directions as to which way to turn the steering wheel or which way the end of the trailer should go. That's usually obvious. What I need to know is how close I am to hitting something. I want Fran to say; 'you're okay on the left and have about a foot on the right.' 'You can come back another three feet.' That sort of stuff. Talk over with your spotter what kind of information you want and how you want it conveyed.

Both the RV driver and the spotter should walk the area before backing in. Discuss where you want the rig will be parked. And, unless you're an expert at backing, seeing the site from a different angle will help you visualize how your backing should proceed.

Some drivers, usually retired truckers, want the spotter up front where it's easier to communicate and see the directions. This can work well in many cases but truckers don't usually need to worry about low hanging branches, boulders and other obstructions that can be found in some campsites so having the spotter at the rear of the rig may be better in some cases.

Good communication assures you're playing the same 'game' but you still need some 'rules'.

Both of you have a responsibility to identify and watch for potential hazards in the rig's path. Look for overhead lines, tree limbs, ruts, large rocks, posts, etc. Two sets of eyes are better than one.

The spotter should be visible to the driver at all times and stay clear of the vehicle's path. Stop backing immediately if your spotter is not visible. This is a good idea even if you use radios.

The closer you are to disaster the more like your spotter is to forget your prearranged signals and begin waving frantically or speaking incoherently. If you do not understand a hand signal or what is said on your radio, STOP.

Take your time. Get out and look if you're not sure.

And, finally, if you don't think you can back into a site, don't. Asked for another site that's easier or even go on to another park. RVing is supposed to be a pleasant experience.

You may also want to read: RV Campsite Arrival Checklist, for Travel Trailers & Fifth Wheels

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