Tech Tuesday: The Right Spotter

For those who are new to off roading, a new trail can be a very nerve racking experience. Unknown off cambers, rocks and roots can take you for a pretty rough ride if you aren’t sure how to approach them correctly. But the driver of the vehicle is not always in the best position to understand the entire situation. This is where your spotter or co-pilot comes in handy.

Most people who do take their vehicles out on trail around our amazing province are not professional rock racing buggy drivers who know exactly how their rig and tires are going to react and respond to every piece of terrain they drive over. Most people take their time and try to make it up and over the obstacles that they feel comfortable with but every now and then it comes time for the driver to ask for some help. Having a spotter to tell you which way to adjust to avoid the wet stump that you can’t see from the driver seat can absolutely make the difference between a smooth and fun trail outing and a rough and expensive trail outing. Having someone give you a ‘spot’ on an obstacle does not mean that you cheated or made it any easier, just means that you had a set of eyes helping you from a different vantage point. Having someone to give you a ‘spot’ can definitely help you push you boundaries as an off-roader in ways that you would not normally feel comfortable. But having the wrong spotter could lead to some issues.

A spotter is someone that tells you what they see from an angle that is different from the diver’s. This lets the driver gather information and make decisions based on multiple perspectives. Just because a spotter says to turn in a certain direction does not always mean that it the best plan of action though. Listening to a spotter who is not used to the obstacles on the trail or how your specific vehicle handles and deals with each type of terrain can lead to a bad situation. Having someone who rides along with you on a few occasions and can begin to understand what your vehicle likes to do and doesn’t like to do is important for a driver to truly trust his spotter’s advice. I myself do not usually ask for ‘spots’ especially not from people I do not know but every now and then when I am unsure of exactly where I want my wheels or if the obstacle is going to agree or disagree with my approach, a spotters input can safe me from a rollover or trail damage. With time those who are not comfortable with picking a line from the driver’s seat will get used to how their own vehicle deals with different obstacles and can begin to take more adventurous lines without any outside assistance but until the driver (and presumably the owner of the vehicle) feels that comfort level then a spotter is a fantastic tool to put to work.

It is incredibly important for a spotter and driver to establish how they want to communicate. The group that I normally go out with use the relatively standard system of directing using the driver’s view point. This means that if you want the driver to turn the vehicle more to the driver’s side then say ‘driver’ and point to the driver side of the obstacle. Saying left and right can leave you and the driver confused about who’s right or left you are refereeing to depending on which direction you are spotting them from. One thing that I have noticed is that a spotter is most useful when they are concise, a simple ‘straight, passenger, driver, reverse’ works much better than adding more info in unless the driver has asked for such details.

Having a spotter is also an important part of off roading from a recovery perspective. There are many situations where the driver of the vehicle is not in a position to get out to rig up a winch line or inspect what they may be stuck or hung up on. This is another situation where a co-pilot can save the day. Establishing a good system and the appropriate ‘lingo’ for winching with a spotter is also very important. When vehicles are getting dragged up or down rocks with high-tension steel cable or ropes swinging around and people spectating it is not a good time to be unsure of how to communicate. Again simple is key, ‘line in, line out, hold’. The simpler and most universally understandable the better.

One of the most important roles for a co-pilot is simply being out with you. No matter how comfortable you are in an area or on a trail you never want to travel in the wilderness alone. In a perfect world you would always travel with a second vehicle as well but sometime that just does not work out. That is why having a co-pilot is a must if there is not another vehicle joining you. So get a buddy or your spouse to come out and enjoy the great outdoors while helping you get where you want to go safely.