OB Approved Becoming a Skilled Spotter

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4xFar Adventures

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Becoming a Skilled Spotter


Pick a spotter you trust. Your spouse/partner might seem like a good choice, but consider the stress of the situation you might be in and its effect on the rest of your trip and the group. Meet with your spotter before entering the obstacle and determine the line you want to take. If in doubt, walk it with your spotter so both are on the same page. Once you are following the spotter, you the driver are a robot, and must do no more and no less than what the spotter signals to you.


A good spotter will need minimum vocal commands. There may be other people, vehicles, environmental noises or too much distance to effectively speak commands to the driver. You'll also react faster to visual commands than audible commands. Only watch, and listen to your spotter. There may be onlookers yelling their own ideas of what to do. If it becomes too distracting roll up your windows, or ask them to keep quiet.


Wear gloves with a brightly colored palm or contrasting colors for better visibility against the environment you’re in. Typical winching gloves (with the loose cuff) can get caught in open winch hooks and pull your hand into the fairlead. A Velcro cuff prevents this.


Stick to high ground. When spotting a vehicle, you'll want to keep the tires (whenever possible) on the high points to travel over an obstacle. To get around tighter obstacles remember to “steer for the rear” and allow for the turning radius of the vehicle.


If at any time you are uncomfortable with the position of the vehicle, STOP, and inform the driver. Back the vehicle out and take an alternate line.


The spotter should always be in view of the driver, have a clear view of the terrain and all four wheels. Sometimes an additional spotter is needed on the opposite side of the vehicle to assist. They should be in full view of the lead spotter and use hand signals to communicate with each other.


Rock stacking is a common task for a spotter and is another reason to wear gloves. Ledges can be too high, and pits can be too deep, but some well placed rocks will avoid body damage in most cases. Be mindful that rocks can shoot out from under the tires.


Watch your footing when walking a vehicle through an obstacle. Rocks become slippery with trail dust on them. A good set of boots will provide better traction and support your ankles. Have the vehicle wait as you reposition to a new location and continue spotting.


Use of a handheld radio can make communications faster if a detailed explanation is needed and the spotter is far away. This will save both time and energy from running back and forth to the driver, but it should not be relied on for the main form of communication. Pick an alternate frequency from the main channel used by the group.
 

SLO Rob

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Oh man! it looks like they guided her that way too...and my 7 year old looking over my shoulder pointed out that it doesn't look like she had a seat belt on either. I've never rolled. Looks scary.
 
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MOAK

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Unbelievable... That poor gal obviously had very little if any experience. Once a spotter starts yelling, or giving imperceivable hand signals it's time to "get out and look" then find a polite way to tell them to go away.. Over the decades I've done just that on more than a few occasions.
 

Overland-Indiana

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That video is crazy and shows how quickly things go south. My first time out to the Badlands I was in an S10 blazer and was blessed with an AWESOME spotter. This dude got me through stuff I couldn't have made by myself. Good spotters are priceless, common sense also goes along way when your a spotter. Clearly the person spotting in the video had no common sense and was lacking in a few other areas.
 

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I had the opportunity to watch (and on other points in the trip, be spotted by) a good spotter this weekend. At one point there were two, one spotting and one relaying commands. They did quite well, and the vehicle they were spotting is quickly becoming legendary...

Video by me, btw...there may be some slightly colorful language, nothing major though...





 
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Ryan_Blaire

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Some of my friends are the best spotters in the business. I've got an FJ80. Granted, a well built rig, but still a school bus on tight trails with BIG rocks. I have gotten my rig into places I would have never attempted (unscathed) with their help. A good spotter can make a world of difference.
 
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maktruk

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How not to spot.

Every time I see this clip I have the irresistible urge to reach through my phone, grab one of that guys floppy hands and slap him across the face with it.
Oh man! it looks like they guided her that way too...and my 7 year old looking over my shoulder pointed out that it doesn't look like she had a seat belt on either. I've never rolled. Looks scary.
 

4xFar Adventures

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I think the number one skill a good spotter should have is the ability to think ahead. Seeing 2 or 3 steps ahead of where the vehicle is lets you begin to see different lines to take. It also helps if something goes wrong. Not disastrous like rolling down the side of the mountain, but if a tire slips between rocks that you intend for it to climb on top of, how would you then get the truck unstuck?

There are so many variables it's hard to describe them in words. If you can find a trainer, or go to an off road center that offers courses, I would start there. It can take longer, and do more damage, to learn the hard way with your truck (or your buddy's). I really learned to spot on my first visit to the Rubicon. Tim Scully was our guide and I shadowed him most of the time. Seeing and hearing him talk about how he wanted to get a truck through was great. "Steer for the rear" is one of the mantras.

A good spotter should know where each tire is, and where they want it. Each tire travels in a different path around a turn because the front end will have a wider turning radius than the rear end. This is where "steer for the rear" comes in. Here's a basic example. Let's say you have to get around a large tree on the side of the trail. You won't want to steer when the driver is right next to the tree. You want to start steering later, when you know the back end will make the turn and not run into the tree.

When negotiating through a gully or ravine, pretend your tires are water, and place them where the water will flow. Water always takes the path of least resistance, and so should you.

When coming up to a large drop off, it's up to the Spotter to decide if there's enough clearance, and articulation to make it. How much traction is there, and how long is the wheelbase of the vehicle? What's at the bottom of the drop? Is it a nice roll out or a rock field? If there are rocks, how much will that slow down the descent?

I have this in the first post, but it's worth mentioning again. Make sure the driver and spotter are on the same page. That includes hand signals and the line the spotter or driver wants to take. Radios aren't needed with effective hand signals, but they do make one on one chats between driver and spotter faster.

Knowing how the suspension will react when traversing an obstacle is also something to be aware of. Vehicle dynamics can help get you over as easily as they can take you down. A solid axle vehicle has a constant ground clearance under the axle. An IFS truck will vary in clearance as the tires travel up and down.

There's a lot to it, but if you start off easy and work your way towards more challenging obstacles, they won't be as intimidating.
 

wolftaco0503

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"If you can find a trainer, or go to an off road center that offers courses"
Living where I do, That's a no, Not close to any off road center or off road in general
 
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Winterpeg

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"If you can find a trainer, or go to an off road center that offers courses"
Living where I do, That's a no, Not close to any off road center or off road in general
I was in the same boat originally.... and got in touch with a local 4x4 group and learned LOTS by getting out and wheeling with them.

One thing I did learn as well though.... was that even though someone has been wheeling for a while doesn't mean that they are a good spotter. The spotter needs to be able to think a number of moves ahead like Disco says above.... and some people just aren't wired that way.

Some people are also more used to the capabilities and limitations of a specific vehicle and don't shift their spotting techniques to fit the vehicle you are driving.
 

The other Sean

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I think the number one skill a good spotter should have is the ability to think ahead. Seeing 2 or 3 steps ahead of where the vehicle is lets you begin to see different lines to take. It also helps if something goes wrong. Not disastrous like rolling down the side of the mountain, but if a tire slips between rocks that you intend for it to climb on top of, how would you then get the truck unstuck?

There are so many variables it's hard to describe them in words. If you can find a trainer, or go to an off road center that offers courses, I would start there. It can take longer, and do more damage, to learn the hard way with your truck (or your buddy's). I really learned to spot on my first visit to the Rubicon. Tim Scully was our guide and I shadowed him most of the time. Seeing and hearing him talk about how he wanted to get a truck through was great. "Steer for the rear" is one of the mantras.

A good spotter should know where each tire is, and where they want it. Each tire travels in a different path around a turn because the front end will have a wider turning radius than the rear end. This is where "steer for the rear" comes in. Here's a basic example. Let's say you have to get around a large tree on the side of the trail. You won't want to steer when the driver is right next to the tree. You want to start steering later, when you know the back end will make the turn and not run into the tree.

When negotiating through a gully or ravine, pretend your tires are water, and place them where the water will flow. Water always takes the path of least resistance, and so should you.

When coming up to a large drop off, it's up to the Spotter to decide if there's enough clearance, and articulation to make it. How much traction is there, and how long is the wheelbase of the vehicle? What's at the bottom of the drop? Is it a nice roll out or a rock field? If there are rocks, how much will that slow down the descent?

I have this in the first post, but it's worth mentioning again. Make sure the driver and spotter are on the same page. That includes hand signals and the line the spotter or driver wants to take. Radios aren't needed with effective hand signals, but they do make one on one chats between driver and spotter faster.

Knowing how the suspension will react when traversing an obstacle is also something to be aware of. Vehicle dynamics can help get you over as easily as they can take you down. A solid axle vehicle has a constant ground clearance under the axle. An IFS truck will vary in clearance as the tires travel up and down.

There's a lot to it, but if you start off easy and work your way towards more challenging obstacles, they won't be as intimidating.
Quite important. In the above video I noticed the spotter giving inconsistent kinds of hand signals as well as the driver NOT doing as the spotter was signaling as well as she was still moving during those times the spotter was slipping around on rocks NOT giving hand signals. Both parties failed in this instance. Poor spotter and an inexperienced (and unbuckled) driver who did not trust her spotter.