Driving on sand requires a unique skill-set. If you expect your vehicle to behave the same on sand as it does on a firm surface, you’re in for a surprise. Driving on the beach is a lot of fun but knowing the basic essential skills of beach driving will help to ensure you enjoy your trip.
FleetCrew has created this basic guide to advise you on the dos and don’ts when driving on sand. Queensland has some of the best beach driving tracks in the world. The endless beaches and numerous islands provide excellent drives and holidays. If you are heading out for a vacation on Fraser, Moreton, or Stradbroke Island, knowing these basic tips can help you from getting stuck.
Top 10 Beach Driving Safety Tips:
- Stay Safe
- Avoid getting Bogged Down
- Use the right Tyre Pressure
- Change speed gradually
- Keep your momentum
- Have the right tools
- Know what to do when you get stuck in the sand
- Know your Emergency Lines
- Keep Calm – Drive on the Beach
- Prepare yourself!
Read all about the specific 4WD safety tips in more detail below.
1. Stay Safe
The first step to avoid getting into trouble while driving on sand, is to be continually conscious of your safety and the safety of your passengers. The Department of National Parks, Recreation, Sport and Racing give the following suggestions on how to stay safe:
- Do not overload the vehicle
- Do not make sudden turns, rollovers are not uncommon
- Stay on the tracks when crossing dunes to avoid damage to the ecosystem and the vehicle
- Stay alert; be mindful of other vehicles, pedestrians and wildlife. Remember, due to the sound of the surf, pedestrians may not be able to hear an approaching vehicle. Keep your distance and be aware of them
- Drive on the left side of approaching vehicles
- Indicate when overtaking
- Washouts can cause serious accidents and appear deeper than they look. Walk around the washout if you are unsure of its depth to make sure it is safe to cross
- Abide by speed limit and drive slower if you need too
- Seat belts save lives, wear them
- Do not drink and drive
- If you’re tired, let someone else take a turn at the wheel
- Before entering soft sand, engage four-wheel drive and lock four-wheeling hubs if applicable
- Keep your momentum when driving on soft sand
- Use low gears when driving on dry, soft sand
- You may lower tyre pressure when driving on sand, especially when loose and dry. However, keep within manufacturer’s specification. If reverting to driving on hard sand or surfaces, re-inflate tyres
- Park away from traffic at an angle so oncoming vehicles can see you are stationary
- Give way to vehicles going downhill, vehicles with trailers and pedestrians
Beach driving conditions can change quickly. A difference in sand stability is never truer than when you are forced to drive higher on the shoreline because the tide is coming in. A common challenge faced while beach driving is getting bogged down. The easiest ways to avoid being bogged down is to drive at low tide near the shoreline, where the sand is dark and flat. Avoid getting stuck by driving during low tide on a firm surface whenever possible. It’s best to drive on the beach when it is 2 hours either side of low tide.
3. Use the right Tyre Pressure
It has been a standard practice by 4WD enthusiasts to reduce tyre pressure while beach driving. The reason for this is it increases the size of the footprint of the tyres on the sand resulting in the weight of the vehicle spreading across a larger area. By spreading the weight, the tyres are more likely to drive over the top of the sand rather than digging down into it and causing the vehicle to get bogged. The increased footprint will also increase traction. According to an article by RACQ and specifications by Cooper Tyres tyre pressure for sand driving can be between 18-26 psi.
Please note there are risks associated with lowering the tyre pressure and often the reduced tyre pressures for varying terrain are below the vehicle manufactures recommendations. The lowering of pressures below the vehicle manufactures recommendations is at your own risk and in some instances can cause insurance claims to be void. To minimise the risks while driving with reduced tyre pressures it is advisable to reduce speed, drive slowly over obstacles and do not make any harsh turns which could result in the tyres coming off the rims. Always re-inflate to proper levels when the vehicle is back on a hard surface.
Don’t gun it or slam on the brakes, as doing either will push you into the sand. Rapid braking will push sand in front of your tyres, making it harder to get moving again. The best way to stop is to slow down by taking your foot off the pedal and have the sand’s traction stop the vehicle. To speed up, gently but steadily press the accelerator. Accelerating quickly will result in the vehicle sinking deeper into the sand as the tyres spin.
When driving on an unsealed surface, it is important to maintain momentum if you need to increase your speed or power. The chances of becoming stuck increase when you head uphill. The antidote to being stuck is keeping your speed.
Remember, that when people constantly get stuck in the same spot, the soil and sand in that area gets kicked up and becomes loose. The loose sand exponentially increases the chances of becoming stuck. Keep level headed, don’t simply accelerate, and keep your speed and momentum whenever going through loose sand or going up an incline.
6. Have the right tools
At the very minimum you should always have the following tools:
- Tyre Pressure Gauge
- First Aid Kit
If you become bogged down, there is one thing that needs to be done to get out and that is to increase your traction. Greater traction can be achieved by following steps:
- Stay calm getting bogged for the first time is often all part of the experience. Agitated nerves will impinge your thinking. Take a break and think it through. Have passengers get out of the car and move to a safe area. Extra weight can make moving harder.
- Try to gain traction slowly. Don’t press hard on the accelerator. Kicking up sand will only decrease your traction and pull you in deeper. When you are driving an automatic car, put your vehicle in the low gear and gently accelerate to gain speed and traction slowly. When you are driving a manual transmission vehicle, put it in a higher gear and release the clutch slowly (be careful not to burn out the clutch). If that doesn’t work, move on to next step.
- If the car isn’t moving, there is insufficient traction. Remove sand from in front of the tyres with a shovel. If you’re very deep in the sand, this will take some time.
- When the sand has been moved away from the tyres, place a Maxtrax in front of the tyres that are spinning. If you do not have a Maxtrax, anything that the tyre can roll over that will increase traction will be of some assistance. A coat, esky lid, a piece of cardboard, or tree branches could be used if required. Carefully move forward until the tyre can grip onto the material. Once the wheels have traction, gradually drive out.
- If this still does not work, have passengers help push from behind as the driver gently presses the accelerator. Aviod standing behind the tyres as anything you are using for traction can fly out the back if it takes hold. If that still isn’t working, repeat step #3. With enough digging, pushing and traction (from Maxtrax, etc.) you should eventually get free from being bogged down. Be prepared to roll up your sleeves, sometimes it is lot of hard work.
8. Know your Emergency Lines
The safety of passengers and drivers are the most important. Call and ask for help. If you are on Fraser Island, Island or Stradbroke Island, experienced four-wheel drivers are likely nearby. The code of conduct among the four-wheeling community is to assist other drivers who need help. 4WD recovery techniques require a certain level of expertise and experience. There have been multiple documented deaths as a result of mishandled recoveries that have been attempted to a free a vehicle using the tow ball. If digging, pushing, and a couple of Maxtrax are not going to get you free, ask someone who has been trained to use ‘Snatch Straps’ for help.
If you’re new to four-wheel driving, stick to routes that are easy to manoeuvre and safe. Avoid heading out to remote places and always have a way to contact local authorities if you are in an emergency.
9. Keep calm – Drive on the Beach
With a clear head, a penchant for quick and calm thinking and the right tools, four wheel driving can be an exceptional experience. Watch the track and beach closely, pay attention to tide times and remember that safety is your highest priority. With all that said, adventures are to be had. Go out and experience them!
10. Prepare yourself!
Additional driving tips and resources which are handy if you’re driving on the beach:
- Driving on Sand Safety Guide from the Department of National Parks, Sports and Racing
- The Keys to Successful Sand Driving from Cooper Tires
- Tips for Sand Driving from Cars Guide
- How to Drive on Sand from outbackjoe (recommended by the FleetCrew team)
Enjoy the Ride!