It's important you know basic spotting rules before you go off-road with friends. Imagine yourself out having a great time off-road when your buddy gets his Jeep into a jam. He's stuck at an odd angle and he's having a hard time seeing the trail. There's a large rock that's just off to the side and out of his view. You know he's in a predicament, but you're not sure how to help.
The Spotter's Role
Your friend needs a spotter. Spotting for someone involves getting to a vantage point and helping them through an obstacle or hard-to-see portion of the trail. The spotter gives the driver basic directions through loud voice commands or hand signals. The driver must trust the spotter, especially if the going gets tough. Trail damage to body panels or drivetrain equipment is costly, and can ruin even the most perfect day, so it's imperative you know the basic rules of spotting and take it seriously.
Basic Spotting Rules
Spotting is one of the fundamentals of any off-road trip. When off-road, there can be hazards and obstacles all around you. They can be to the sides, front, or rear of your vehicle--and yes, beneath or above you as well. The driver must be constantly scanning the environment, not only for the best path (or "line"), but also for the potential hazards. As you can see from the picture below, full doors and interior add-ons such as a roll-cage can clutter or obscure your view from the driver's seat. In this case, Jeeping with a spotter you can trust is crucial.
How To Use Words And Gestures
First and foremost, use basic words or gestures. Complex sentences can confuse the situation. Couple words and gestures together for the best results. Simple words as "STOP" (palm out) and "GO" (a beckoning or thumbs up gesture) work better than "hold up" and "come on", for example. But you may not be able to yell over the sound of a straight piped V-8 engine. Discuss this beforehand and figure out what works best for both the spotter and driver. While the spotter remotely guides the 4x4 through a hazardous obstacle, the driver and spotter must be on the same page.
Use terms such as "driver" and "passenger" for sides of the vehicle. This removes the directional "right" and "left", which can be confusing, especially if the driver and spotter are facing one another. Doing so reduces the opportunity for situations that can cause bodily injury and vehicle damage, such as a typical rollover, seen below.
Keep It Simple!
Alway designate a spotter and one assistant spotter per obstacle, especially if they're familiar with the trail. It doesn't help to have everybody along for the ride pile out and start shouting directions. Just remember the golden rule. Keep It Simple! Simple always works best, especially when you've got a large expensive vehicle feet or inches away from trees or boulders.
Generally the more experienced "off-roaders" on the trip will volunteer to spot. Experienced spotters can predict how the vehicle will behave. Variables like rain, mud, tire type, center of gravity, and more, all come into play here. "When in doubt, throttle out" sometimes works. But there will be just as many times where "slow and steady" wins the race, especially on the rocks.
How To Be An Effective Spotter
Spotting is just as important while off-road as having the appropriate recovery equipment. Don't forget to learn the ins and outs of your vehicle, as well as others you Jeep with. Knowing how a given vehicle will or may behave on the trail is the first step in becoming an effective spotter. If you have an experienced spotter in the group, watch how they guide a 4x4 through the trail. Always remember, keep it simple, be safe, and have fun out there. Follow the basic spotting rules.