Good communication can make or break a trip. It’s crucial that the message is understood as intended. The more individuals involved in a trip and the more often you change plans, the more opportunity for confusion.
As trail leader, you should establish routine procedures to ensure your guests understand what you are trying to communicate. This applies whether you are discussing matters face-to-face, over the radio, or by hand signals. At a minimum, being misunderstood can be annoying or an inconvenience. At worst, it can have deadly consequences.
Even though written communication is great, an in-person meeting is a necessary follow up. Participants have a chance to ask questions, and you receive important feedback. These take place during a drivers’ meeting.
Held at the beginning of your trip and whenever needed during the trip, a drivers’ meeting covers all the important aspects, including:
- Your plan and map. Lay out a map and identify the route. Let everyone know the goal for the day, including sightseeing stops, obstacles ahead, side trips, hikes, and the intended location of camp for the night. Add anything else that is appropriate. Your guests will enjoy the trip more knowing what to expect.
- The rules of the road as they apply to where you are going. Be sure to cover any new rules that may apply later in the day as your course changes.
- Safety rules. I have five general ones. There are: inspect your vehicle before and after each trip; always wear seatbelts; apply the emergency brake whenever the vehicle is parked; avoid hanging on a vehicle that is stuck or being recovered; and no drinking alcohol during the day. You may think up other rules; feel free to add to this list.
- Caravan rules. Remind drivers that they are responsible for the trailing vehicle. After clearing an obstacle or fork in the road, look back to make sure the other vehicle is still following and hasn’t got stuck or lost. Wait for your turn on difficult obstacles, and keep up but don’t tailgate.
- Spotting procedures. Review the hand signals you intend to use that day. Make sure your spotter understands the signals.
- Radio procedures. Discuss the radio system and frequency or channel to be used. Verify that everyone has that capability. Have each driver test his equipment before starting the trip and after any long breaks.
- Medical risks. Review any hazards you may encounter along the route. These can include plants and animals, as well as weather-related issues such as heatstroke and sunburn.
- Environmental concerns. Make sure your drivers know how to clean up after themselves, dispose of hazardous liquids, and otherwise take good care of the environment. Impress upon them that what they take in must be brought out.
- Tread lightly issues. Four-wheeling often occurs in sensitive areas. Remind drivers to stay on designated trails and to avoid disturbing plants and animals.
- Fire safety. Campfires and other open flames must be handled carefully, especially in dry areas. Drivers must be careful with matches and smoking materials, as well.
A checklist is very useful for your drivers’ meeting. You can create your own from the points above and modify it to suit your particular trip. Don’t short change your drivers meeting and your trip will flow much smoother!