It’s more fun travelling off-road in a group but that means, er, driving with other people, in a convoy. Here’s how to drive in a 4WD convoy.

Off-road travelling is best done in groups for safety and fun, which means driving with other people, and this is known as a convoy. The first car is the lead car but may or may not be the actual group leader. The rear-most rear is often referred to as Tail End Charlie, and is a trusted, experienced driver who the leader can rely on to bring up the rear.

The distribution of cars in the convoy is usually determined by the quality of in-car radio, experience level of the drivers and the vehicle’s capability and recovery level (for example, does it have a winch) in the case of rough terrain.

Every trip leader has their own style so this isn’t prescriptive, but it does serve as a guide with a few simple things to consider so everything runs smoothly. One of the most important purposes for a convoy is keeping the group together, and there are two methods for this:

  • Check behind: at every corner each person checks the car behind has ‘definitely’ seen them turn. This may involve waiting, but so be it. If everyone does this then nobody gets lost; and
  • Second-to-last: at each corner the car behind the leader stops, everyone overtakes him and the car takes up the rear of the convoy, or sometimes becomes the penultimate car because of a fixed Tail End Charlie.

The ‘check behind’ method is by far the most popular, but second-to-last can make for a nice variation.

Then there’s just a few things to remember:

When in a convoy you should

  • Use some form of radio for inter-car communication: This can be a hand-held UHF or a vehicle-mounted unit;
  • Wait for the person behind: at junctions if that’s the convoy process you use. It’s your responsibility to do so. Forget the guy in front, he should wait for you at the next turn;
  • Inform the leader: if you wish to stop, particularly on any high-speed sections. It doesn’t take long for the convoy to disappear out of sight.
  • Put your ego away: Every so often you make mistakes, and I still, to this day, often forget the person behind may be slower and thus don’t mark junctions for them. Don’t try and hide it;
  • Run your headlights on low beam: You’re far, far more visible to others in dusty conditions. Try and synchronise fuel, toilet and other stops with the rest of the convoy;
  • Be on time when everyone is trying to leave. Keeping others waiting is rude, and then just before you come back someone decides to dash to the toilet, someone else sees that and before you know it everyone is out of the car and needs herding again before the convoy can move off;
  • If it’s dusty, put the aircon on recycle: and turn the fan up. This helps prevent dust ingress. If you stop while heading downwind let the dust disperse before you open the door and ruin all that hard work.
  • Be aware of the wind direction in dust: as you turn into the wind from a crosswind, the dust suddenly blows right back at you.

When in a convoy you should not

  • Follow too close: I address this to all males, especially those who are 30-years old or younger. I think the reason many attempt to slipstream the car in front is to demonstrate how fast they could drive given the chance, or their car control skill. Well, nobody’s impressed when you’re travelling on a dirt road, so cut it out as you just look like a complete gonad. The correct distance is at least two-seconds outside the dust cloud, and sufficiently far back that you can focus on and see the track in front without worrying about whether the guy in front is braking. Sometimes that’s as much as 60 seconds behind the car in front, and sometimes you need to come to a complete halt to let the dust settle.
  • Hog the radio: Personally, I love banter and chatter on the radio in a convoy and encourage it on my trips, but sometimes things get serious and the airwaves need to be cleared. Even if you’re chatting, a long monologue means others can’t get in. There’s an art to chatting on the CB, and that includes airing your laugh if you find something funny as otherwise the joker thinks things have fallen flat. However, some trip leaders are very much focused on using the radio for essentials only. Each to their own, but I reckon that’s booooring.
  • Overtake people: You won’t get there any quicker, the convoy may be in a specific order for some reason, the overtake won’t be expected and you’ll just look like an impatient fool. If you want to swap positions ask, it’s very unlikely you’ll be refused and the overtake can be carried out more safely if the other person is expecting it and cooperating.
  • Guess at which way the road: went if you’re not sure and it’s not been marked. Turn your stereo off entirely as you may miss an important message
  • Transmit with music playing in the background: Commonsense this one…no-one will be able to hear what you’re saying.
  • Forget you aren’t on a private channel: if using a CB, which means others not in your group can hear you.

In some cases, the leader will run as car #2. I often do this to give others more of a chance to see wildlife. However, running later in the convoy is often a very good place too for spotting things if people sing out when they’ve seen something noteworthy.

This job of Tail End Charlie is to be the leader’s eyes and ears as there’s no way the first car can see what’s happening that far back. The main job is to inform the leader when certain landmarks are passed, as a positive check that the convoy is still moving as planned, or notify him/her of any mishaps.

Convoy driving is a safe way to travel, more fun than solo and very efficient as long as you note these simple guidelines.

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