Reversing Guide

Scott Heiman — 2 September 2021
The privilege of having the front passenger seat comes with duties — helping with reversing

Reversing is a skill that some people simply can’t grasp. While they’ll pass their ‘P’ plate test, they’ll still struggle so much with reverse parking that they’ll avoid doing it for years. Add a trailer to the mix, and the extra challenge will turn many grown adults into blancmange.

How many of us have been witness to a near marriage collapse in a caravan park — caused when one of two partners simply can’t understand what the other one is trying to tell the other? We can probably all picture ourselves in a similar scenario: you’re sitting in the driver’s seat, reversing your rig, when your partner calls out, “Left … Left … LEFT! Your other left! Not your left. MY left!”

All drivers should know that, to get a caravan to turn to the left as you reverse, you need to rotate the steering wheel towards the right, or with your right hand down (clockwise). Conversely, to get your caravan turning toward the right as you reverse, you need to rotate the steering wheel toward the left, or with your left hand down (anticlockwise). Sometimes, however, the guide’s vantage point alters their perspective. Specifically, depending on which way the guide is facing, their viewpoint can become a mirror image of the driver’s, and the possibilities for confusion are compounded. So, it’s important to remember that the guide is not there to tell the driver how to drive. Rather, their job is to inform them which direction the caravan needs to go, and leave the steering to the driver.

Even once this point is understood, it’s not necessarily all smooth sailing. The next question is how to effectively communicate with the driver. For many, the humble handheld CB is touted as a marriage saver, and there are all kinds of reversing cameras out there. There is, though, also a communication method that doesn’t rely on technolo›y and that’s been used by humankind since we started hunting antelope on the savannah millennia ago. I’m talking here about hand signals.

While advances in technolo›y have led to the demise of many primitive skills, hand signals remain an important method of communication — even in modern society. For example, we commonly see them used by people with hearing impediments, by scuba divers and by the military. They are also used in the transport industry by crane operators and truck drivers, and even at the airport to direct planes on or off the passenger terminal.

Utilising hand signals well is a skill. Effective hand signalling starts when the guide stands in a position where the driver can clearly see them. If at any time the driver can’t see the guide, they need to stop immediately so the guide can adjust their position. The best position for the guide to stand is in front of the reversing vehicle, not down at the back of the caravan. Sure, the guide might need to go down there and check distances or the location of an obstacle, water tap, or light pole that has gone out of sight, but what’s wrong with asking the driver to stop while they go check?

The next requirement is that the hand signals are performed with large movements. It’s not enough to make simple gestures where only the fingers move, and hand signals shouldn’t be conducted directly in front of your body either. Clothing and lighting can make small gestures held in front of your body blend into their background. So, perform your hand signals in a purposeful manner, not like some bored, lethargic sloth.

Importantly, hand signals need to be understood by both parties. That’s why we’ve provided here the most common hand signals that you’ll need if you plan to communicate effectively. Once you become comfortable with hand signals, you’ll find that they’re useful in all sorts of scenarios, not just reversing. Use them to guide your tow-tug and caravan/camper/RV onto service ramps, over an old wooden one-way bridge, around an obstacle and on or off a ferry. Whatever the situation, if you stick with the hand signals highlighted here, you’re guaranteed to lower your blood pressure next time you need to manoeuvre your rig into a tight space. Do it right and you may help save your marriage as well as your vehicle.


The reversing guide now becomes the eyes of the driver, and the driver should be looking directly at the guide. The driver may take quick glances at the mirrors but why have a guide at all if 50 per cent of the time the driver isn’t looking at the guide?



Possibly the most important hand signal is the one that avoids damage. To inform the driver to stop, raise your arms above your head with arms crossed like a big letter ‘X’. Some people use the old one arm raised like a traffic cop, which is fine, but the ‘X’ is a more prominent signal and can’t be mistaken for anything else.


To have the driver go away from the guide (reversing) in a straight line, use both arms extended with fists clenched. Raise your arms to point to the sky then point straight ahead, pausing, with your arms held horizontally.


You may need to have the driver come forward to straighten-up and readjust. To indicate this, have your palms face towards you, and then motion towards you, starting with your arms horizontal, and moving them to vertical.


This signal involves extending your arm in the direction that the rear of the caravan needs to move towards. Your right arm points to the driver’s left with your palm facing the vehicle (the lightened skin of your palm will stand out). You can use this even when you’re unhitched driving the backtracks and in need of a guide to get your vehicle out of a jam. The key is that you’re not telling the driver how to drive, but rather what direction they need to go.


Funnily enough, it’s the opposite of going left. Simply point in the direction the rear of the rig needs to go towards. Your left arm points to the driver’s right with your palm facing the vehicle.


With your arm extended and your palm facing the ground, slowing ‘flap’ your arm from vertically by your side, to extended arm. Repeat this motion until the driver slows to the desired speed.


With both your arms extended, palms facing each other, indicate the distance to target. Bring your hands together to indicate the scale of movement. As the rear of the rig starts to come into the desired position, your hands slowly come together. When your hands clap together, this indicates to the drivers to stop.


When you’ve reached your desired position for parking, place your hands on your head, like in a game of ‘Simon Says’. This indicates to the driver that it’s time to turn off the vehicle and unhitch. Others utilise the cut throat action. it’s up to you and your driver to work it out as long as it’s the same field signal that both of you use. Now, it’s time to down-tools and have some fun.



Features Editorial Reversing Guide


Scott Heiman