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Take the stress out of a day at the beach
Take the stress out of a day at the beach

_LAST _week we looked at sand driving principles. Lowering tyre pressures lengthens tread contact with the ground, reducing the tendency of tyres to dig in.

Sufficient momentum maintains progress, without it being necessary to go so hard and fast that control is lost.

Learning alone by trial and error can make the outing a stressful or costly experience.

Don't despair. No one's born an expert. It takes years of experience and accumulated knowledge to develop off-road driving skills.

Joining an established 4WD club provides an opportunity to travel in a group. Let the most experienced driver and capable vehicle take the lead to pick the path, with newbies safely in the middle of the pack to facilitate any rescue from nose or tail.

A red face is easily outweighed by the safety factor and reduced effort of a snatch recovery versus a solo dig out.

Learn to read the surrounding terrain. Looking ahead, you can frequently spot where other vehicles have had trouble so you can avoid the soft spots. Use formed tracks - damaging the environment and blazing your own trail benefits no one.

Drive slowly, watch for families and their pets enjoying sun and surf. Avoid sharp turns with tyres at low pressure because rolling a tyre off a rim will stop you in your tracks.

A sand flag helps other drivers identify your vehicle's location and direction of travel with low visibility or crossing undulating terrain.

Driving on wet, compact sand reduces strain on your vehicle but be warned - playing too close at water's edge looks great but it will set your pulse racing trying to beat an incoming tide if you get stuck.

Getting close to the water's edge should only be considered if the beach becomes narrow or impassable closer to the dunes.

Experienced drivers know the dangers of driving on even small side slopes, so don't do it unless you really know what you're doing and there is no alternative.

In such cases the potential for vehicle rollovers is significantly increased, with lower tyre pressures on a soft surface compounding the danger. When it's time to pull up and enjoy your own piece of beach perfection, don't punch the brake pedal because sand mounds can form in front of your tyres, making it more difficult to move off.

Always do a U-turn down towards the water line, rather than uphill towards the dunes, to reduce strain on your vehicle.

If you're planning on staying a while, have the courtesy to back up towards the dunes, giving other drivers room to safely pass on the firmer sand closer to the water.

Always carry basic recovery gear. If you haven't got any, speak to your 4WD specialist and get some. Don't expect a stranger to offer their gear or put their vehicle at risk to overcome your inexperience or carelessness.

Finally, once you get off the beach don't forget to pump up your tyres. The consequences of running a heavy vehicle on soft tyres at legal road speeds means risking a blowout or the vehicle careening out of control.

Make sure you invest in a good compressor and check its operation before heading out.