Top 10 beach driving tips

By Lauren Smit | October 30, 2014

Everything you need to know about getting off-road and onto the sand, in a safe and environmentally-friendly way.

FOUR WHEEL DRIVING alongside the ocean with nothing but a stretch of pearly-white sand in front of you is a quintessentially Australian pastime. It’s sometimes the means to the end of a beautiful remote camp site. “There’s plenty of great beaches to explore – get out there any enjoy it,” says Kev Williams, Managing Director of Australian 4WD training services.

But whether you’re driving on the beach for the love of it, or out of necessity, there are safety and environmental considerations that need to be heeded. Even the most experienced drivers can make mistake and it always pays to be prepared. There’s nothing worse than being stranded – your 4WD slowly sinking into the sand – while the last few hours of your holiday dwindle past. So take note of our top ten tips for beach driving and make the most of your next day out.

1. Do your homework

Check out local council websites and popular 4WD magazines for information on which beaches permit the use of vehicles. If vehicles are permitted, you will usually be able to find clearly marked access routes and appropriate signage. If in doubt, contact the local tourist information centre. Use established access routes – not only are they a better option for your vehicle, but they also reduce unnecessary damage to dune ecosystems.

2. Lighten your load

It might seem like common sense, but removing any unwanted fittings or miscellaneous items from your vehicle can make a difference in reducing its overall weight. The lighter the vehicle, the less likely it will get bogged. Pack smart and if you do get bogged, unload all passengers before you attempt to drive out.

3 Check your clearance

If you’ve never taken your vehicle on the beach before, whip-out the measuring tape and check the level of clearance between the underside of the vehicle and the ground. Anything less than 180mm could mean that the vehicle will bottom-out when cresting even a slight rise in the sand. Ultimately, this translates to a loss of momentum and an increased likelihood of getting bogged.

4. Watch the water

Tides are a governing force for all beachgoers, so make sure you’re not driving during an incoming high tide. Always pack a tide chart for the relevant area and check it before you head out. Aim to start your journey on an outgoing high tide – the sand will be firm and you’ll have ample time to reach your destination before the next high tide returns. Stay clear of the water’s edge – one rogue wave is all it takes to lift or roll a vehicle.

5. Lower your tyre pressure

Most 4WD vehicles will have a road-driving tyre pressure between 32-38psi. Lowering your tyre pressure will help spread the tyre out, increasing the amount of surface area in contact with the sand.

“Start at 25psi. You shouldn’t go any lower than 18psi,” says Kev. “When you lower your tyre, it gives you a longer foot print – that’s what gives you better traction on slippery surfaces.”

There are consequences of lowering tyre pressure, including a lag in steering and braking response so make sure to account for these changes while driving. Always remember to increase the tyre pressure before you drive back onto the bitumen, or you’ll risk rolling the tyre completely off the wheel.

6. Maintain momentum

If you’re coming up to an area of loose, soft sand make sure you maintain or marginally increase your speed. The slower the vehicle is travelling, the longer it has to sink into the sand and dig itself into a rut. Momentum is the key to maximising your fuel usage and reducing the likelihood of getting bogged.

“Sand doesn’t provide much traction at all,” says Vic Widman, founder of Great Divide Tours. “Using high-range will allow you to maintain momentum without spinning your wheels.”

7. Be prepared to be bogged

Accept the inevitable – at some point, you’re going to get bogged. Shovels, snatch-straps and shackles, MaxTrax high visibility treads or equivalent, a tyre deflator and a compressor are all essential recovery gear.

If you do get bogged, don’t spin the wheels as this will only dig the tyres in deeper. A set of four MaxTrax or equivalent will set you back around $500, but that’s money well spent.

“MaxTrax reduce resistance and assist in recovery – it’s probably one of the safest options out there,” says Kev. If you’re operating on a tight budget, use a shovel to dig a path in front of each tyre and clear away sand from beneath the underbelly of the vehicle before you attempt to drive out. “Any part of the vehicle that’s touching the sand is causing resistance,” says Kev.

8. Be aware of road rules

The surface you’re driving on might have changed, but road rules still apply. Always ensure your passengers are wearing seatbelts, follow the speed limits and avoid drink-driving. Police do enforce road rules, particularly in popular holiday destinations.

“A lot of the beaches that we’re permitted to use have the same rules as the road,” says Vic.

Driving on the beach is all about having fun, but that doesn’t mean safety should go flying out the window.

9. Be considerate

Most people who drive on the beach do so recreationally, so let’s keep the good vibes going and leave the drama by the roadside. A little bit of courtesy will go a long way – give way to others, avoid tail-gaiting, park away from the main driving strip of the beach and be willing to offer assistance to those in need.

Most beaches that allow vehicles also generate a bit of foot traffic, so be wary of people, their animals and their gear.

10. Leave nothing behind but your tyre tracks

A plastic bag skimming across the sand or a hunk of dirty styrofoam poking out among the leafy dunes are the last features we like to see dotting our natural vistas. Take two rubbish bags with you, one for recycling and one for general rubbish. Even organic matter like scraps from lunch shouldn’t be left behind – feral dogs and foxes are attracted to leftovers and predate on native species.

Driving on the beach is a fantastic way to enjoy Australia’s wild coastlines and it’s a privilege that future generations should be able to enjoy as well.