Friday, April 6, 2018

Safety Report

You Have Arrived Safely, Now What?
Campground Safety, That’s What

Butch Jones

We have been talking about several different areas involving safety as it pertains to motor homes and motor home travel but today we will address safety at the campground. This is an area that most of you are very familiar however; it might be good to refresh your memories. I am finding that I don’t know some things that I once did. 
We will start with some basics and then move into some areas that may not get attention as often. The first thing is getting the rig into the campground. This may sound simple and most of the time it is, but as our coaches get larger and out eyesight gets worse, the campgrounds and the campsites get smaller, at least by comparison. I have seen some fights that would have sold out an Ultimate Fighter bout, all over which way to turn the motorhome when backing into a campsite. While this may provide almost comic viewing for spectators it can be downright dangerous for the couple involved. Here are a few tips on RV parking:

  • Verify that your RV can get into the campground. Many campgrounds were built in the 1970s or early 1980s (some even before that) when the largest motorhome was 25 foot with no Slideouts. While the roads in most campgrounds are easy to navigate, there are still some that could be difficult to access due to hairpin turns and tight squeezes among boulders and trees. Some camping websites post caution notices to warn owners of longer rigs that they might want to consider another campground. If such warnings don't appear on the website and you have concerns, contact the campground directly and ask. The most common term is “Big Rig Friendly”. Most campground reservation websites provide details for each site, including its length. Check that the spot you've selected will accommodate both your tow vehicle and your trailer, or your motorhome, without sticking out into the road. Some reservation sites will also indicate low hanging tree branches or other obstructions. If you cannot reserve a specific site make sure the person taking the reservation knows the type, length, width with slides out and height of your coach.
Slide hit tree in campground

  • Check the campsite before you pull in. If you can do so without blocking traffic, get out and look the spot over. Scope out any objects or terrain that might pose hazards, such as drainage ditches, roadside markers, low hanging branches, posts, power, water hookups and fire pit rings. These same obstacles can prevent you from extending slide outs, so make sure you have clearance. Also, check to see if there are any especially low spots in the site that you'll want to avoid.
  • Have an assistant (spotter) to guide you in. No matter how skilled you think you are at backing into campsites, things will go a lot smoother with extra eyes watching. There's nothing worse than the embarrassing crunch of an RV bumper kissing a large rock or a picnic table. Your spotter can also make sure you've got the rig in straight and that you're completely out of the road. For easier communication, get yourself a pair of two-way radios so you and your assistant won't have to yell. If using radios, make sure you are both on the same channel, I know what you are thinking, but it has happened (two radios + two people + two different channels = 2 unhappy campers).  
  • For most RV drivers that have been behind the wheel for many years having help may not be necessary, however, having an extra pair of eyes to keep you from hitting something expensive could be helpful. 
  • When utilizing a spotter, make sure that the spotter knows what the driver expects. If the driver needs assistance in getting into position then the spotter should know this and act accordingly. However, if the driver only wants the spotter to alert the driver if he/she gets too close to a tree, bolder, picnic table or other object, then the spotter should know this as well. I actually watched a spotter backing a large motor home into a campsite pointing in both directions at the same time.  I later learned that the spotter thought that would mean come straight back, needless to say the driver did not have the same opinion of its meaning.  
  • That brings up another tip. Make sure that the driver and spotter are using and understanding the same signals and they both understand exactly where the driver wants the coach to stop.
  • If using a spotter, he/she must also understand how far the coach needs to be from trees, electrical boxes and sewer connections. The spotter must also know how far the Slideouts will extend so you do not have to crawl under the Slideout to make sewer and electric connections.
  • I also know of some couples that the lady backs the coach into the campsite and the man is the spotter. So use whatever works for your situation.
  • The spotter should remain on the job until the driver is content with the location and the coach is ready for set-up.

   When the coach is properly situated in the campsite, making the necessary leveling adjustments needs to be addressed. Making sure that your coach is level can be very easy or it could take some time. If you coach uses leveling jacks, the use of pads or ground plates can help prevent the jack bases from burying into the ground especially on wet ground or if a lot of rain is expected. When using ground plates try not to get completely under the coach. This is especially true if you coach has an air suspension, unless it is blocked to prevent the body from coming down if the air bags loose air. I know some of you will say that is not likely to happen but better safe than sorry. I have installed round end metal eyelets that screwed into the pads. This allowed me to use the awning release rod to maneuver the pads under the coach.
  After the coach is level, make sure that there is NOTHING that the Slideouts could come in contact with when being deployed. That tree that was a few feet away as you backed in may now be part of your dining area, if you did not consider the depth of the Slideout.  When dry camping, proper positioning of the coach is especially important.

  Making utility connections is another area that we sometimes take for granted. When making the electrical connection, testing the 30 or 50 amp outlet for proper installation can be done before making the connection if you have an external protection device or after if the device is hardwired into your coach.  This is important to make sure you have enough but not too much of the proper amperes and voltage coming into your coach and that the outlet is wired properly. 

  Being follically challenged (I made that up) myself; I have on more than one occasion had my head come in forceful contact with a Slideout corner. Once to the tune of 18 stitches, so I know a bit about this topic. As you may already know, Slideout edges and corners in particular can be very sharp. This is especially true when you run into or rise up into one. A solution that has worked for me is to use swim noodles. These are the Styrofoam tubes with a hole in the center. If you cut them to the desired length and cut a slit down one side they can be slipped over the edges and/or corners of the Slideouts. This will, if the colors are bright, call attention to the corner or edge. They will at least blunt the impact if struck by a body part.  
  Most of us may not venture into other countries that may have disease issues; however, it is not a bad idea to make sure that your vaccinations are up to date. Vaccinations can help protect against certain diseases and conditions while camping. Check with your doctor or nurse to see if you've had all of the recommended vaccines. He or she may recommend tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), meningitis, and/or hepatitis A, depending on your medical history, destination, and other factors. And don’t forget flu and pneumonia vaccinations as well.
  While on the subject of vaccinations, make sure your family pets are vaccinated and always keep a close eye on them. Check for ticks, and remove them promptly. Make sure pets have plenty of water, food, and shelter. Make sure that you have a copy of their medical records with you as some campgrounds want to see some certificates particularly rabies and kennel cough if there is a dog park at the campground.
  Mosquitoes, ticks, and other insects can cause certain diseases. To help fight the bite, apply insect repellent containing DEET to exposed skin. Be sure to follow directions on the package. Check for ticks daily, and remove them promptly. Wearing long sleeves, pants, and other light-colored clothing will help prevent and spot ticks more easily. Make sure your pets have taken their flea, tick and heartworm medications and you have enough for an extended trip.

  Always make sure that you carry a first aid kit in your coach. It can be basic or as complete as you feel comfortable with. Since we will be camping in various parts of the country, we need to remember that different parts of the country have varying levels of emergency medical care. Make sure to take enough of any special medications that you may need. Also remember to include your pet meds as well. So a bit of preparedness here may be prudent. We always carry Benadryl for Mitzi in case of a bee sting. 
  Living in Florida, we have become accustom to assuming that every body of water may have an alligator living in it. But when traveling to different parts of the country there may be local dangers that we are not aware. So read all signs that are posted at the campground, especially near water. Pay attention to all safety warnings. 
  Many campgrounds are located in or near wildlife areas (I am not talking about nightclubs and strip joints) and we must remember that it is illegal in most states to feed wildlife. This allows the animals to associate people with food and they will lose their natural fear and usually leads to problems with the animal on the losing end most often. When you see wildlife near the campground, take a picture, enjoy looking at it but keep you distance and leave it alone. 

Watch the weather when camping, check a weather app on your phone if you have one or check the weather channel or local news each night to see what the next day will bring. Weather can change quickly in some places. Make sure that your coach is secured for any anticipated change based upon weather reports and sometimes a “gut” feeling. If in doubt, pull in those awnings and secure any loose items before leaving the campground for the day.
  We all like a campfire on cool evenings but make sure that you only light camp fires in parks where it is permitted. Many national parks do not allow open fires. Extinguish fires whenever you leave your campsite unattended; use water, not sand (it retains heat and can cause severe burns).
  Sewer hoses are wonderful things. They allow us to use our own toilets and generally provide a fuss free dumping of waste. However, as at least one other (other than yours truly) member of Dogwood knows, we need to make sure that the hoses are in good condition, the couplings are secured to the hose and the coupling (and hose) secured to the tank drain outlet. It is hard to believe how much sewage can flow from the dump valve from the time the hose separates from the coupling and you can close the valve. It is not a pretty sight, trust me.

  Crime is not usually rampant in most campgrounds but from time to time it is present. So take a moment to make sure your coach is secured before leaving it unattended. Don’t leave anything outside that you can’t do without or replace. Lock your towed vehicle when not using it as well. I always lock our towed when traveling and use a key for the ignition that has just the ignition key and not a FOB. We heard of a couple that stopped in a Walmart for the night and about 12:30 in the morning there was a knock at the door. A man asked the owner if he could move his coach up a few feet so he could get around. Being half asleep the RVer said sure and since the car was hooked to the coach he moved it up a few feet and went back to bed. The next morning when he went to check the towed, it was gone. Yes, he had left the keys inside and not locked it. He thought it was secured since it was hooked to the coach with the tow bar, which was on the ground still attached to the coach. He also remembered that the keys had house keys and the remote, the garage door opener was on the visor and his insurance card and registration were in the glove box. And of course his address was on the registration card. So, it may take a bit longer to secure everything but it just might be worth the effort. 
While talking about hooking up to the coach, I have a laminated card that I place on the steering wheel whenever I stop for the night and when I setup at a campground. It contains things to check before moving the coach, this is a result of extensive research, and OK, maybe it was from pulling off with the TV antenna up, awnings out, step out and so on.
  If you do an internet search on Campground Safety there are many sites from the FMCA, Center for Disease Control, National Park Service and KOA to name a few, that offer a wealth of information on campground safety and general camping safety. We have not covered everything regarding campground safety, but maybe this will get you thinking about safety as you travel this year.