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Sand Beach Driving 101   by Sgt David Brayman USMC

Having spent plenty of time on the beach in a multitude of vehicles (yes a large number of which are military, designed for such terrain), there is one thing that I have seen many times on the beach that makes all beach-goers cringe, and thank the heavens that it wasn't you. That is the stuck vehicle. Now while driving in soft sand is common on the beach, not everybody falls victim to getting stuck. With a little know-how you too can avoid this annoying and sometimes expensive event. For the writing of this article, I will draw on both civilian beach driving experience and Military Instruction taught by the Marine Corps for driving in the sand and vehicle recovery.**

Before you hit the beach, take a few minutes to examine your rig and gear (what I like to call the “Trunk Kit”) to ensure all is well. Now is the time to make sure you have all of the things you planned to bring to the beach, as well as snagging those last minute missed items. Check your rod racks to ensure there is no loose gear that may fall off while driving on the road to the beach. (nothing would make a day brighter than being the first one on a beautiful hole and discover that the bait knife fell off somewhere between Hatteras Village and ramp 23) Also pay a little attention to the distance that your rod butts extend from the bottom of your rod racks, no explanation needed.

Suggested “Trunk Kit” gear for the beach (minimum)



air gauge for low pressure 0-25 psi (mandatory) Digital Tire Gauge
  1 shovel, folding or other (Texsport Folding Pick/Shovel
  1 bucket (many additional uses for that one, any size)
  1 tow strap/snatch rope (Reel-Smart Tow Strap )
  1 hydraulic bottle jack (Most trucks already have these)
  1 piece of sturdy wood about one foot long, 2x6/8/10 or 6x6  ( to support jack in sand)
Additional gear (you may want to include)
  1 air pressure gauge for high pressure 20-100 psi
  2 painters tarps or (2)12” x 4’ strips of carpet
  1 container windshield washer fluid
  1 Assorted stash of tools for emergencies
  1 First Aid kit

Your “Trunk Kit” gear can be stored inside your vehicle with minimal loss of space by packing it with a little thought. If you choose a 5-gallon bucket, all of the gear fits nicely inside of it, and that is all the room you need. I have also seen rod racks out there that have a space for a bucket, or others who place a bucket somewhere on their rod racks. If you do so, then you can keep your air gauge in your glove box, and the rest behind your seat, in a bed toolbox, anywhere out of the way. For the additional gear, you can roll up your tarps/carpet and place your washer fluid out of the way. Some my ask why washer fluid, well in the evenings and mornings on the beach, dew and sea mist settles fast, the sea mist is salt water so when it dries, it clouds up your wind shield making driving a little more tricky, so you will use a lot more of it than you normally would on the road.

So now you’re at the ramp and ready to make your way on to the beach. If you haven’t already done so, now is a good time to get out of your vehicle and drop the air pressure in your tires to 20-18 PSI (you can go as low as 15 with regular tires, but it is not advised for normal road conditions). The back side of your air pressure gauge should be able to help you do this, or you can purchase one of the tire pressure setters that can be found at almost all of the local shops for 15-30 bucks each. (These nicely designed pieces of gear are simple to use, just pre-set the pressure you want, screw it on to your tires valve stem, and when the pressure reaches pre-set PSI it stops automatically) Please keep in mind that dropping the tire pressure not only makes your tire print wider, it keeps your transmission/transfer cases from overheating due to excessive workload. (Trust me on that one ladies and gentlemen, nothing describes the feeling you get when your transmission fluid is pouring out of your transmission case like running water, been there)

Now that you are making your way onto the beach there are a few things that you should keep in mind besides where to stop and fish. Avoid bogging down in softer sand. Many people travel on and off the beach through this stuff, use the same tire tracks that they have left, it is a proven track and if traveled enough it packs the sand so that it is not as soft. This applies to driving up and down the beach as well. Don’t be in a hurry on the beach as well, the speed limit may be 25, but what is the hurry, is the beach going anywhere? Driving at a higher speed does prevent you from sinking into soft sand, but the higher the speed you travel on sand, the harder it is to control and stop your vehicle, kind of like driving on ice just not as bad. The best rule of thumb I can give you is how fast do you want the other guy going if your children are playing? That is the speed you should go. If you are passing parked vehicles, you should always leave as much space between you and them as you can. You should also not pass between a vehicle and the beach, sometimes a parked vehicle has been sitting there since high tide and now has 20 or 30 yards of nice looking passing room, but they may have rods out or even children playing. Just keep your eyes open. If you must pass another vehicle close due to the size of the beach, slow down to 5 MPH. If passing an on-coming vehicle, always yield to the right as you would on any hard surfaced road. Always respect closed areas, no matter how angry it makes you. They are there for a reason (although I'm still looking into why) and intrusion in these areas provides ammunition to outside groups that wish to stop you from accessing one of the true public beaches left in America.

While driving on the beach, there are some areas where you have no choice but travel through the soft sand. First thing to remember is to follow the tracks of other vehicles, it is a proven path. Try to maintain the speed that you are going, and try not to turn excessively or sharply, this will cause you to bog down. If you do find that you are starting to dig in, STOP. Spinning your tires will only dig your vehicle in deeper. After you stop, try reversing back the way you came, sometimes this is all that is needed to get out. Rocking the vehicle back and forth does help sometimes, but more often that not, it merely digs ruts deeper and buries your vehicle deeper in the sand. If you have to use low transfer for soft sand, then do so. If you still spin your tires in low transfer, then you must stop all together you are now stuck.

If you find yourself in a situation where you are buried, stuck or just plain un-able to move, you can still save yourself 1-4 hours of waiting time and 200 bucks plus. Dig under one side of the vehicle in front of the rear axle (deepest side provides best result) dig deep enough to fit your jack under frame and lift tire out of hole as much as possible (this is where the piece of wood comes in handy to prevent the jack from sinking, cause believe me the best way to never see a piece of wood on the beach is need one). If you have to, fill in sand under the tire (while still jacked up), and repeat as necessary to both sides of the rear axle to get the axle out of the sand. Now grab your bucket and get some water from the surf and slowly pour it on to the sand you just filled in to the holes where your tires came from, and forward of the tires for a few feet. Wait a minute or two and then in low transfer, 1st gear, drive your vehicle forward slowly until you reach firmer sand. Another approach is to use the tarps or carpet that you brought with you. Just jack up the tires, fill in holes with sand, place the tarps or carpets under the wheels rolling them out to the front wheels, drop your tires down onto them, and in low transfer, 1st gear drive out. These things do take some time and effort, but it usually is worth it in the long run.

If you are the victim of the dreaded hub blowout, or mechanical break down, than a tow is only option remaining unless you get help from other beach goers. Hub Blowout happens to automatic locking hubs usually while already on the beach. The vacuum line does not have both hubs engaged so one hub works double, and the other just slips until the working hub blows. If you are getting stuck, but only the rear tires spin/dig in, your hubs are not engaging or they are blown. Just remember that if you are having a mechanical break down, or leaking lots of fluid, GET OFF THE BEACH. Its a lot easier to do minor repairs on pavement with out the risk of losing tools in the sand. If the worst has come, most insurance companies that give you the tow option will get you a free tow to the mechanic, but not off the beach. Also, a tow from a parking lot is a lot cheaper.

Using this as a guide will not guarantee you will never get into a sticky situation, but how you react in that situation and what you do will determine the end result. In the end using common sense, a little patience, and a little time before going on to the beach, as well as on the beach, will save you big in the long run. A few additional notes while driving on the beach.
- Remember that damp or wet sand is good, water puddles are bad. Re-living the Jeep commercials on TV driving in the waves is cool now, but driving in water (surf or puddles) WILL get water into the front hubs, or worse, your Jeep Liberty takes a swim. Salt water breaks down/dries the grease inside your hubs quicker which in turn will cause mechanical problems at the wrong time. Always keep an eye on the beach shape, drop-offs, ditches and those little ledges, they can be fatal.

- While driving on the access roads behind the dunes, STAY OUT OF THE SIDE DRAINAGE DITCHES! They look shallow until your Danali comes to rest on its frame inside one of these tricky looking trenches. STAY OFF THE DUNES, they are nice to look at and serve a purpose. That purpose is NOT to test the incline capability of your new HUMM-VEE.

- Be respectful of those already on the beach. They are on vacation just as much as you. Respect is a two-way street, the more you give, the more you get. Besides, that guy you run out of the tracks now will probably remember you (when you need help) and drive by looking.





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