Marriage advice from a hand-signalin’, RV backer-upper


By Nanci Dixon
I will admit it, watching folks back RVs into campsites, particularly tight ones, has become a rather guilty source of entertainment. I am not alone. Every head seems to turn to the new camper as they begin their backing up journey.

Someone jumps out to help direct the way in – usually the wife, although I have recently seen several men hopping out, which means in their family the consensus is that the woman in the driver’s seat can back in better (or take directions better… or both). Sometimes no one jumps out and I can only imagine the conversations that ensue. Sometimes the husband jumps out over and over again to check while the wife is sitting in the passenger seat. Those would have been interesting conversations too.

I have seen walkie-talkies, cell phones and, the most fun of all, the hand signals used to help avoid sign posts, electric pedestals, sewer covers, trees and bushes (some work more successfully than others). 

I was not the one deemed better to back in, or take directions better either.

Early on, backing the 28 ft. Class C required a bit of learning. Flapping like a bird to indicate “Stop!” “Turn!” “Wait!” did not work and was the cause for a lot of discord. I did find that the universal hand gesture for stopping by cutting across the throat seemed to work well (or maybe it worked because that was what he was actually thinking at that point…).

When we got the 34 ft. Class A, I had already learned that rotating my arm in a circle to signify which way to turn the wheel was useless. I had to be able to determine which way the back end of the motorhome needed to go and then which direction the wheel should turn to achieve that. Back end to the left? Point to the left so the tires pointed left and the wheel turned left. Position myself in the mirror so I can be seen.  

When we got to the 40 ft., all aspects of precision backing, turning and direction required an enhanced skill level. 

Now we have it down. He lines up the rear wheels, the pivoting point, with the edge of the pad. I walk the site to note any trees, bushes, odd poles or overhead wires. Learned that after a near-hit on a low hanging branch… I usually don’t mention the number of previous near hits.

I stay on the driver’s side so he can see me in the mirror and I can watch the pedestals. Point left to move back end to the left, point right to move the back end of the motorhome to the right. For “Straighten up!” I do two hands about a foot apart moving backward and forward. To continue straight back, I move my hands in a come hither gesture and then leave them at my side while he slowly backs up.

As he gets closer, I hold my arms apart the approximate distance he has to go and slowly bring together. Two fists for stop. Learned that when I was the one pulling into a service bay and the tech was wildly pumping two fists frantically for “STOP!”

Learning a few simple hand signals has been a boon to saving a marriage, avoiding an argument, avoiding frustration and a relief at the end of a long day of driving.

What works or doesn’t work for you when backing your RV up?


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waldo gilley
8 days ago

Two way radios “go to passenger” or “go to driver” and STOP.

11 days ago

No brag, just fact.
My dad went on vacation so he could get away from his 24/7 job as a chief engineer for a local television station. I turned 15 and got my learners permit just before our annual 2 week summer vacation. My folks had just bought a 16’ travel trailer and when it came time to leave the driveway I started to get in the passenger seat and my dad said no you don’t you’re driving while I relax.
So at 15 I was backing that short trailer into campsites in the 60’s.
I have had to have a CDL for many years and backing isn’t an issue but teaching my wonderful wife how to watch for all of the obstacles that can’t be seen from the drivers seat has been a 22 year long work in progress. We use two way radios but I still wind up making several walk arounds in difficult, dogleg sites.
I don’t yell at her because I understand that not everyone looks at things in 3 dimensions.

Paul Samuel Goldberg
11 days ago

Although I can back our 36′ DP myself after 20 years we do find it easiest for me to ground guide using the hand signals you describe while my wife is able to take my guide without deviating. Our home site has a hard awning and a narrow approach road. We need to put the coach within a couple of inches of the posts. it takes some work but it is easiest with me on the ground and her at the wheel. We do it in one slow motion move.

Sherry L
12 days ago

My husband and I have never had a problem with backing up. I give basically the same hand signals as mentioned above. Just made more sense to do it that way. I think he could do it by himself but lets me feel like I am really helping. This is the one thing we do well together. Notice… I said “one”. We disagree on pretty much everything else. LOL

Brian Holmes
16 days ago

The problem isn’t with your wife’s, they have other attributes and backing you up isn’t one of them. The problem is you for not having the ability to back up the unit you bought. The truckers “GOAL” (get out and look) works every time but some of you have the whole macho problem with that when people are watching. My wife has never back me into a spot. Pull up survey the lot for obstacles and just do it.

18 days ago

We use similar hand signals. One additional is if I can’t see her I stop till she is back in view.

18 days ago

After 30 years of owning various RV’s, your signals are the ones we (I) settled on after our first 36′ 5th wheel and exchanging of short fuses… awe the memories. They work well and as long as DH can see, and watch me, all is well. It’s when he goes rogue that trouble starts. LOL

19 days ago

My husband gets out and walks it first if possible. He doesn’t yet (after 30+ years) understand the principle of “snaking” into the spot. He doesn’t arch when he should, at least early or late enough. We went to walkies and it helps. Now he can hiss at me without the park hearing. Thank God I don’t back it. 🙂

19 days ago

My great and safe driver wife just cannot back up. She is totally amazed that I can back using mirrors. The best way for us, is to arrive at a site and send her to the restroom, get a soda, or go somewhere for 5 or 10 minutes and then to come back to find me hooking up the electric.

Bob Weinfurt
19 days ago
Reply to  KellyR

That works for me too.

18 days ago
Reply to  KellyR

Works for us too. Once in a campground in south Florida my wife looked at the site and took the car for a drive. Many others staying there came out to watch me back our 36 ft motor home into a very tight space, no help offered, that I stuck the first time. I saw heads being shook as they walked away.

19 days ago

Only makes me think about how concerning it is that that there are so many people driving large vehicles with so little experience. Backing up is a fundamental (and basic) skill. If you can’t do it solo (there will be times that it’s required) I’d recommend finding a spot where you don’t risk damaging other people property to practice …a lot…

Mike & Cathi Stark
19 days ago

We use similar hand signals. I am good at giving directions and husband is good at following (at least for this activity). When we first tried this back-in parking back in 2016 there was a learning curve, now we get kudos from the bystanders. One hand points in the direction I want the rear to go, if for a slight movement, two hands if I need a sharper movement. Straight back is the same, but for stop I use crossed arms. This action can occur anywhere in the operation if we need to discuss possible issue. All and all we do a great job of getting backed in and ready to enjoy life. BTW, I use similar hand signals when pulling into a site, so we get straight and lined up correctly for the sewer hose and other utilities.

Michael Haider
19 days ago

I have to do it all. My wife is handicapped and you will see her sitting in the passenger chair. You will wonder why I keep jumping in and out to check my position. Over the years I have gotten pretty good at getting into the site before I start jumping in and out to make sure it is in the right position.

19 days ago

When backing,i have my wife stay at the rear of the site where i want to park and her only job is to yell or something IF I am about to hit something. I rely on my camera and mirrors. I have 2 large led flood lights to turn on if parking after dark. Before i told her to do nothing i could see her back there doing everything backwards, sometimes even pushing against the side of the camper to make it go HER way

Diane Mc
19 days ago

When parking in tight spaces, especially back-ins events where space is at a premium, husband came up with a nifty idea. Bought arrowS at hobby store (just kids arrows). Took tip off & glued large suction cup on. I attach to widest slide out & guide my husband so that we line up to the edge of our spot. (We have one for other slide, but don’t need it. Would be good if no slide outs). If we are within an inch or 2, we are good to go. This has come in handy when there is someone parking us. Most people see the newer coaches with really deep slides. Our 2002 coach has narrow slides. Prior we would be parked so far over & have to reposition after they left. Now it’s an easy way to show them we aren’t as wide & we can be closer to edge of our site/pedestals.

19 days ago

I do ALL the parking of my 35′ trailer towed by extended crew cab — it’s a LONG rig that responds slowly in reverse until it jackknifes. My wife only drives “forward and straight” on the highways. I can quite “humbly” say that IF I understand where the trailer needs to go, I can land it within inches, first time if physically possible. The problem is, of course, I can’t see much of the rig (especially reversing to passenger side) and NON-drivers (including forward-only wife) give unusable directions. To keep the peace, I now ONLY accept instructions of “angle and distance” for the TRAILER (do not tell me which way to turn the truck wheel or “go left” — it’s “~5 feet to the driver side, ~15 back, and angle ~30* passenger side”). Maybe “technical” for some, but works for us.

19 days ago
Reply to  Wolfe

As far as actual landing procedure: If possible, I approach with the site on driver side (easier to see the trailer move). Once in front of the proposed site, I get out and walk it myself — my rig and I know the dimensions by sight. If in doubt of height, I take out my pole saw, which is marked for clearance and anything that violates the mark gets trimmed. Inspect the ground for “lumps” that will require extra leveling or rocks/stumps that might snag low pipes. Out of the possibly limited landing rectangles now, I pick where I’m putting it and quickly get it “close” before engaging guidance from the above wife or son or (if alone) loose reference sticks or (if dark) flashlights.

Another communication trick: use cellphones, not yelling, but also use Duo/teams/etc to literally SEE what wife is talking about. A picture is worth a thousand bickers! If alone, use a pan/tilt wifi security camera on the back of the trailer to be able to look around and see out the back/up/down/sides.

19 days ago
Reply to  Wolfe

Also, although I use standard “arms, elbows, fists” as others explain, I’ve found that no matter how many times I explain them, no one seems to give them right (for me to understand). So, cellphone audio and video for me! If neighbors “helpfully” offer, I tell them “no directions other than trouble-STOP, and please hold my cellphone for video.”

My final comment (wordy me!) is that the driver is always responsible for the rig and extra caution is FINE! I don’t criticize slow-parkers if they are safe. If in any doubt, STOP AND LOOK. If directions sound wrong to what I expect, I check again. If wife/son want to double-check my clearance and tail-swing estimates, I stop cold and let them. Don’t be in such a rush yourself.

That OTHER guy taking forever, feel free to mock incessantly, of course… 😀

19 days ago

My sister used terrible language as a guide for my poor brother- in- law. She had the patience as long as a one inch piece of string.

Robyn Gleim
19 days ago

My husband & I have been RVing for 40+ years – he’s a great RV driver (former truck driver) and totally gets the angles of backing in. I am someone who cannot visualize angles to see where the RV will end up.
What works best for us is: I make sure we’re positioned ok for hook ups & slide outs are clear … then I stand where we want the driver’s side rear bumper to be and he aims the rear bumper of our 40’at me to back in (I think he likes aiming at me!). Then all I do is move out of the way & motion stop. All done! Works for us!

19 days ago
Reply to  Robyn Gleim

With a long enough run-up, you can aim the rear bumper — but you’ll find doing that you actually “S” into the spot if (like mine) your trailer has a LONG overhang behind the actual wheels. I mentally find it easier to drive the tires where they should end up, and just make sure the long wagging tail doesn’t wipe a tree getting there…

It may sound odd, but if you’re new to RV driving, take your rig to a deserted mall (there are more of those lately!) and practice backing the trailer into random parking spots over and over while you know there’s nothing else to hit. You’ll get an understanding of how to predict the trailer’s movement that no amount website reading can give you.

11 days ago
Reply to  Robyn Gleim

Like your husband, I am a former trucker. I have my wife scout the site and stand where she wants the rear tires of our fifth wheel to go. If it’s a blindside back, I do a lot of GOAL – get out and look. To start, I drive the rig about a full site down and on the edge of the road that my site is on. That way I have the most maneuvering room in front of me when I’m backing the fifth wheel in. I do it slowly and usually get it in on the first try, with maybe one pullout for fine tune adjustments.

19 days ago

We have used all kinds of hand signals & one the best is saying”Passenger or Driver meaning thats the way the driver needs to turn the wheel. The major problem is “how” much to turn the wheel. After a few years of that we bought a pair of walkie talkies, they worked but were very weak & once we had interference from another user, that was fun. I have a Ham in our Jeep for communication while out wheeling with our Jeep club, we also have a CB for the same purpose, the Ham is always in contact & we have a dedicated channel just for us! Soooo I bought 2 hand held Ham, (say that fast 10 times) best thing i ever done, now getting into any spot is fairly easy, as my wife can keep an eye on whats going on around the RV & doesn’t have to be in view of my rear view mirror.

19 days ago

Same here. Hand signals. Simple point left or right (I use hand with thumb extended, both hands in unison motioning toward me to continue back, and hands up, palms facing him to motion “STOP”). If something isn’t quite right, we stop, I approach the cab, short chat to clarify issue, and we finish.

Deborah Mason
19 days ago

My husband does most (nearly all) of the driving in our 32′ Class A. With his experience with large vehicles he’s better equipped for it. My main job is to stand by the sewer or electric hookup as a “target”, then to fine tune the shipping point based on level spot & hose/cord length. The mirrors & backup camera allow him to do it alone, if needed be. We both look at the overhead & side clearances before pulling in.