Monday, December 5, 2022


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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11 months ago

My husband insists on being the one to back in. In all honesty, he is really good at it and usually can back in perfectly on the first try. I always jump out just to make sure there are no hidden hazards, and I hold up a fist for him to stop when he is backed in. That seems to be the extent of the hand signals he will obey and he prefers verbal instructions. But, he is really skilled at backing up and he usually figures it out without my help. However, we have had times when things got cockeyed and I’ve had to indicate for him to go left or right etc. The first time this happened he had a big problem following my directions. I got frustrated that he wouldn’t do what I told him to do. He got out and loudly informed me he couldn’t understand me and I needed to speak more clearly. That’s when I noticed all the windows were rolled up in the truck. Another heated discussion commenced and then a laugh and from then on the windows get rolled down and we haven’t had a problem 🙂

Jennifer Willner
11 months ago

Oh my, the “conversations” we have had during Back Into The Site. We finally resorted to walkie-talkies. And I totally mess with it because FUN. Beam me up Scotty is a favorite of mine to blast into the mic. I also ad lib statements like, whoops, there goes someone’s puppy…I can’t help it!

11 months ago

“There goes someone’s puppy.” Oh my gosh that made me laugh!

11 months ago

She watches the back end of the 5th wheel while keeping me posted on the phone. I always ask that she watch the trailer surfaces I can’t see and does a good job of it. After landing, I always get out, assess the site’s levelness and hookup accessibility. Then I may reposition accordingly to get the best chances of achieving both while having my tires still touching the ground after autolevel has finished.

11 months ago

Oh my gosh! This is our entertainment, watching people back in. We have been told often we are boring to watch back in. We both get out, decide where the travel trailer is going to go and I act as guide. Mostly, I just tell him when he is where he wants to be. Backing the truck back up to get to the Hensley hitch is another story. You have to be spot and quite often I can’t tell if he is an inch or two off until he has no more time to go left or right. Usually there are no issues, but if we are going to have issues it is hooking up!

11 months ago

This parking thing is, sometimes a challenge, because most of us don’t do it every day – maybe 5 or 10 times a year and with many months in-between. This applies to the parker and the parkee as well! We use the hand signals which no-one, including me, can understand, as my wife has developed her own. I cannot seem to make her understand – I must see her in my mirror!!! Parking isn’t normally the problem – it is the obstacles which fall between the mirror and the backup camera – those blind corners. She seems to forget the front directions determines the rear direction – but later due to the tail swing and pivot point.

Simply put, parking a 5th wheel, 34′ Class A, B-747 or an F-16 are very similar – just different size spaces and techniques. If we all used the standardized large equip. signals – well, everyone could park anyone anywhere, anytime. (Even a Boeing 747!) – Hmmm?

11 months ago

My husband was raised on a farm and has been backing up trailers and hay wagons since he was able to reach the pedals. Our parking routine involves using walkie-talkies when he needs a little extra guidance. People have come up after we’re set up and marveled at how quickly and precise he parked the rig.

11 months ago

After years of Drag Racing we go buy the Backup signals used after doing the 200′ burnout.

11 months ago

My husband and I have developed a system that works perfectly for us. He gets out and walks around the MH to check out the site. Then he walks beside the driver’s open window as I back in. He corrects any steering issues by just telling me to turn a little more right or left or straighten her out, etc. No yelling, arm-waving, etc. He may need to check out the area again and ask me to make subtle corrections. Many times people have told us what a nice job of parking I do. I just smile and thank them, when really, I’m just good at following instructions.

Dick and Sandy near Buffalo, NY
11 months ago

Backing up any type of vehicle is a learning process. Some people are better than others, some people are better than others giving directions to people backing up. If you have ever attended a large RV convention they have members parking all the RV’s backing up or not. But what about the new-be who has no idea what RVing is all about. I watched this couple in an expensive van conversion RV pull straight into a back in spot and attempt to hook up his sewer, water and electric to the site next to his. I finally got out of my coach, showed him where his hook ups were and told him to put all his stuff back in his rig and back into his site. It took him four (4) tries with him getting out and back into his RV to park where he thought he could do his hook ups. I have seen others back into trees, rocks, pedestals, and one guy even backed into our coach causing over $3000.00 damage. Never a dull moment. Stay safe, Stay well

Gary G
11 months ago

My dad was staying at a park in Red Bluff, Ca. in the 70’s, he pastured cattle in the area in the winter. The pull thru sites would sell out quickly with only back in left many people would choose to leave. The manager would say we have a gentleman that can park your rv for you if you don’t mind, so 2 or 3 times a week he ended up backing up trailers or trying to teach folks how to. Surprising how many folks can’t back up a trailer. In many states there is training required to get a license for a motorcycle, I think there should be at least some basic training required for rv’s.

Donald N Wright
11 months ago

I travel alone, so it is a lot of stop, look, and reposition the TV and trailer. Hand on bottom of steering wheel tends to work on larger trailers, not so much on little popups and teardrops. Another problem is all that overhang at the rear of the trailer. it is swinging way over there while you are over here !

11 months ago

One of my good RV friends has his wife do the back up directing. That is fairly standard except his wife is a retired Airline Hostess and you guessed it. She uses the exact same jesters that are performed at Airports. We love to watch her glide her husband perfectly into their parking terminal spot. Although their Motorhome is only 32 feet, Pat could easily guide a Jumbo Jet into the same space.

Larry Lee
11 months ago

One thing not mentioned by others that I find key to success when backing: go very slowly. This allows for corrections as you go and eliminates 2nd or 3rd tries. Also, typically need to pull farther forward than you think is needed before starting to back in.

Gary Williams
3 months ago
Reply to  Larry Lee

My wife and I learned both of these important points early on with our travel trailer. We also started using our cell phones, mine on speaker, after a couple of “tough” sessions trying hand signals. My wife developed the phrases “trailer left’ or ‘trailer right” for clarity because I would keep asking her did she mean the trailer or truck. We transferred these concepts to our 34’ MH successfully. One other thing we always do is both get out of the MH, walk the site, and decide specifically where on the site we want to be parked given the layout of all the utilities, trees, picnic table pad, fire pit, and any other considerations. One time at a park in Washington state, after we backed the trailer in, our neighbor walked over and commented that he had never seen the process go so smoothly!

Bob P
1 year ago

After reading the comments I think some have problems understanding which way to turn the wheel to back a trailer. The easiest way is place your hand at the bottom of the steering wheel, now which ever direction your hand moves that’s the direction the trailer will go. Our son in law is the campground helper wherever we go. Two years ago we were in TX and a 5th wheel came in to park and after 3-4 attempts our son in law came out to help. He positioned himself beside the drivers door to give directions as the elderly driver couldn’t see or hear very well(he really didn’t have any business driving something as big as an electric scooter) but it took 1 1/2 hours to get him parked because every time the son in law told him to go left or right he had his hand at the top of the wheel and he’d go the wrong way. After finally getting him parked and the son in law was telling me about it I asked him if he told him to put his hand at the bottom of the wheel, he said no he didn’t know about it, h

Bob P
1 year ago
Reply to  Bob P

He drives a 42’ 5th wheel but like most truck drivers he knows about turning the wheel opposite for the trailer to go a certain direction when your hand is on the top.

waldo gilley
2 years ago

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

Bob P
1 year ago
Reply to  waldo gilley

Several extra words there, left right stop should do the trick.

2 years 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
2 years 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
2 years 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
2 years 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.

2 years ago

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

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