There aren’t many places in the United States where you can drive on a beach. If you find one, then you’re in for a real treat. That is, if your vehicle is capable of tackling this difficult terrain. Before you put your wheels to the sand, here’s everything you need to know about beach driving.
1. Know the Rules
If you’re going to a beach that allows vehicles on the sand, then you must familiarize yourself with the beach’s rules. They’re typically laid out on signage and affirmed online or in a brochure.
First, know the difference between recommended and required equipment. If something is recommended, such as four-wheel drive, then the authorities have determined that this kind of equipment is useful, although not required. If something is required, then you must abide by those instructions.
Second, an all-wheel-drive vehicle may not be enough, especially if the requirement says four-wheel drive only. Some locales, such as the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, insist on off-road vehicles (ORV), which are typically four-wheel-drive vehicles.
2. Bring Extra Equipment
If you’re already familiar with off-roading, then you know certain equipment is necessary for beach driving. These items include: a shovel, tow straps, a spare tire, a jack and a jack board. Carpeting, wood and cardboard are useful for gaining traction. Make sure your vehicle’s cooling system is working and filled with an adequate amount of coolant, as your vehicle will run hot while traveling on any tough terrain.
Before hitting the sand, you need to release air out of each tire. With your tire gauge in hand, take each tire’s PSI reading first. Next, release up to 15 PSI per tire. Tires with reduced air grip better on soft sand. Lastly, turn off your traction control system for as long as you’re traveling on sand.
You’ll need to inflate the tires to their proper levels when you return to hard pavement. A portable tire inflator comes in handy here. Yet in some places, such as on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, “air up” locations are available. Don’t forget to activate traction control once you’re back on the road.
3. Drive Only Where You’re Allowed
To avoid getting stuck, follow tracks from other vehicles or stay on clearly marked paths. Keep your speed constant to avoid getting bogged down anywhere.
Stay off the dunes and avoid the wrack line, which is the area of natural debris washed up by the previous tide. This line consists of kelp, eelgrass and crustaceans, which serve as a food source for seabirds.
Be mindful of children playing or anyone stretched out on the sand soaking up the sun, whether they’re allowed to be there or not. Pedestrians always have the right of way — on any terrain. Follow all posted signs. If you park your vehicle, leave it perpendicular to the shore and in the middle of the beach. A sudden change in tide or a rogue wave may quickly submerge your vehicle, so don’t leave it unattended for long.
If you do get stuck, don’t panic. The tools you brought along before you began your outing can aid in your escape. The goal here is to gain traction, something you can achieve with carpeting, wood or cardboard. The shovel is also handy for digging out your wheels.
Once you’ve completed your beach off-roading excursion, wash your vehicle. Pay close attention to the undercarriage, taking care to remove salt and sand, as these elements are highly corrosive.
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Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.