Friday, November 13th: Ramble - Desert Driving Safety & Etiquette,

Friday, November 13th: Ramble - Desert Driving Safety & Etiquette, Singing Dunes Area


Description: Ahhhh, finally, the weekend, the great outdoors! Getting away from it all, driving in the desert, breathing the fresh air, getting bogged down in a traffic jam amongst the dunes… WHAT?!?!
     Some of you might have noticed that driving off-road, especially in the sandy desert, is quite different from driving the crowded city streets of Doha – but do you know the safest way to roam through the desert’s challenges? Do you know what are considered “good manners” while doing so? Do you know how to get yourself out of a desert jam if, or more likely ‘when’, you find yourself in one?
     Well, this is your opportunity to get the advice and training of some folks with a great deal of off-road driving experience here in Qatar.
     We will be heading down near to the Singing Dunes to drive out and experience the obstacles, situations, and camaraderie that one runs into in the desert. We will be going out in small groups, using the hard pack/stony desert near the deserted farm as our base of operations. This means that this trip is also open to those without 4-wheel drive vehicles (4X4s); participants can park their sedans/saloons at the farm - so bring your families for a picnic if you’d like, and tag along as crew in a 4X4. Parents may want to switch off so that they can both get experience in the dunes. Unless you bring your own vehicle, however, you are not guaranteed time in the driver’s seat. You will, nonetheless, have the opportunity to experience and learn about the trials, tribulations, and techniques – not to forget norms - of desert driving.
     Since this will be a very hands-on experience, plan on this being a looooong ramble. People may leave whenever it suits their schedule, but the best way to learn how to dig your car out of the sand is, well, to dig it out of the sand. The different stations will therefore take time; for the full experience, plan on staying until at least the mid-afternoon.
What to Bring: As per normal, bring sun lotion, a hat, and water - lots of water - along with plenty of food. We will need to make our own shade at the farm, so take an umbrella or tarp along, too. Bird books, binoculars and other outdoors toys may be appreciated by anyone spending the day at the farm. Rain happens in November here, so watch the weather forecasts and plan accordingly.
     We will be in primitive conditions, so bring along any toiletries you may need.
     Also, bring any equipment that you feel is necessary for an off-road trip into the desert; we will discuss the merits and demerits of certain gear, dispel myths, and emphasize the essential principles of making due with what you’ve got when you’re on your own in the middle of nowhere.
     PLAN ON GETTING DIRTY. As noted above, this will be about hands-on experience, so wear clothes that can take the punishment!
Other Preparations/Concerns: We will not be heading far out into the desert for this trip, but we will be putting our 4X4s through their paces. Make sure that your 4-wheel drive vehicle is in good running condition. Double-check equipment, top off the gas/petrol tank, and generally get ready to go at least the night before departure. We still have a long trip ahead of us from the rendezvous, so we won’t have time for casual stops along the way.
     A SPECIAL NOTE TO PARENTS OF YOUNG CHILDREN: Do not expect that your children will be allowed in vehicles without the required safety seating. It is a car owner’s prerogative as to who rides in their car, and the conditions under which this occurs. If you want to guarantee a seat for your child, you must bring your own vehicle.

Restrictions: Due to safety concerns, this trip is only open to QNHG members and those that have signed a QNHG waiver of responsibility.
Date:      Friday, November 13th 2009

    •    Just bring your lucky rabbits’ feet, or preferred good luck charm, & don’t worry about the date!

Rendezvous & Times: Hummer & Cadillac Dealership, Al Wakra, Al Wakra Road

                                   Meet at:    8:30 AM
                                   Depart at:    9:00 AM
To get to the Hummer & Cadillac Dealership in Al Wakra, take the Al Wakra Highway from Doha. The dealership is on the right side of the road as you travel south, at the intersection/corner of the road and the first RA in Al Wakra. We will organize and caravan to the Singing Dunes from this rendezvous.

1.   Safety
·          It is not a good idea to enter the desert alone, particularly if you are inexperienced.  Always go with someone.

·          Always ensure that your vehicle is in good mechanical condition, especially the cooling system.

·          Always ensure that you have a full tank of Petrol

·          Always have at least 3 litres of water for each person on board, and for each day you plan to be in the desert.

·          Always wear your seatbelt.  Speed is not necessary in the desert, and if we all wear our belts, then the chances of injury are reduced to almost zero.

·          If you see somebody on a collision course with you, and you don’t know which way to go,....STOP.

2.   General

Whatever we do in the desert today, a very important item is that we have fun and take picture, but leave only footprints and tire tracks.  If you take something into the desert, please take it out with you.

1.     There is no need for speed in the desert, and we will demonstrate that.

2.     Caravanning and group size ( 4 to 6 vehicles max )  any more and things become unmanageable if things start    going wrong.

3.     Choose a destination, and ensure that all vehicles know the destination.

4.     Travelling in a line.

5.     Assign a leader and a rear.

6.     Count the number of vehicles you have and have mobile numbers for each vehicle.

7.     Keep vehicle spacing at 50 to 100 m

8.     If the person in front gets stuck, do NOT try to drive up beside him to ask if he is OK!.....STOP, or move to higher ground, point down hill and then stop.

 3.   Discussion and demonstration of Tire Pressure.

·         Drop tire pressures to 1 bar.g ( 15 lb/in2 ) ( except one vehicle )

·         Drive to a spot and get stuck.  Then drop pressure and clear sand ramps.

 4.   Dune and Sand Driving ( find a dune and stop before demonstrating )

·         Stop and survey, know your options

·         Choose higher routes if ( comfortably ) possible.

·         Be careful at the base of the dune ( speed bumps )

·         Travel Up and along the crest ridge

·         Down the windward rise

·         Down the slip face.

·         Stopping on Dunes. ( problems with Anti lock braking )

 5.   Shoreline driving

·         Sand is usually hard, but stay at least 2 m from the water line.

·         Upper sand is usually fluffy.

 6.   Getting Stuck

·         Digging ( not on frame ) Sand ramps

·         Jacking ( only when on frame, or otherwise hopeless )

·         Ropes ( 50 m long minimum, 25 mm nylon )

Sand Driving

Here is a short internet article (see: on sand driving for those who have not done it before. (I have added a few comments in parenthesis). 

The fundamental theme with sand driving is to conserve your momentum. Since traction is at a premium, any increase in speed can be difficult, if not impossible, and you do not want to lose any momentum, as you may not be able to regain it.

Tyre Pressures

The first thing to do before driving on sand is to lower your tyre pressures. This is done to provide better flotation by increasing the size of your "footprint" and thus dramatically improving your traction. It also reduces the amount of strain on your vehicle and minimises wear and tear on the tracks.

The optimum tyre pressure depends on your vehicle, the type of tyres fitted and the terrain. The following technique provides a good starting point to find the optimum pressure and is best performed before leaving the bitumen.  (The following technique will not help if you have low profile road 4x4 tyres; they have too small a side wall and you will just damage the rims and tyre).

Park your laden vehicle on a level surface and place a brick 1 cm away from the sidewall of your rear tyre. Deflate that tyre until the sidewall just touches the brick and then measure the tyre pressure. Use this pressure as your starting point when initially lowering your tyre pressure for sand driving. As you become more familiar with sand driving, you can alter this pressure as the terrain dictates.

If you haven't performed the above technique before you reach the sand, don't fret. A good rule of thumb is to use a pressure of 100 kpa (15psi).  Remember though, if you are going to lower your tyre pressures, ensure you have a pressure gauge and some means of pumping your tyres back up.  (At Sealine there is a small garage that will re-inflate your tyres for QR5, if you use them check the tyre pressure after they have inflated them; I have found my tyres to be over inflated by 10-15 psi in the past.  I also have a compressor in the car)

As you lower tyre pressure, the tyre becomes more vulnerable to damage by stoking the sidewall or rolling the tyre off the rim. The lower the pressure, the higher the risk. However the gain in traction can be remarkable and may make the difference between becoming hopelessly bogged or simply driving away. The "correct" tyre pressure becomes a decision between better traction versus increased risk of tyre damage. (At 15psi this should not happen).

In severe cases of bogging, tyre pressure can be lowered to a minimum of 40 kPa (6psi), as most tyres require at least 6psi to remain seated on the rim while stationary. In almost all situations 10psi should be used as the minimum pressure as 6psi is likely to result in tyre damage ie. tyres rolled off rims or punctured sidewalls. Speeds should be severely restricted at these low pressures. To minimise tyre damage, it is important that these low pressures are only used on sand and tyre pressures should be increased if limestone or rocky outcrops are encountered, or when the terrain becomes more firm. Failure to do so will almost certainly result in tyre or rim damage.

Sand Driving Techniques

When travelling on sand, you should endeavour to follow in the tyre tracks of the vehicle in front as they have already compressed the sand to form a firmer surface than un-traversed ground. Never drive on vegetation as this will destroy it and lead to erosion and environmental damage.  (And keep a good distance from the car in front in case they get stuck, you can stop before the soft stuff!)

You should avoid rapid changes in speed when accelerating or braking. Braking on sand will cause a mound to build up in front of all wheels and possibly prevent your vehicle from taking off. Rapid acceleration simply digs the wheels in and can actually lead to slower take-off speeds.

Take-off should be performed as smoothly as possible with gear changes done at fairly high revs. Sand driving requires plenty of engine power to get your vehicle "planing" on the sand. It is advisable to use low range as this multiplies the amount of engine torque available and will provide that extra gear if you encounter a particularly soft patch of sand. (The tracks are not that difficult and I normally leave my car in high ratio ‘D’ and use the kick down if I need more power.  If there is a steep section locking an automatic into 1st gear can help, the last thing you want is for the car to change up a gear as you will lose your momentum.  If you have full time 4x4 lock the centre diff, if it is 4x2/4x4 selectable, select 4x4).  Check that your tyres are pointing straight ahead when taking off to reduce the takeoff effort required.

When stopping on sand, depress the clutch and allow the vehicle to coast to a stop. This will minimise any sand build-up in front of the wheels. If the terrain permits, coast to a stop, rather than braking, with the vehicle pointing downhill as this will aid take-off. Avoid the soft sand at the base of most dunes and gullies when stopping.  (Always try to stop on a slope so you can roll down hill to start).

When turning, make the turn as wide as possible to reduce the chance of bogging. Your front wheels act more like a rudder in sand and turning too sharp has a similar effect to applying the brakes. ""

Steep sand dunes can be traversed only straight up or down. If you drive even on a slight angle, the weight transfer is to the downhill side wheels. If the vehicle starts to slip, the downhill wheels tend to dig in and make the angle of the dune even worse, leading to a potential rollover.

If you are travelling straight down a steep dune and the back end starts to slip sideways, it is best to accelerate slightly to try and straighten the vehicle. Never use the brake, as this will cause weight transfer to the front wheels and can increase the back end movement.(With an automatic lock it into 1st gear, if it is a very steep dune use low ratio 1st gear, this will let the engine do the breaking and it is much more stable).

If travelling up a dune and you do not get to the top, reverse down the dune in gear, NEVER coast down the dune and NEVER attempt a U turn.

When you return home after a beach trip, it is important to hose down your vehicle to remove all traces of sand and salt. Pay special attention to areas like the mudguards where sand is sprayed around and tends to get trapped. Thoroughly hose underneath your vehicle as well, as there are many nooks and crannies where sand con also get trapped.  (Most of the garages will do a jack wash for QR50 this is perfect for getting rid of the sand and salt).

Vehicle Recovery -Sand


As soon as you become bogged, avoid the temptation to simply floor the accelerator as this will just make vehicle recovery more difficult. Put the vehicle in reverse and gently try to back along your tracks as they provide a compacted path. When you have reversed a sufficient distance, try going forward again while being careful not dig yourself in. Hopefully you will travel further each time you repeat this technique and eventually be able to slowly pass through a particularly soft section.

If you cannot reverse out of trouble, get out of the vehicle and let your tyres down further. A rule of thumb is to drop them by a further 15kPa (2psi). Before trying to reverse out, remove the build-up of sand from behind the tyres. See if any part of the underside is touching. If it is, clear the sand away to allow the vehicle to reverse out. You may need to try this several times.

If necessary, continue to drop the tyre pressures to 70kPa (10psi). Also, never underestimate the assistance of your passengers giving a push. As mentioned earlier, tyres can be lowered to 6psi in extreme cases, but this should be avoided if other means of vehicle recovery are available.

If you are still stuck and your tyres are down to the minimum pressure, you will have to resort to a HYPERLINK ""snatch strap, winching or jacking to extricate yourself. The easiest method is usually by snatch strap, but this relies on another vehicle being present. If you are by yourself you will have to resort to winching (if you have one!) or jacking. (The quickest method of recovery is using a snatch strap or kinetic energy rope.   It is a great way to recover the vehicle as the rope is stretchy and so does not apply a shock load to the vehicle.  Be aware that you cannot get them in Qatar and so if you see a local trying a similar technique using a local strap there is a good chance of damaging your vehicle or self as something is ripped off!!!!)

Summary-Sand Driving

           lower tyre pressures to greatly improve traction and reduce track erosion

                       drive smoothly with gear changes at high revs

                       ensure wheels are pointing straight ahead when taking off

                       avoid the soft sand at the base of dunes and gullies

                       make turns as wide as possible

                       ONLY travel straight up or down dunes

                       follow in others tyre tracks to drive on compressed ground

                       avoid braking by coasting to a stop

                       do not floor the accelerator if you are bogging down

                       when bogged, try to reverse on your own tracks

                       thoroughly hose down your vehicle after a beach trip

                       Have fun and enjoy the drive

If you are interested in getting some good quality recovery equipment or general 4x4 equipment here are two web addresses of companies I have used in the UK and can recommend:

If you want to join us for some more advanced off road driving see:

(look under fuel ‘Stop Forums’, ‘Qatar – Forum’)