When we head out on the road, we need to ensure our loads are properly restrained, whether it’s securing a jerry can, latching the pop-top on your camper when the hinges fail or loading a kayak. If we don’t, we can face heavy fines.
Worse still, we can potentially cause serious injury to ourselves or to those around us. While statistics are hard to come by, Vic Roads indicates that, in Victoria, more than 50 cars are hit by items falling off trailers or trucks per annum and the WA Main Roads Department tells us that incidents of this type are a major contributor to serious crashes.
So it’s a wonder why many of us spend so little time learning how to properly tie down our loads.
Traditionally, securing loads has involved lashing them down with ropes and a combination of knots such as the clove hitch. Well, I don’t know about you, but I haven’t had specific training in knot-tying since I learnt how to tie my shoelaces as a five-year-old. My only other related training was 20 years ago on a team building course where our Navy colleague taught us all how to splice ropes in our down time. It struck me at the time as one of the simplest yet most useful things I’d learned for ages.
For many of us, the challenge of tying a good load-bearing knot has been mitigated by the availability of ratchet and other variations of tie-down webbing straps. These have removed a lot of guesswork. They’re also far more effective than ropes. After all, while a rope might feel tight, the tension achievable in a webbing strap is generally about five to 10 times greater. And they’re much easier to re-tension after a load settles and the tie-downs inevitably slacken.
In my student years, I used a simple pair of tie-downs to transport a small kayak on the roof of my Volkswagen Beetle. With these at hand, securing the load to the roof racks was pretty simple. My main worry was that the thumb-screws securing the $100 ‘one size fits most’ roof racks to the car’s curved roof gutter would one day loosen causing the racks (with the kayak firmly attached) to slide off the roof and crash on to the road.
Happily that never occurred. But, on reflection, I’m not sure my efforts at load restraint would have complied with national best practice standards.
The Load Restraint Guide published by the National Transport Commission and NSW Roads & Traffic Authority is well worth reading (www.ntc.gov.au/heavy-vehicles/safety/load-restraint-guide). This straightforward handbook talks about the principles of load restraint, positioning of loads and includes useful stats and facts to illustrate what needs to be achieved. It’s clear from this publication that load safety doesn’t mean chucking a cargo net over a load and thinking we’re done. Equally as important as securing the load is making sure that it can’t shift in a way that will make the vehicle unstable or unsafe. After all, it’s pretty clear that the laws of physics won’t be our friend if we brake heavily or take a bend too tightly with a badly tied-down load.
There’s an old saying in the Army, “Those who can’t tie knots tie lots”. And as I watch my five-year-old attempt to tie her own shoe laces, the tendency to ‘tie lots’ looks like a fundamental human compulsion among knot-tying amateurs. While ratchet tie downs may be used for many purposes, they’re not always suitable and when we’re on the road we can’t always guarantee the availability of webbing straps. At these times, the necessity to pull off a good ‘truckies hitch’ shouldn’t be underestimated.
Check out the full feature in issue #99 April 2016 of Camper Trailer Australia magazine. Subscribe today for all the latest camper trailer news, reviews and travel inspiration.