Upskilling for your trip

By: Scott Heiman, Photography by: Scott Heiman

Essential learning for the offroad.

Upskilling For Your Trip

Australia is one of the most urbanised and coast-dwelling populations in the world. Did you know that more than 80 per cent of our population lives within 100 kilometres of the coast?

For those of us who like to get out and explore our surrounds, we can see a lot while still clinging to the ocean and hinterland. After all, Australia has 25,760 kilometres of coastline and 65 Ramsar-listed wetlands. But, if we want to really experience everything Australia has to offer, it pays to leave our swimmers behind now and again to experience the diversity that exists right across Australia’s 7.6 million square kilometres of landmass. When we look, we’ll find there are 17 Australian locations on the World Heritage list, and that Australia has more than one million species of plants and animals (Our country is actually one of the most biologically diverse on the planet).

It’s no wonder then that so many of us pack up our rigs and head out to discover our ‘inner explorer’ whenever we get the chance.

The trouble is, with the shift in employment from manufacturing and agriculture towards service industries, a great many of us are losing (or have lost) those base-level skills that help to keep us out of trouble when we venture into the outdoors. The spread of information technology has meant many of us have developed a level of dependency that may only become fully apparent when it lets us down in a remote area. And our increasingly urbanised existences mean many of us are simply not developing practical skills that out parents’ generation took for granted.

So before you and your family set forth on your next adventure, have a think about what skills you (collectively) might be missing. If you do something about it now, you might avoid setting yourself up with a ‘weak link’ that could put your journey and your safety at unnecessary risk.


Many of us aspire to ‘getting off the beaten track’, but the reality of day-to-day commitments keep us chained to the bitumen far longer than we’d like. So, whether you’ve just bought your first 4WD, or your favourite rig has been languishing in the garage (or at the kids’ footy field) for too long, consider doing some 4WD training before your next big trip. Through training you can learn how to safely operate, manoeuvre and recover your vehicle in response to the various terrain and environmental obstacles that you may encounter on your next outdoor adventure.

Even if you’re a regular overlander, everyone needs upskilling now and again. All of us can pick up bad habits, or can become complacent in our driving. So if you’ve upgraded your rig with a lift, diff lockers, or have bought a new vehicle with different features to your old one, it pays to test it out properly. As a rule of thumb, if you’re using new equipment your driving probably needs some attention.

There are various ways you can achieve the level of driving skills that you need. You might be able to do it ‘on the job’ (but that can be hazardous) or you could speak to your local 4WD club. But by far the best risk mitigation strategy is to find someone delivering nationally-accredited courses with competency-based training. Operate a four wheel drive in a towing situation, Operate a four wheel drive on unsealed roads and Drive and recover a 4WD vehicle are three relevant national curricula used by the outdoor recreation, conservation and forestry industries.

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If you type the course names into the quick search function on, you’ll find a detailed description of what you can expect to learn in each course, and a link to Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) accredited to deliver the training. Some of these providers may specialise in servicing only those working in the aforementioned fields, but many will offer courses to the public at an introductory level through to the advanced driver.


In 2010, the Royal Life Saving Society (RLSS) conducted a national survey into the growing number of Australian children who do not know how to swim, or lack the skills to keep themselves alive in the water. The survey indicated that 20 per cent of children will leave primary school without the ability to swim a mere 50 metres or (should they fall into the water) to keep themselves afloat for even as long as five minutes.

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But what about the adults? Are we any better? The short answer is ‘No’. It’s been estimated that between 30 to 50 per cent of adults can’t swim 50 metres either! In Australia, from mid-2015 to mid-2016, 29 per cent of drownings involved people over the age of 55, and 83 per cent of drowning deaths were male. The RLSS reports that alcohol was involved in 6 per cent of all drowning deaths last financial year, which is less than half of the 15 per cent (of 271) in the year 2014/15 but still unacceptably high.

And we’re not all drowning at the beach. Of the 280 drowning deaths in Australian waterways between 1 July 2015 and 30 June 2016, 75 (26 per cent) occurred in inland waterways including rivers, creeks, lakes and dams around the country.

Sounds like we need to start listening to Laurie Laurence: learn to swim, watch your mates, and learn how to resuscitate! And don’t forget to check water sporting gear before use and to stay abreast of the conditions.

Visit for tides and for rivers and flood warnings and visit for more.


Navigation is not an App, it’s an art. So think about it. Do you know how to navigate back to camp without GPS? And, do you know how to utilise all of the functions in your GPS?

Long before GPS, map reading was essential to all those that ventured into the scrub. And long before the digital age, humans read their surroundings to guide them. In today’s world, staying safe means having a good grasp of both technological and non-technological based navigation techniques.

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There are many ways to gain the information and knowledge that you need to develop your skills base. For example, there are plenty of free online navigation and GPS tutorials. The Australian Emergency Management Institute (formally Emergency Management Australia) offers useful and practical material online. Visit to browse legacy volumes created for emergency services personnel, in particular Manual 36 on map reading and navigation. Newer materials are also available at and are free to electronically download.

While these web-based resources are a great start, there’s no substitute for practising skills in real life to get proficient. So consider attending a suitable navigation and GPS course. Look for something that runs for more than one day; in the military, navigation and GPS is covered in 18 45min lessons.


As 4WD enthusiasts, we accept that there are inherent risks in what we do. Vehicle hazards that readily come to mind include snapping winch cable, roll-overs, and engine (or underbody spinifex) fires. Environmental risks include snake bite (after all, Australia hosts 20 out of the world’s 25 most venomous snakes!), heat-related injuries, cuts and abrasions.

So think about it. If someone you’re responsible for became suddenly ill or injured on your next trip away, would you know what to do? And, would they know what to do if you were injured? After all, it takes an hour for an emergency helicopter to fly 200km, not including start-up time. And this assumes that the pilot knows where to find you...

Learning first aid will give you the skills, knowledge and confidence to potentially save a life. Seek out service providers offering accredited training that complies with the Australian Resuscitation Council’s guidelines. Then stay current by undertaking re-certification every two years.


What would you do if you became lost or injured or your vehicle broke down miles from any help – would you survive? Would your family?

The reality is that many of us venture into remote areas without adequate knowledge of how to survive if the unexpected happens. The newspapers routinely report instances of individuals who have become lost or separated after having wandered off a formed track and become disorientated. And what about the instances where vehicles become bogged in a remote area after rain? Whatever you’re planning to do in the outdoors, you need to have a practical understanding of how to survive if the untoward occurs. Consider (for example) if you need to build shelter, secure water or make a fire without matches. Are you prepared?

A true survival course is about three weeks long and will cover arid, coastal and rainforest environments at the minimum. However, there are a number of experiential learning practitioners out there who run one, two or three day workshops who can give you the basics. They won’t turn you into Bear Grylls, but they will teach you lifesaving skills that will get you thinking. As always, check the service provider’s credentials as some are more experienced than others.

The provider should have extensive military and back-country experience and be an accredited instructor and/or have civilian-accredited training. Courses that look and sound dodgy probably are and if they seem incredibly cheap there’s a risk the vendors aren’t insured and may be self-taught.


At the end of the day, preparation is no accident. Ultimately, there’s no excuse for venturing outdoors without the requisite skills to get you where you want to go – and back – safely. While the demands of modern society are keeping many of us from engaging with the outdoors as often as we’d like, on the up-side, there are heaps of service providers around who can help us get properly prepared for our next adventure. So think about your skills gaps – and fill them. Better to do it now than when you’re 1500 kilometres from home, in inland Australia, with a busted axle and a car full of hot kids.