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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

Desert driving: how to survive being stranded

Survival expert Joe Vogel offers simple and sensible steps to get you out of a sticky situation

If you do get stuck in the dunes, stay with the car and wait for help. Mona Al-Marzooqi / The National
If you do get stuck in the dunes, stay with the car and wait for help. Mona Al-Marzooqi / The National

In our desert region, there are countless opportunities to go off-road and explore. The best-laid plans sometimes go awry, however. So, what should you do if you find yourself broken down and stranded in sandy vastness?

The main thing to take with you on a desert drive is water.

Plenty of water. To find water in the desert is a very uncertain game. I carry at least three to five litres per day if I am walking in the desert. If it runs out, I can reduce to half a litre if I stay in the shade. I carry my water on a small hand trailer. Usually, I do desert tours without a vehicle. With the trailer, I can carry up to 60 litres of water and can go for about 300 kilometres, depending on the temperature and the surface.

The vital rule is to stay with the car.

It offers much better visibility than a single person. Secondly, you should save water as long as possible. Don’t work in the heat or walk in daylight. Also: never drink enough. This sounds stupid, but actually your body will save water if it knows that there is a lack of supply. If you drink enough, your body will spill the water.

If you are getting stuck in the sand, stop the engine immediately.

Otherwise you will dig the car down to the chassis. Lower the tyre pressure to at least half of the normal and dig away sand that has built up in front of the tyres. Use floor mats between tyres and sand to get more traction. If you have a rope or bandages, you can build a simple pulley that can pull up to 200 kilograms.

What’s more dangerous, the day or the night?

Absolutely the hot day. Usually you will only freeze to death in continental deserts. Most fatalities are caused by dehydration and heat stroke. So leave the doors and windows open during the day, use a survival blanket as a tarp and try to get as much ventilation as you can. At night, if you have some blankets, close the doors, although it can get very humid inside. If you don’t have blankets, try to stuff your clothes from the inside with ripped upholstery material out of the seats.

If you go into the desert to find help, always leave a note to say where you are going and when you will be back.

If you are stuck, stay with the car and wait for rescuers. You can easily stay with your car for days but you also can be easily be killed within a day if you leave the car. Also you can use the horn, mirrors or burning tyres to make signals. You should only leave the car if you are able to carry double the amount of water you would need to arrive at a street or a village – and only if you know where you are going.

Never underestimate nature.

If you are used to travelling through the desert with a car running air conditioning, you can never imagine what dry wind, sun, reflection and sandstorms can do to your body within a couple of hours. Try to regularly get out into the desert for a short hike in winter and summer, on gravel and sand, day and night, to get to know what the challenges of arid climates. Only if you have done this should you go into remote areas with an vehicle.

Joe Vogel was talking to Adam Workman