RV Hookups for Beginners Guide

Here’s an RV hookups for beginners guide to better prepare you for your first RV trip

Dania and I have been doing this for a long time. So, sometimes I take for granted some of the beginner’s tasks that are now second nature to me—RV hookups being one of those things.

I decided to take a step back and cover some basics that RV beginners need to know. And what better way to start than how to connect full hookups on your first stay at a campground or RV park?

As a first time RVer, you’re probably wondering what steps you need to take and in what order to do them. So, I’m going to share the general rules and my best tips that new RVers need to know.

Electric (with Electric Management System), water (with pressure regulator), and sewer set up © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to set up your RV

For this article, I will focus only on RV hookups for beginners. These steps and tips are the same whether you drive a motorhome, travel trailer, fifth wheel, or camper. Hookups are essentially the same wherever you camp whether it’s an RV park, state park, national park, or any other place that offers hookups.

STEP 1: Set your parking break

The most important thing to do before you even start hooking up is to set your parking brake! Experienced RVers can share plenty of stories where either they or someone else forgot to do this with disastrous (and sometimes humorous) results.

The last thing you want is for your RV to settle and shift back or forth putting tension on your cables. Or, worse, roll-off and pull out the cables and do costly damage to the campground’s panels and connection points.

So, don’t repeat the dumbest RV camping mistakes and set your parking brake!

Electric Management System © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

STEP 2: Electric Hookup

I recommend that the first thing you connect is your electric hookup. The main reason is so you can start running your air conditioner, heater, fridge, etc. on the power source from your RV campsite instead of from your RV’s power supply.

There are usually three different plugs on a campsite’s electric pedestal: 20 amp, 30 amp, and 50 amp. Big rigs usually use 50 amps and smaller RVs use 30 amps. You need to know which amp service your RV runs on. But, if you don’t, since the plugs have differently shaped prongs you’ll only be able to plug into the correct one. Before you plug in make certain the breaker is turned OFF.

Once you’re plugged in, flip the breaker switch corresponding to the amp service you need. For instance, you flip the 30 amp breaker after you plug in your 30 amp plug. Then you plug in the other end of your RV twisting it and rotating the collar until it’s snug. You will forego this step if the power cord is wired directly into your RV as our Class A motorhome is.

BUT BEFORE YOU PLUG IN, here is one of the best RV tips I can give you…

PRO TIP: Always use an Electric Management System

Always use an electric management system when connecting your RV to power! Many have learned the hard way that campground electrical panels are not always well-maintained or wired properly. You can also experience a power surge that can severely damage your electrical system.

You can use one of the Progressive Electric Management Systems or Surge Guard portable or hardwired units.

Plug this portable surge protector into the campground’s electric power supply and then plug your power cable into the surge protector.

Power adapters

Every RVer needs to carry a few power adapters often referred to as dogbones to make sure that they can connect to whatever power is available to them. These power adapters will have a smaller, lower amperage plug (male blades) on one end and a larger/higher-amperage receptacle (female terminals) at the other end. Look for UL-listed versions of these adapters preferably with rigid grab handles. They do not change the power output.

Recommended electric adapters include:

  • 50-amp RV plugged into the 30-amp source
  • 50-amp RV plugged into the 15-amp source
  • 30-amp RV plugged into the 15-amp source
Water hookup with pressure regulator © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

STEP 3: Water hookup

The next hookup to connect is your water hose to the campground’s water source. Just like I recommend an Electric Management System with electrical hookups, I recommend you always use a pressure regulator and water filter connected to your fresh water tank.

STEP 4: Cable hookups

If your campground offers cable TV, you can now connect it to your RV. There’s nothing special to know here. Simply plug in the cable cord to your RV. If you don’t know where your cable port is, consult your owner’s manual.

Sewer hookup © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

STEP 4: Sewer hookups

Lastly, it’s time to do your sewer connection. Since not all campsites have sewer connections this might be something you don’t do until you dump your black and grey tanks at an RV dump station. Whether you’re connecting at a campsite or the dump station, the process is the same. The only difference is how long you leave it connected.

Now, let me warn you, that dealing with your black water tank is one of the biggest downsides of camping. It’s just gross. But it needs to be done and is well worth the stinky effort in the end.

That said, I suggest you put on disposable vinyl gloves before you connect your sewer line or what the RV world likes to call the stinky slinky

Disposable gloves © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I’ve sometimes wondered why anyone would take on this bacteriological nightmare without protection. From those who don’t use gloves, we sometimes hear the excuse, “It’s just too much bother and I can’t see much advantage to it.”

Another reasoning runs, “The stuff stays in the hose, so what’s the big deal?” In a perfect world, it’s a good line of reasoning. But since we’re not living in a perfect world, the stuff doesn’t always cooperate and stay in the hose. Pinhole leaks can occur and a misaligned bayonet fitting can pop off, unloading an unholy amount of stuff. File that under “Been there, done that.”

“So you get a little doo-doo on your hands, just wash it off,” is the next comment. Good idea: a thorough washing with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds. Meantime, make sure none of it gets off elsewhere and ends up in your mouth eyes, or nose. And hope in the meantime that you don’t have any minor breaks in your skin. If so, the damage may already be done, no matter how much you wash afterward.

What can happen with a bit of misplaced sewage bacteria? Here’s the short list:

  • Gastroenteritis, characterized by cramping stomach pains, diarrhea, and vomiting
  • Hepatitis, characterized by inflammation of the liver, and jaundice
  • Infection of skin or eyes

I don’t think any RVer would like to have a bout of any of those manifestations. Washing up even when using gloves is still a good idea and an outside shower unit that many RVs are equipped with is great for this task.

For those that glove up before going into the ring with the sewer hose I can only say, I gotta hand it to you! Good disposable gloves are best. Gloves you reuse over and over can easily get contaminated.

It’s always a good idea to check and make sure your gray tank and black tank are closed before grabbing your sewer hose.

Sewer connection © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Connect the end of the hose with the twist-on connector to your RV drain spout. Then run the hose to the sewer drain. It’s usually easiest to run your sewer hose support as you go. This support helps direct the hose (and its contents) toward the drain and it is required by law in some jurisdictions.

Now, attach the end of the hose with the elbow connection to the sewer drain. Screw it into position if the sewer drain also has threads (not all do.)

PRO TIP: Do NOT leave your black tank valve open when hooked up

This is a mistake that many new RVers make. They understandably think that if they’re connected, they might as well leave their blank tank valve open so it can continuously drain. Less poo stored in your RV, the better, right? Wrong!

If you leave your black tank valve open while you’re hooked up, it will cause gross and sometimes expensive problems. The most common of which has its inelegant RV terminology: the poop pyramid.

This happens when liquid waste easily drains out when your valve is left open but solid waste builds up in your tank. Like I said, it’s gross—and stinky! And can be expensive to clean out.

Now enjoy the rest of the day! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So, don’t leave your black tank valve open!

By the way, I have a post on this dilemma and several others on avoiding sewer woes:

Worth Pondering…

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.

—Benjamin Franklin

How to Find and Best Practices for Using RV Dump Stations

This is an answer to one of the most common questions that campers ask: How can I find RV dump stations near me?

Despite the RV life being one filled with freedom and excitement, it still comes with a few little changes of lifestyle that many newcomers have a hard time adjusting to.

One major issue that newcomers to the RV lifestyle find is the issue of waste. Yup, you got it! I’m talking about that waste. As in, the human kind!

Unfortunately, though it might be a great fertilizer you can’t dump your RV waste wherever you may want. It’s not as simple as pulling over along the side of the road and unloading. No, you have to find a dump station in order to make the unloading of your waste as safe, clean, and environmentally friendly as possible.

I will tell you how to find dump stations and offer helpful tips for dumping.

RV Dump Station © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What Are Dump Stations?

RV Dump Stations are facilities that are designated for dumping RV waste both black and grey tanks. RV owners can get a fresh start on their waste and dirty water storage throughout their road trips and weekend camping trips. However, dump stations aren’t exactly available on every block. Sometimes you must go out of your way to find one when your tanks get full.

Even though RV Dump Stations aren’t packing every street corner, they are still located all over the U.S. and Canada. With a little bit of proper planning, you won’t have to concern yourself too much.

In the same way that we plan our stops for overnight camping, sightseeing, and events, dump stations are another thing that we need to schedule.

RV Dump Station connection © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tips for finding RV Dump Stations

Finding RV Dump Stations is easier now than it ever has been. You can imagine what it was like back before the age of the Internet! Today, we can find dump stations rather easily through various online sources and even through simple Google searches.

Search engines make finding dump stations rather easy. However, there can be issues with the accuracy of the information. Sometimes open/closing times and prices will be a bit different than they are in reality. Use Google with a bit of caution!

Boondockers have more of a challenge in finding RV Dump Stations and if off-the-grid camping is your choice, you’ll need to work your trips around them to some extent. The more experience you get with your RV trip planning, the smoother the experience will be. It just takes a bit of practice to get the hang of incorporating dump stations into your trip planning as smoothly as possible.

RV sewer system © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Use apps and websites to find Dump Stations

Most campgrounds and RV parks have RV Dump Stations but they can often have long lines or the timing just doesn’t work out for you to use them when you need to. And there is a chance your campground won’t have one.

The following online resources will help you between stops. As for boondockers, the following will help you find dump stations wherever you camp.

Sanidumps.com

This site has been around for more than 17 years and claims to provide the most comprehensive listings of RV Dump Stations online. They list private, public, RV park, non-park, municipal, truck stop, rest stop, campground, camping, resort, commercial, pay, donation, and free RV Dump Stations worldwide including the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. You search by Zip or Postal code.

Rvdumps.com

This site is only for U.S. RV Dump Stations. They primarily focus on locations other than RV parks and campgrounds—places like rest areas, truck stops, gas stations, and others. This site may be easier to use because you can search by state, city, or map. The map feature lets you find your location and then visually see what is closest. The map feature also shows Interstate rest areas with dump stations are only shown on the dump stations map.

Allstays RV Dump

RV Dumps checks your location and displays up to 150 points on a map view. You can filter by type to see only what you want to see on the map and zoom out. You can also use the offline manual lookup to find locations by type, state, and city even when you have no phone service.

AllStays is a travel-focused company that provides a range of resources for RVers, campers, and truckers. One resource is an app specifically for finding dump stations, called AllStays RV Dump.

You can download that app by itself or AllStays Pro instead. With AllStays Pro, you can find RV Dump Stations and SO MUCH MORE! AllStays Pro is browser based (not an app) but it’s a great resource for RVers. Some RVers rely on it almost exclusively fot their RV travels.

Sanitize with Lysol © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Campendium

This is a popular website listing campgrounds and you can use it to find dump stations, too. First, search by state, then select “view map.” The map search feature then has a “Quick Links” tab near the bottom of the page where you can select “Dump Stations.” Dump stations will then populate on the map.

It’s worth noting that Campendium (and all its great features) has been bundled with a few other great RV resources into one great app called Roadpass Pro.

Roadpass Pro INCLUDES:

  • Access to all 14,000+ free boondocking locations in the OvernightRVParking.com app
  • RV GPS navigation that considers weight limits, low overhead clearances, grades of terrain, and propane restrictions to give you turn-by-turn directions specific to your RV
  • Roadtrippers Plus, where you can plan trips with up to 150 stops, collaborate with friends on route planning, and get real-time traffic along your route.
  • Full access to Campendium’s premium features, including viewing cell coverage maps, public land map overlays, and trail maps

RVshare.com

This RV Rental site also has a section that allows you to search for nearby RV Dump Stations. Find the state you are in and then scroll the cities for dump stations nearby. It’s a straightforward, browser-based resource that helps you easily find what you’re looking for.

Use disposable vinyl when dumping black and grey tanks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tips for using RV dump stations

A very important thing to remember is that RV Dump Stations are a shared space where all RVers go to empty out their waste and tanks. That means that we should treat them with respect and care.

We are all guests at these sites and leaving the dump station cleaner than we found them is ALWAYS common courtesy.

The sad truth is that many RV dump stations have had to shut down due to excessive waste spillage and improper care by users. With this in mind, always take the time to clean up after yourself and keep your waste where it is supposed to be—in the septic tank underground and not above ground all over the place!

Sewerage system including black tank flush © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pre-preparation

Have the right tools ready and available:

  • Disposable vinyl gloves for handling the sewer hose
  • Clear sewer adapter to know if your tanks have finished emptying
  • Sewer, recommend 30 feet available
  • Coupler 90 bayonet fitting or 45 degree or straight
  • Hand sanitizer for clean up afterwards

Dump station practices and courtesies to keep in mind are:

  • Keep a pair of disposable vinyl gloves stored in the compartment that you store the tank hose. This will help you keep your hands clean as you work.
  • Keep a slope between the hose and sewer to make sure everything empties out of your tank.
  • Dump the black-water tank before the gray-water tank so the soapy water from the gray tank can clean the residue from the hose.

Also, remember to use the water hose provided at most dump stations to clean up the area and any potential spillage that may occur during your dumping process.

And as many dump stations also offer drinking water, be sure to choose the right connection if you are planning to top off your freshwater tanks. There are usually two hoses available. The one near the actual hole in the ground is usually marked as non-potable water. It’s just for washing down any spills.

The freshwater or potable hose is usually located at the far end of the dump station.

Make sure you have an airtight connection with the RV Dump Station Hole. Smaller hoses should use a small black donut that fits over the end of the hose coming from the RV.

Leave the dump station area cleaner than you found it.

Plan Ahead!

Dawn Dish Soap acts as a detergent in the black water tank © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Waste is something that all RV owners have to deal with. It may be a bit of a hassle but the freedom of the open road does come with a few obstacles that need to be overcome along the way. That is why RV dump stations are both a godsend and a hurdle that must be worked around at the same time.

The best practice when it comes to RV dump stations is to always plan ahead of time. You never want to be caught off-guard with a full black tank and nowhere to let it out safely and legally. That is why you should always keep an eye on your online resources for where the best dump stations are for you and your route.

With proper planning, you shouldn’t have to go too far out of your way to get to an RV dump station. Once you have a good understanding of where the dump stations on your route are, you can hit the road with a clear and calm head. You don’t have to worry that your, uh… Delicate matters will come back to haunt you in the middle of a trip.

On the same topic, you should also check out:

Worth Pondering…

Paper on which there are quotations or commentaries from the Five Classics or the names of sages, I dare not use for toilet purposes.

—Yan Zhitui (531–591)