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

Does a Surge Protector Provide Enough Protection?

While the use of a surge protector does have merit, it protects your equipment from only one of a wide variety of possible electrical problems

An electrical surge—at least in terms of what a surge protector will protect against—is a sudden and large (generally huge) increase in voltage, oftentimes of only a very short duration—maybe only milliseconds.

It’s the type of surge caused most often by lightning hitting electrical equipment or by certain failures—or faults—within the electrical system itself.

A surge protector may or may not protect against any particular surge. Different surge protection devices have different ratings. Having a surge protector in place is better than having nothing at all. But, does a surge protector alone provide adequate protection?

Electric Management System © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are a variety of other electrical malfunctions that can be identified with a simple outlet tester.

An EMS (Electrical Management System) device can protect against additional damaging conditions that a surge protector will not protect against and that an outlet tester will not detect.

Let’s start first with the very basics of 120V AC power, the type found at home and in your RV. There is a hot wire (the source of the electricity), a neutral wire (the return path to the source of the electricity, thus making a complete circuit), and a ground wire which is provided as a safety measure and will route the power in the circuit to ground (literally into the Earth) in the event of a wiring failure.

A tester will test an outlet and indicate if there are wiring problems present among any of the three wires mentioned above and their associated connections:

  • Open (disconnected) ground wire
  • Open neutral wire
  • Open hot wire
  • Hot and neutral reversed
  • Hot and ground reversed
  • Proper and normal connection
Electric Management System © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More surge protector abnormalities

Additional abnormal conditions can be present and are not necessarily unsafe for the occupants of the home or the RV but over time can be very bad for the equipment particularly for refrigerator and air conditioning compressor motors.

The following abnormal conditions must be protected against: High or low voltage and high or low frequency.

Most EMS models will protect against abnormal voltage conditions and some also protect against abnormal frequency conditions. A surge protector will not protect against any of these four conditions.

It seems obvious that high voltage is a bad thing. Just as high water pressure will rupture a water hose, high voltage will damage electrical equipment.

But why is low voltage a bad thing?

Electrical components run on power (watts) which is a combination of both voltage (volts) and current (amperes or amps). At proper voltage, an electrical device especially a motor will draw enough current to operate properly.

As the motor is being asked to do more work, it will draw more current. If it becomes overloaded, it will draw too much current and the circuit breaker will trip, thus protecting both the motor and the wiring.

Some more advanced motors will even have internal protection devices that trip and reset automatically.

Let’s say the voltage at the campground is low. The motor will start to draw enough current to still do the work it is being asked to do. As the voltage drops, the motor will draw more and more current.

Current is what causes the motor to heat up. If the motor runs for an extended period at low voltage and high current—but not high enough to trip the breaker—it will heat too much and damage itself.

However, this damage may not occur right away. Repeated conditions of low voltage will cause the motor to damage itself little by little until it eventually fails.

An EMS device senses this low voltage condition and will trip the power at a preset voltage to prevent motors from damaging themselves.

What about frequency?

The standard electrical power utilized throughout most of the world is alternating current.

In the U.S. and Canada, power is delivered to the home at 120 V ac and 60 Hz (the abbreviation for Hertz which stands for cycles).

In Europe, the standard is 240 V ac and 50 Hz.

The frequency is simply a reference to how many times per second the voltage alternates, hence the term alternating current. (The voltage and the current both alternate.)

Many devices depend upon that 60 Hz as a timing reference to properly do whatever they do.

Electric wall clocks, electric light timers, traffic signal timers, telephone company switching equipment, radio receivers, etc., all depend on a very steady and accurate 60 Hz as a reference so they can, in turn, remain accurate. (More modern Equipment tends to utilize internal timers or reference signals from the GPS satellite system for high-accuracy timing.)

The fact that so many devices need reliable 60 Hz power is the reason the non-inverter type generators have to run at 3600 rpm (revolutions per minute) regardless of how much load is on them. If they only ran at 3000 rpm, the frequency would only be 50 Hz.

Electric Management System © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What about high or low frequency?

A high or low frequency condition might not be damaging to the particular device but it could cause the device to act improperly or it could damage the equipment that the device is controlling.

To summarize, yes a surge protector is good, an EMS is better and an EMS that also protects against abnormal frequency conditions is better still.

Regarding that circuit tester mentioned above, once it is known that the RV is plugged into properly wired shore power as determined by an EMS device, it is an excellent idea to go around and check all the outlets in the rig periodically.

Unlike a home, the wiring in the rig is subjected to all the vibrations and temperature variations that come along with the RV lifestyle.

Insulation on wires can rub through and expose bare wires, connections can become loose, and any of the dangerous conditions already mentioned can develop over time, conditions that may be harmful or even fatal, and must be avoided by taking the proper precautions.

And if you have electric heaters plugged in, you might want to review this post again and get it organized.

Here are a few links that may help you prepare for your next RV trip:

Worth Pondering…

I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.

—Stephen Covey

Is Your RV Protected from Electrical Issues?

Most RVers are not protecting their RV from electrical issues

There are four electrical issues an RVer can encounter while traveling: surges, miswired pedestals, high/low voltage, and wiring issues inside the RV.

It is unbelievable to think that 90 percent of RVs do not have any type of electrical protection system in place. We’ve had a power surge, situations where pedestals were miswired, and both high and low voltage situations. Fortunately, our Progressive Electric Management System has protected us from all of these situations.

Electric Management system attached to electric cord at pedestal © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What exactly are you protecting your RV from when you use an electrical protection device? It’s much more than power surges which we typically associate surge protectors with. Surges are actually the least common problem with RV electricity. An RV typically has a lot of sensitive electronic circuitry in it, and having steady power is crucial to keeping these components from having an early funeral. Failure of components like AC units, refrigerators, washer/dryer, and even computers plugged into a wall outlet can be very expensive to replace.

While the expense is a big deal, there are other considerations like the inconvenience of getting your RV to a repair shop. And, if you are on the road and something fails you’ll be scrambling to find a reputable repair shop. One of the best things you can do to prevent these type failures is to make sure that the power coming into your RV is monitored. Let’s look at the four areas that need to be addressed as it relates to RV electricity.

Progressive Electric Management System © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Electrical Issue #1: Surges

The first issue that most RVers think of as it relates to power coming into the RV is surge protection. A surge is a quick electrical spike that can quickly destroy anything in its path. Surge protection is rated in joules; the higher the level of joules the better the protection. When shopping for an electrical protection system take a look at the joules level, and remember, no system can completely protect you from a direct lightning strike.

Electric Management system attached to electric cord at pedestal © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Electrical Issue #2: Miswired Pedestals

A good electrical protection system will analyze the pedestal and let you know if there are any issues with the ground wire, neutral wire, and if there are any reverse polarity issues.

Let’s consider RV parks for a moment. The original design should have been professionally inspected but then the years start to pile on and over time the electrical pedestals that we plug into can begin to have problems. Thousands of RVs may have plugged into the pedestal before you and over time, pedestals can start to wear down. Wiring can come loose in the pedestal and you could lose the ground wire which can be dangerous. The neutral wire could become disconnected and put your RV in danger of up to 240 volts running to one side of your RV.

Progressive Electric Management System © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Electrical Issue #3: High/Low Voltage

Your electrical protection system should have the ability to cut you off from the power if the voltage drops too low or goes too high. Usually systems will cut off at 102-104 volts and on the high side at around 132 volts.

So, what causes a low or high voltage situation? Imagine you are at a crowded park in the middle of the summer and everyone is turning on their AC units. A low voltage situation will not always zap an appliance but it will reduce the life expectancy of an appliance over time. Low voltage and high voltage are the silent killers and dealing with this should be a part of your plan to protect your RV.

Rest assured that your electric system is fully protected © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Electrical Issue #4: Wiring Inside the RV

What if the incoming power is fine, but you have a wiring issue inside of your RV? A good electrical protection system will detect elevated ground currents and open neutral conditions in the RV. This level of protection is new to the market (within the last year) and can be found in the Surge Guard brand.

You may be protected against some of these issues with devices that were installed in your RV from the factory. But, you are not covered from all of these issues with a built-in unit from the factory. Many Diesel Pushers have some type of built in surge protector that is combined with the transfer switch. Smaller class A, B, and C motorhomes may or may not have any electrical protection built in, and fifth-wheels and travel trailers likely have nothing built into the unit.

Enjoying a sunset on the Texas Gulf Coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It surprised me to learn that I did not have the protection from my built-in unit I thought I had. When I checked the model number of the built in electrical protection system and studied the manual, I found that it had nothing more than a surge protector and all of the other elements we discussed were not accounted for.

You can use one of the Progressive Electric Management Systems or Surge Guard portable units even if you have a hardwired unit installed. They will work together to protect your RV.

You don’t need electrical protection until you need it. Saving a few hundred bucks and risking damage due to your lack of electrical protection just does not make sense. I can tell you that having my Progressive Electric Management System plugged into the pedestal makes me feel a whole lot better about being protected from poor park power.

Why would any RVer not want such protection?

Worth Pondering…

As Yogi Berra said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”