Thursday, March 30, 2023


New RVer Asks: What do all these campsite utility designations mean?

By Russ and Tiña De Maris

Peruse a campground directory, look over information on the Internet, some of the terms used in connections with campgrounds can be a bit confusing, particularly when it comes to “utilities.”

If you’re new to RVing, you’ll need to know this when you plan your trips. First, here’s a rundown on what “utilities” there are.

Power or electric means you can plug your RV into what many refer to as “shore power.” Shore power operates things like your microwave oven, air conditioner, and often, television or other entertainment goodies.

Water means a direct hookup of water to your RV. Many RVers call this “city water,” and with it you’ll usually have water at pressures like you’re used to at home. You’ll also have all the water you want without draining your own fresh water storage tank.

Sewer provides a direct way of getting rid of “black water,” or that which comes from the RV toilet, and “gray water” which comes from sinks and showers. Word of caution: While you can directly hook up and get rid of all the gray water you like while connected to a park sewer, DON’T leave your black water valve open. Dump your black water tanks only when at least two-thirds full, or risk getting a nasty clog in the black water tank.

50 amp plugNow to the details on electricity “Shore power” may be designated by “amp” or “service” ratings. What power do you need? Much depends on your RV. A big rig may ask for “50 amp service.” If your park or campground offers 50 amp service, you’ll be able to run just about anything electrical item you have on your rig, and as many of them as you want, at any one time. But other parks may offer 30 amp service, or even 20 amp service. Does that mean you can’t stay there if your rig “plugs into” 50 amp service?

50 30 step downNot at all. So-called “step down” adapters will let you plug a 50-amp RV power cord into a 30 amp campground receptacle (or even a 20 amp). You’ll need to be more conservative about how much power your run. If your rig has two air conditioners, you’ll only be able to operate one of them at a time; you may have to shut down the air conditioner while you use the microwave oven to fix dinner. Mind you, you may not be able to run your air conditioner at all if you “adapt” down to a 20 amp service.

30 amp plugThe reverse is also true. Many RVs are equipped with a 30 amp shore power plug, but they too, can stay at a site that only provides 50 amp service with a “step up” adapter. There will be no harm whatsoever in plugging into a “larger” service than your rig requires–you won’t “burn it out.”

On to other campground designators: “Water, sewer, electric” means you can hook up to all of these. Some offer a combination of such, like “water and electric,” which simply means you’ll need to let your holding tanks collect sewage and gray (sink and shower) water while you stay on. Look for a “dump station” designator at places like these, to make sure you can get rid of all that stuff when you leave.

“Standard” sites are a bit more difficult to sort out. When you find this listing for a public campground (say a state park or national park campground) it typically means there are no utilities of any sort. That means you’ll need to rely on your RV’s self-contained abilities. You won’t be running the air conditioner unless you have a generator to make your own “shore power.” Come prepared with a full tank of fresh water, and your waste water tanks empty.

You may think that having no utility hook ups is really “roughing in,” but unless the weather is really so hot you need air conditioning (or so cold you need to run the heat all night) you’ll soon adapt to doing with a little less. And some of the greatest scenery is away from utility hookups. Called “boondocking,” many RVers will tell you this is why God created RVs in the first place–to get out and see his creation.




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