By Steve Shapiro
For over a decade I had been tent camping with my son who was in the Boy Scouts, so I pretty much had the tent camping process finely tuned.
Wanting to continue camping I decided to ‘step up’ in comfort and decided to buy an RV. Once we bought the RV I started reading everything I could find about RV camping. While the ‘learn by doing’ method is quite ‘fun’, it is also fun to be prepared for possibilities that may arise before they occur.
One major difference between tent camping and RV camping is electric power. During tent camping rarely did we need any shore power (unless you’re like one of my fellow Scoutmaster’s who actually bought a window A/C unit for a one week summer camp). During tent camping, everything we used would run either on batteries or propane. The RV is quite a different story. A major part of the convenience of RV camping is electricity. For us that means shore power at a campsite.
One thing that I learned was to have a wide selection of power coupling pigtails.
30 Amp Male to 15 Amp Female
30 Amp Male to 50 Amp Female
50 Amp Male to 30 Amp Female
30 Amp Female to 15 Amp Male
The idea behind this was that regardless of the type of shore power source available, we could plug into it. While we may not be able to run all of our appliances on a 20 amp source, at least we would be able to power the A/C (mandatory here in Florida), or the oven or the microwave one at a time. Even though our RV is a30 amp system, I went a bought a 50 to 30 amp pigtail, a 30 to 50 amp pigtail, a 20 to 30 amp pigtail, a 30 to 20 amp pigtail and of course a 30 amp surge protector.
One thing that I had not read about, nor had heard about, nor had experienced until this weekend was the possibility of a bad circuit breaker at the campsite. Imagine our surprise after getting hooked up after dark, turning on the A/C and having the power go out when we turned on the oven. Each time this happened, one of us would have to go outside, brave the mosquito swarms and reset the shore power breaker hopefully before the 80% plus Florida humidity or the mosquitos could catch up to us. After a few attempts to run both at the same time, I was able to confirm the reproducibility of results. We could either cook dinner or keep cool, but not both at the same time. Having run the A/C, oven and even the microwave all at the same time at other campsites, I determined that this must be a bad shore power circuit breaker.
This is where our 50 to 30 amp pigtail came into use.
The way electricity works is that regardless of the capacity of the source, an electric device will draw as much as it needs. This is why there are circuit breakers or fuses. These devices prevent you from using an amount of electricity that exceeds the capacity of the source. These devices ensure that you can use less, but not more than the rated amount.
Think about your house. You might have a 200 amp service to the house that connects to a circuit breaker box that has multiple circuit breakers. High current appliances like your electric stove, dishwasher or refrigerator will use a large amount of current and be connected to a high current circuit and circuit breaker while your low current devices such as a computer, TV or light bulb would be connected to a low current circuit and circuit breaker. One big breaker (the master breaker) prevents you from using more than your 200 amps all at one time while the smaller breakers prevent you from using too much current from any one circuit within the house.
An RV electric system is much the same. Think of the shore power breaker as an outside master breaker and the one in your RV as an inside master breaker.
In our case, we switched from a 30 amp source to a 50 amp source. Since our RV is a 30 amp system, it would not need or even be able to draw anything more than 30 amps. If it tried to do that, the inside master breaker would switch off. If in an unlikely scenario we attempted to use more than 50 amps at one time, the ouside shore power breaker would switch off.
With the use of a simple and inexpensive part, the problem was solved and disaster averted. We were able to enjoy the rest of our camping trip without having to worry about losing power or being eaten alive by mosquitos.