What Does Shore Power Mean in an RV?

If you’re new to RV’ing, you may be wondering about “shore power”. You probably saw the term in articles discussing the types of appliances that one can run in an RV. With some of these appliances – such as the air conditioner – RV owners typically have to shore power to operate them. So, what does shore power actually mean? We set out to check this very question.

In an RV, shore power is the outside source of energy into which the RV plugs into. It comes from an electrical pedestal found at places like RV campgrounds and some national parks. It connects the RV’s electrical system to the power grid, so things such as lights, outlets, microwaves, and air conditioners to use without needing other power sources.

A travel RV parked near a lake with an awesome panoramic mountain range view, What Does Shore Power Mean in an RV?

But there is more to understand about shore power than that. Keep reading for all the information you need to know!

How Does Power Work In An RV?     

Power is a little different in an RV than it is in a home. In a home, you can plug your appliance, electronic device, or other items into an outlet and have power. This is because most homes are permanently connected to the electrical grid.

In an RV, before you can use anything electrically-powered, you have to make sure that you have a power source for the RV first. Then you have to have sufficient power for the things you will be using.

All of this involves understanding how to power your RV and how much power you need.

Power for RVs can come from a variety of sources. These include RV (house) batteries, a solar system, a generator, and shore power. You can even use propane as a source of energy for an RV refrigerator. In some RVs, the refrigerator can manually or automatically switch between electrical and propane power sources.

Types of Outlets

RVs may have two different types of outlets or plugins inside the living area. These are 12-volt and 120-volt outlets.

12-Volt

The 12-volts are the automotive “cigarette lighter” type outlets. The things you would plugin while in your vehicle using this type of outlet can be used in the RV with these outlets. Many different RV-specific items use these outlets. Dorm room type refrigerators, fans, and more can use 12-volt outlets.

120-Volt

The 120-volt outlets are the standard household outlets. The things you would plugin when in a house can be plugged into these outlets. This makes it easy to bring items from home that you’d like to use or find things in most stores that would work for your RV stay.

RVs typically use either 50 amp electrical connections or 30 amp electrical connections for shore power.

Why Is It Called Shore Power?

If you think of a boat at a dock, the power running to it would be coming from the shore. It is electrical grid power for the boat.

This terminology is applied to RVs, as well. Like boats, RVs are portable and, therefore, not permanently hooked into the electrical power grid. Once they connect to it, it is like a boat hooked up at a dock.

The RV connects to power “on the shore,” or that comes from the electrical power grid found onshore.

This differs from other sources of power the RV may utilize.

What is the Difference Between a 30 Amp and 50 Amp RV Hookup?

One big difference between a 30 amp and a 50 amp RV power hookup is the amount of power flowing through them.

Another big difference between the two is their appearance. A 30 amp electrical cord has three prongs on the head, and a 50 amp electrical cord has four prongs on the head. This is helpful when plugging in your RV to an outside power source because it helps you identify whether you have the right amperage available at your power source. Too much power flowing through your power cord could blow out circuits. This is also why a surge protector for RV power cords is recommended.

How Do You Connect to Shore Power?

The RV end of the power cord can plug into the appropriate outlet on an electrical pedestal.

Before parking the RV and plugging into the shore power source, be sure that it is the correct amperage for the RV or that you have the appropriate adapter to make it workable. The safest thing to do at this point is also to use a polarity tester to check the electrical pedestal hookup to ensure it is functioning correctly. This will help protect your RV’s electrical system.

Then make sure to turn off everything inside the RV that uses electrical power before you connect the RV to the pedestal for power.

Once the RV is parked and leveled, the power cord can be run from the RV to shore power. If an adapter is needed, it should be attached to the RV power cord and then plugged into the electrical pedestal.

If you use an RV power surge protector, attach it according to the manufacturer’s directions.

After you connect the cord and all adapters, the electrical items inside the RV can be turned on and used. For the best results, use the shortest cords and adapters possible to help avoid any voltage drop.

Can You Plug Your RV Into a House Outlet? 

Because the amperages differ, you cannot directly plug your RV into a house outlet. However, with proper adapters and the correct gauge extension cord(s), the connection can be made.

How Do I Plug My 30 Amp RV Into My House?

To connect a 30 amp RV to a house for electrical power, you would need a 30-to-15 amp adapter. Then you would need the correct amount, in length, of at least a 10-gauge extension cord to complete the connection. Instead of a 10-gauge extension cord, you could safely use either an 8-gauge or 6-gauge extension cord.

The typical orange extension cords people buy and use are insufficient for this use since they are typically rated for a home’s 15 amperes. Be sure the extension cord used for this type of connection is rated correctly, or a fire may occur.

Once the RV-to-house connection is set up, connect the 30-to-15 amp adapter end to the RV. This connects the extension cord end of the whole connection to the home’s power, via a standard house outlet.

For a 50 amp RV, the directions are similar, except a 50-to-30 amp adapter is added to the beginning of the setup, and a different gauge extension cord is used.

Place the 50-to-30 amp adapter at the RV end of the whole connection. This configuration would be 50-to-30 amp adapter, 30-to-15 amp adapter, then a 6-gauge extension cord(s).

Is It Ok to Leave An RV Plugged In All The Time?

Yes, it is ok to leave an RV plugged in all the time. It can be a great idea to do so for several reasons.

First and foremost, leaving the RV plugged in all the time keeps the RV batteries charged up all the time. Once the RV is unplugged, the RV batteries are fully charged and keep things powered up until the next time you use shore power.

Secondly, leaving the RV plugged in all the time can keep the refrigerator and any contents cold. If the fridge automatically switches between electric and other power sources such as propane, leaving the shore power connected keeps the fridge using the electrical power rather than using up your propane.

In the wintertime or colder months, leaving the RV connected to shore power all the time can help protect the RV from damage due to freezing. This is due to being able to run things such as the heater and water heater.

Should I Disconnect My Battery When Plugged In?

Whether or not to disconnect the RV battery when plugged into shore power depends on if you will be at the RV or not. If you are going to be away from the RV several days or longer, it may be a good idea to disconnect the RV battery.

If the RV battery is disconnected, it will not charge while connected to shore power.

In conclusion, what shore power means in an RV is that you connect to the electrical power grid. It also means that you typically have reliable power for your RV while parked. Your RV battery can charge up, and you can use high-power items such as hairdryers and microwaves with no worries.

Shore power can be convenient and helpful,  but some places may charge extra for its use. Before making reservations or parking anywhere with shore power available, check whether their rates include power usage or if it is metered and charged separately.

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