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RV Hookups Explained: Water, Electric, and a Place to Drain the Septic

RV Hookups Explained: Water, Electric, and a Place to Drain the Septic

If you’ve never RVed before, connecting your RV to campground hookups for the first time can feel intimidating. Where do you plug in your power cord? How do you connect your water and sewer hoses? Are you forgetting anything?

Take a deep breath and keep reading. This article looks at the ins and outs of the RV hookup process. You’ll learn how to connect to water, electricity, and sewer and avoid beginner mistakes. Let’s get started.

What Is an RV Hookup?

Have you ever heard the song “My House” by Kacey Musgraves? Well, she sings about RV hookups, “water and electric and a place to drain the septic.”

An RV hookup is a place where you can connect to a water and power source. It may also have a place to drain the gray and black tanks that hold your waste water. However, not all campgrounds offer full hookups. Some will provide only water, while others will provide water and electricity.

Some locations don’t offer any hookups at all. This is called dry camping, and you have to supply your own power from solar panels and batteries or a generator. You also have to fill up your fresh water tank before arriving to have water during your stay. Typically, these campsites are free or cheaper than campsites with hookups.

RV Water Hookup

An RV water hookup gives you access to fresh, running water for your faucets, shower, and any appliances that require a water supply. You’ll use an RV drinking water hose to connect to this hookup.

Water hookups also allow you to fill your fresh water tank. This tank serves as your water supply when you aren’t hooked up at a campground.

camper water connection
You’ll need an RV drinking water hose to connect to a campground’s water supply.

How It Works

Campsites that have water hookups have access to city water. The water pressure delivered to your RV from the water spigot pressurizes the water lines in your rig. 

When you turn on or open a faucet, pressurized water from the campground plumbing system runs through your water hose and into the appropriate water lines inside your camper. 

This is why it’s important to have a water pressure regulator. Without a regulator, your water lines could burst if the pressure (PSI) from the campground connection is too high. Usually, you can find the PSI requirements for your RV in your owner’s manual. 

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How to Hook It Up

When you arrive at a campsite, you’ll typically find the water RV hookup near the electricity pedestal. Once you’ve parked and leveled your camper, lay the water hose on the ground. 

Attach a water pressure regulator to the water spigot. This ensures that your pipes won’t burst if the water pressure coming from the campground is too strong. It’s an important safety accessory.

Most RVers use a water filtration system connected to either end of the water hose. Attach the water hose (or the water filtration system) to the regulator. 

Turn the water on before hooking up the other end. Monitor the water pressure and get all the air out of the hose. You also want to make sure the water is clear.

RV city water and fresh water connections
RVs have a city water connection for running water and a fresh water connection for filling the fresh tank.

Turn off the water and connect the other end to the city water connection on the RV. Typically, you’ll find this on the side of the RV or inside a storage bay. It will have a label of “city water connection.” Slowly turn the water back on, and you’re all set.

To fill your fresh water tank, you’ll follow the same instructions, except you’ll connect the hose to the “fresh water connection” on your camper. Once your tank is full, turn off the water and disconnect the hose.

Helpful Tips

As the water source may be your drinking water, we like to sanitize the hose connection before hooking up to it. Sometimes these connections get used for flushing black tanks, so sanitizing is a good practice. We simply use hand sanitizer and wipe it on and into the hose connection before hooking up to it. We then let the water run for a minute to flush out the hose before hooking up the RV.

Pay attention to the location of the water spigot before setting up. You don’t want to get everything ready and discover your water hose won’t reach the connection. 

Make sure you have ample room to put out your slides. Sometimes you’ll have tight spaces, and you don’t want to hit the water spigot. 

full RV hookups
Some campsites are tighter than others. Take this into account if you have slide-outs on the side where the hookups are located.

Listen for any drips or leaks once you turn the water back on. You can also check the fittings around the pipes and connectors to ensure you don’t see any leaks. Sometimes fittings get loose during travel and might need tightening. You’ll want to catch this early.

If you hear water running through the hose after you turn it on, you may have a faucet on inside the RV. Before you leave, ensure you have turned off all the taps. You could flood your RV if you hook up the water without checking inside.

RV Electric Hookups

An electric hookup, sometimes referred to as an electric pedestal, will provide either a 30 amp or 50 amp electrical current to your camper. Most larger RVs require 50 amp service, while most small to mid-size units need 30 amps.

Depending on your RV’s requirements, your power cord will only plug into either a 30 amp or 50 amp outlet unless you have a dogbone adapter. 

➡ Click here to learn more about dogbone adapters: You Need to Know: Can You Hook a 30 Amp RV to 50 Amp Power?

50 amp RV connection
This is an example of a 50 amp RV power connection on a fifth wheel.

How It Works

The power cord that connects your RV to the electrical pedestal runs electricity to your camper’s breaker box to power major appliances. Think of it like the power line that runs electricity to the breaker box in a house.

The power cord also runs electricity to a converter to charge your 12V house battery. The battery powers things like the lights and any 12V-specific appliances

If you don’t have alternative power sources, like solar panels or a generator, you’ll need electricity to fully use your camper.

How to Hook It Up

When you arrive at a campsite, you’ll often find the electric pedestal near the water spigot. Once you park your rig, go over to the pedestal and turn off the breaker. 

RV water and electric hookups
A surge protector prevents damaging power surges (voltage spikes) that could fry your RV electrical system.

Plug in a surge protector, then turn on the breaker again. The lights on the surge protector will indicate whether or not the pedestal is operating correctly. If you detect a problem with the pedestal, do not hookup your RV and consult with the campground management.

Turn the breaker off, and plug in your RV’s power cord to the surge protector. Then plug the other end into your camper if not already attached. Some RVs have permanently attached power cords, and others don’t. Turn the breaker back on at the pedestal, and you’re all set.

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Helpful Tips

Ensure the power cord will reach the electricity pedestal before setting up. You can buy RV-specific extension cords if needed. Again, make sure you have ample room to put out your slides, so you don’t hit the pedestal.

It’s helpful to know how much power each appliance uses. You could blow a fuse or start a fire if you use more energy than your power cord will allow. 

For example, if you have a 30 amp rig, you should not run the air conditioner, operate a hairdryer, and heat something in the microwave simultaneously. This will pull more than 30 amps and overheat the power cord or trip the breaker.

RV Electrical Safety Tips and Recommendations- RV Security and Safety Series Part 3

Using a surge protector has a similar purpose to the water pressure regulator mentioned above. It will protect your RV electrical system from a power surge. It will also tell you if there is a problem with the power coming from the pedestal before you hook up to your RV. 

If you don’t have this device and experience a power surge, your electrical system could overload, resulting in fire or damage to your wiring.

Pro Tip: Misusing your RV electrical system is dangerous and can even result in a fatal shock. Make sure you understand How to Not Get Shocked in Your RV before hooking up.

RV Sewer Hookups

You’ll have a sewer connection the least often out of these three RV hookups. Sometimes instead of having a place to dump at your campsite, a campground or state park will have a dump station on the property where you can empty your tanks. 

Dump Station
If your campsite doesn’t have a sewer hookup, you’ll have to locate a dump station to empty your tanks.

But if you do have full hookups with sewer, you can dump your gray and black tanks safely (and legally) at your campsite.

How It Works

Your RV has two different tanks: gray and black. The gray tank holds the sink and shower waste water. The black tank holds the sewage waste from the toilet. You must empty these when they get full. 

The sewer hose connects the plumbing under your RV to a sewer connection in the ground. RVs generally have one valve for the grey tank and one for the black tank. When you pull these valves, the waste flows through the hose for proper disposal into the campground’s septic system. 

RV waste water drain and valves
This is an RV sewer connection. Notice the gray tank valve on the left and the black tank valve on the right.

How to Hook It Up

Your campsite may not have the sewer connection in the same location as the water spigot and electricity pedestal. Look on the ground for a concrete square with a hole in it and a removable lid. Sometimes it will have a protruding PVC pipe a few inches above the ground with a round lid.

Put on rubber gloves after getting your RV positioned and leveled at the campsite. You don’t want to handle the sewer equipment without them. 

Take one end of your sewer hose and connect it to the pipe underneath your RV. This pipe has both the waste from the black and gray tank running through it, so you should see a convergence of these two pipelines. 

RV sewer hookup
RV sewer hookups often look like a capped PVC pipe coming up out of the ground on a concrete pad.

Some RVs have more than one sewer connection because they have more than one bathroom or tanks in different areas. In this case, you’ll need multiple sewer hoses and special attachments to link them together.

Attach the other end of the sewer hose into the sewer hookup on the ground. You’ll need a few different connections to keep it secured and tightly sealed. Most sewer kits will already have what you need. 

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Sometimes RVers will put rocks on top of the connection to further protect the seal. You do not want this attachment coming loose. Once you’ve secured the sewer hose to the ground hookup, you’re all set.

You can leave your gray tank valve open for the duration of your stay. However, you’ll want to keep the black tank valve closed. You should only dump your black tank when it’s 2/3 or more full to prevent clogs.

Helpful Tips

Like with the water and electric, ensure you have positioned your camper close enough to the sewer hookup. You want your hose to reach without any fear of detaching because you’ve stretched it too thin. You can also get sewer hose extensions if yours doesn’t reach.

RV sewer hookups
This RV has more than one sewer connection, indicating multiple bathrooms or waste water tanks.

With this RV hookup, you don’t have to worry about extending your slides. They will go over the sewer connection since it sits on the ground.

Wear gloves whenever handling the sewer hose. If an accident or spill were to occur, you don’t want sewer waste all over your hands. Get a pack of disposable gloves you can easily put on and throw away.

Another accessory worth getting is a sewer hose support system. Some RV parks actually require these. Because the support system elevates the hose off the ground, the waste easily flows downhill when you release the tanks. This reduces the chance of anything getting stuck and causing a clog.

sewer hose support
Sewer hose supports help waste drain more effectively, preventing unwanted clogs in your hose.

Where Can You Find RV Hookups?

RV hookups are often available at campgrounds and RV parks. Any Jellystone, Thousand Trails, KOA, or other major campground chain will offer full hookup sites.

They may also provide partial hookup spots, so make sure to indicate your preference. Even smaller privately owned campgrounds that only have five or ten sites can offer RV hookups.

Remote locations like some national or state parks won’t have any connections. Sometimes it’s not the location of the campground but the facilities. They just don’t have the plumbing network or don’t have electricity running throughout the area. Staying somewhere without RV hookups is known as dry camping or boondocking.

If you don’t stay at a campground and choose to boondock on the top of a canyon or in the desert, you won’t find any RV hookups. You must have solar power and batteries or a generator to receive power. And you’ll want a full fresh water tank for your water supply.

Boondocking in overland truck camper
If you’re boondocking, you’ll need your own power and water supply.

Also, keep in mind you can’t just dump your waste tanks wherever you want. When your tanks are full, you’ll need to pack up and find a dump station. Your other option is to invest in a portable waste tank to extend your stay off-grid.

Full vs. Partial RV Hookups

Some places have full hookups with water, electric, and sewer connections. Other campgrounds offer both full and partial sites, and some only offer partial RV hookups. Read the amenities online or call and ask about them, so you know what you’ll get. 

RV hookups at a campground
Most modern campgrounds will have full or partial RV hookups at each campsite.

If you arrive at a campsite expecting water and electricity, you may get frustrated to find you only have water. If you don’t have any other way to generate power, you may end up searching for another campsite that night.

Generally, state parks will have water and electricity but no sewer. Instead, you may find a dump station on the park grounds where you can empty your tanks before leaving. 

HOW TO HOOK-UP AN RV FOR THE NEWBIE RVER! (FULL TIME RV LIVING)

Know How to Use RV Hookups for Your Safety

When RVing, you must know how to correctly connect to water, electric, and sewer hookups. Sometimes it’s a matter of safety and other times practicality. Either way, you’ll have a more enjoyable camping experience if you know how to do it right.

In addition to power and water, some parts of your RV require propane to operate. Here’s everything you need to know: The Complete RV Propane Tank Guide.

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