How to add shore power to your campervan electrical system to charge leisure batteries from the mains supply.
For those who spend any time on campgrounds with mains power supply, an RV electrical hookup (240v or 110v) is a perfect way of recharging leisure batteries and powering household appliances.
With the right setup, you can plug in the campervan to a mains supply.
AC power is delivered to a breaker box, just as it in a house.
This allows you to use AC appliances on a mains circuit – ideal for running air conditioning units and microwaves.
A battery charger (or power converter) changes AC power to DC so charges the leisure batteries too.
This post takes you through everything you need to know about installing shore power in your campervan.
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- What is RV Shore Power?
- Do I Need Shore Power in my Campervan?
- Safety Warning
- How Does Electrical Hookup Work?
- Components for Campervan Shore Power
- Working with 240v when your Van is 110v or Vice Versa
- How Long Does it Take to Recharge Batteries on Shore Power?
- Campervan 240v Wiring Diagram
- Campervan 110v 15A & 30A Wiring Diagram
- Campervan 110v for 50A Wiring Diagram
- Installation Tips
- Common Problems
What is RV Shore Power?
RV shore power, often referred to as a campervan hookup, is when you plug your RV or campervan into the AC electrical grid or mains supply.
It’s called shore power as it’s commonly used for ships and boats when they need a power supply or to recharge their batteries in a marina or harbour.
Shore power works by plugging a camper into a power source, usually an electrical pedestal on or near your pitch, transferring AC power to the camper.
You can also use a household electrical supply, so it’s ideal for weekend warriors who need to recharge the batteries after a few days away.
Do I Need Shore Power in my Campervan?
If you can rely on enough daily sunshine to replenish any electrical demand, firstly, we envy you and secondly, you don’t need an RV electrical hookup.
More commonly, the weather isn’t always kind. Cloud cover will hamper recharging from solar panels alone.
You could drive or run the engine to top up the batteries but that’s not always convenient.
The ability to recharge the batteries from a mains supply is the best alternative. Not only can you top up the battery bank, but you can run household appliances directly from it too.
This means if you want to run an air conditioning unit, power-hungry microwave or even a washing machine, shore power is the answer.
Installing shore power capability in a campervan isn’t expensive so it’s well worth installing as a fallback.
If you only use your camper for a few days at a time, a hookup facility for use at home, coupled with charging the batteries as you drive may be enough to avoid needing a solar system.
Mains power voltages are big enough to kill so if you don’t know what you’re doing, always use a qualified electrician.
How Does Electrical Hookup Work?
It’s helpful to understand how hookup works to figure out what you can and can’t do when it comes to installation, running AC appliances and charging 12v batteries.
In the most simple terms, the diagram below shows how an installed hookup system hangs together.
Most countries have regulations governing electrical installations. They aim to ensure standardisation and safety.
The regulations limit the maximum current any one circuit can handle and stipulate the total current of all the circuits combined must not be greater than the total current the grid is supplying.
This prevents burning out the large mains electric cable and tripping the entire electrical supply for your neighbourhood.
You might have experienced a tripped breaker in your house.
This is as a result of trying to pull too much current on one circuit, either because you plugged in something too powerful, too many appliances onto one circuit or a faulty appliance suddenly tried to draw too much current.
Either way, the breaker tripped to protect the circuit.
Plugging a campervan into the mains electrical supply is like plugging in any electrical appliance and the same restrictions apply. You can only draw a maximum of the circuit’s current limit without tripping the supply breaker.
Campgrounds limit the current supply, with each pitch usually having a dedicated breaker. Draw too much, the breaker will trip and you’ll probably need to speak with the camp staff to resolve it.
With mains supply, you can run AC appliances directly on an AC circuit and/or use a power converter to transform the AC power to DC, so you can charge your 12v batteries.
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Components for Campervan Shore Power
There are a few components needed to install and use an electrical hookup in a camper.
The first thing to note is the voltage of your appliances. If you’ve built your van in Australia, Europe or the UK, you probably run 220-240v appliances; in Canada and the US, 110-130v.
All your AC electrical appliances must be the same, either all 110v or all 240v because they all need to be compatible with the campervan’s electrical components supplying them.
AC Power Pedestal / Mains Supply
Most campgrounds have a hookup pedestal to plug into. It’s important to know what voltage the mains supply is on – either 110v or 240v, depending on where in the world you are.
Some international campgrounds have both 240V and 110V AC.
It’s also important to check what the current limit is. In the UK this is often 16 amps but can be as low as 10 amps. In Europe, it could be as low as 5 amps and as high as 20 amps.
With currents this low, you can see why you need to manage your load carefully.
In the US especially, where many RVers live full-time on campgrounds and use high powered air conditioning units and other AC appliances, small currents may be insufficient.
The pedestals in the US have 3 current options: 15, 30 and 50 amps. Remember these are all at 110v, not 240v.
The 15 and 30 amp sockets are similar to those in European sites. The small 15 amp socket is a good budget choice as campgrounds vary prices based on which you use.
The 50 amp power supply is slightly different in that it needs a 4 core cable, effectively providing 2 circuits instead of 1. This allows you to safely run higher total currents than would otherwise be possible.
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Mains Hookup Cables / Shore Power Cord
The hookup cable connects the power inlet on your camper to the site’s power supply on the pedestal.
The cable should be rated higher than the maximum current expected from the supply for the given voltage.
So for example, in the UK, supply current could be as high as 16 amps at 240v. European and British standards (BS EN 60309-2 if you’re interested), states the cable should be rated for 25 amps.
In the US, current can be as high as 30 amps at 110v. Remembering Watts Laws (Watts = Amps x Volts), a 25 amp rated cable is almost equivalent to 50 amps at 110v, so well sized.
Use our wire size calculator to check the wire sizes needed.
The 50 amp power supply needs a 4 core cable so bear this in mind when buying.
Mains Hookup Connectors
The hookup cable needs 2 connectors, one at each end.
Standard connectors are sold in pairs, one for each end of the cable, though you can usually buy the cable with them already fitted.
The end that connects to the van is standard for the country you buy it in so make sure to get a compatible hookup box in the same country.
And be extra careful not to leave the cable behind, especially when travelling abroad.
Replacing the connectors to fit your van’s hookup box might be a challenge.
European sites (including the UK), generally use these standard fittings. Though less common, sometimes you may find a campsite that only offers a local household socket.
In these circumstances, you’ll need to use an adaptor.
US pedestals have different sockets for each ampere type so again adaptors may be necessary.
With a 30 amp to 50 amp adaptor, you can use a 30 amp supply with the RV’s 50 amp, 4 core cable. Remember though, it will be limited to 30 amps so you’ll need to manage your load.
240v, 16 amp, 25 metre hookup cable suitable for use in Europe & UK
110v, 30 amp, 25′ hookup cord suitable for use in US
110v, 50 amp, 4 core 50′ hookup cord suitable for use in US
50 amp shore to 30 adaptor
30 amp shore to 50 adaptor
Hookup Box / Shore Power Socket
The shore power cord connects to the campervan’s electrical system via the shore power socket.
If you’re converting a van to a camper, you’ll need to cut a hole in the side of the van to fit it.
The sockets are contained within a splash-proof and weatherproof housing.
RCD Breaker Box / Consumer Unit
A breaker box is often called an RCB, RCD, Consumer Unit, Ground Fault Current Indicators (GFCI) or just GFI, just to keep us on our toes!
Whatever you call it, it’s a distribution panel for electricity coming into the camper and a smaller version of a household unit you’ve probably seen under the stairs or in a utility room in a house.
It acts as a safety device. If the breaker detects power surges, improper grounding, short-circuits, faulty wiring or appliances, it trips, protecting the entire electrical system and helping to avoid fires and electric shocks.
In Europe, fitting an RCD breaker in a campervan is essential. Some campgrounds may even ask to see it before they allow you to hookup.
Regulations are more relaxed in the US.
Regardless of regulations, we prefer to take control of the safety of our camper’s electrical system and not rely on a campground’s breaker or their adherence to regulations to protect us.
There are 2 types of RCD – single pole and double pole.
Single pole RCDs are used for low current circuits. They monitor the live wire, tripping if they detect a fault on it.
Double pole RCDs are intended for higher currents. They monitor the live and neutral wires, tripping if they detect a fault on either.
This is especially important in some European countries where reverse polarity can cause issues.
Reverse polarity is where the live & neutral wires are swapped. A single pole breaker only trips one side of the circuit so potentially leaving power on the other side in the event of a fault.
We recommend double pole RCDs. They provide extra protection for almost no extra cost and eliminates any reverse polarity risks too, so why wouldn’t you?
AC Distribution Center
Locate the switches for convenience.
For those who spend most of their time in campgrounds, only use AC appliances and have no intention of using them off-grid, this setup doesn’t even need a leisure battery.
We spend more time boondocking and wild camping than on campgrounds so our hookup has a couple of switched sockets for occasional use.
Power Converter / Battery Charger
A converter is another name for a battery charger. It takes AC power and converts it to DC to charge the 12v campervan batteries.
If you spend a lot of time at campgrounds with hookup facilities, a converter is the best way to keep your batteries topped up.
They’re also useful for topping up the battery bank at home in readiness for camping weekends.
We’ve written a detailed post on RV converters and battery chargers so check that out for more details.
In the meantime, here’s some tips for choosing the right one for your camper:
- Power capacity must be enough to charge the batteries in a “reasonable” time. Make sure you take into account any ongoing power usage as the battery is charging too.
- Look for easy installation units. Most converters are easy to install but a few are a bit more tricky.
- Make sure the converter supports the right battery type – Lithium-ion, Gel, or AGM.
- For most efficient charging, choose an inverter with at least 3 stage charging for AGM and Gel batteries
- For Lithium batteries, choose a smart converter.
- For an ultra-simple AC installation, just use a converter without extra switched sockets. The downside of this is you’ll need to plug the appliances into the converter box so it needs to be in a convenient location.
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Working with 240v when your Van is 110v or Vice Versa
Do not plug in your 240v AC wired van into a 110v AC output. Nor should you plug in a 110v AC system to a 240v AC supply.
The RCD should trip to keep you and your electrical system safe, but at the wrong voltage, it might not work correctly either. If you don’t have one fitted, you risk significant damage and potential personal injury.
This is why it is so important to understand what voltage the power supply is BEFORE you hookup.
Using a transformer is a safe way to overcome the voltage difference. If your van is 110v, you’ll need a step up transformer to go to 240v. If it’s a 240v camper, you’ll need a step down transformer to use 110v.
AC power has a frequency and most countries use 50Hz per second. Some countries though, the US included, use 60Hz.
Our van is 240v for 50Hz. When we hook up to shore power in the US with a step up transformer to increase the 110v to 240v, the supply frequency is unchanged. We’ll get 60Hz instead of 50Hz.
This won’t do any harm to the appliances though. We may notice a difference in operating speed for fans and motors but that’s all.
What if You Don’t have a Transformer?
In remote locations with limited shopping outlets, you have more chance of finding a battery charger than a transformer.
If you find yourself stuck, and can run all appliances off the battery bank, buy a battery charger for the local voltage and use this to charge the batteries.
It’s not ideal if your batteries aren’t easily accessible or you can’t shelter the charger from the weather but it may help you in a tricky situation.
How Long Does it Take to Recharge Batteries on Shore Power?
To recharge a battery bank from shore power, you need a battery charger to convert the AC supply to a 12v DC supply.
The size of the battery charger and the state of the battery bank determine the hook up time needed.
Let’s assume we have a 20 amp hour battery charger unit. We’ll also assume we have 1 x 140ah battery and it’s 50% full. Its maximum charging current is 30 amps.
To fully recharge the battery, we need 70ah. The charger can provide up to 20ah per hour.
Even with no other load on the batteries, in theory, we need to hookup for 3.5 hours to recharge.
You can read more about battery profiles in our post about charging leisure batteries, but this is a close enough approximation.
Campervan 240v Wiring Diagram
The wiring diagram below is for a 240v AC supply including a double pole RCD breaker, at least one switched socket for AC appliances and a circuit to the battery charger / power converter.
Any DC appliances can continue to run as the battery bank is charging.
Campervan 110v 15A & 30A Wiring Diagram
The wiring diagram below is for a 110v AC supply including a double pole RCD breaker, at least one switched socket for AC appliances and a circuit to the battery charger / power converter.
Any DC appliances can continue to run as the battery bank is charging.
It is identical to the 240v wiring diagram above but the wire colours follow the US colour and naming conventions.
This is suitable for 15 amp and 30 amp 110v systems.
Campervan 110v for 50A Wiring Diagram
The wiring diagram below is for a 110v AC supply with a 50 amp connection. It includes a double pole RCD breaker and at least 2 switched sockets for powerful AC appliances.
A battery charger can be wired into either circuit, depending on the load.
- Carefully plan where you’ll fit the RCD before cutting a hole in the van for the hookup box. Aim to locate them near to each other on either side of the van’s skin.
- Don’t fit the hookup box near the camper’s fuel or water filling inlets.
- Avoid fitting the hookup box too low down on the vehicle to reduce water spray and debris damaging it when driving.
- Do not run DC and AC cables in the same conduit, because any live fault from the AC circuits can power the DC circuits with a lethal level of electricity. Keep DC and AC cable runs at least 50 cm apart.
- All AC components and your system must be correctly connected to the grid supply Earth systems and include all safety trip devices as per local regulations. If in doubt, consult or employ a qualified electrician every time.
Common Problems to Watch out For
- Moving vehicles like campervans, motorhomes and RVs generate vibrations and over time, these can lead to connections becoming loose. Because of the voltages involved with AC power, loose wires are best avoided. Check the connections monthly and keep them in good order.
- We’ve come across some hookup facilities without an Earth connection. Look before you touch. If in doubt, do not use it or even touch it. You may become the route to Earth and that’s going to hurt, if not kill you.
- If you have any problems with your AC supply or circuits in your camper, always seek the advice of a qualified electrician.
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