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I parked my camper at a full hookup campsite, I plugged in my 30 Amp cord to the 30 amp plug but did not get power.

The campground owner checked the plug with a simple polarity checker and everything looked fine (more problem solving excluded for brevity), when we checked with a voltmeter there was only about 30 volts, but the sites before and after my site had 120 volts.

In the short term, I plugged into a different nearby box that was ok.

Ultimately an electrician was called. I believe he found that there was a loose connection at the neutral wire, from the main feed. A fellow camper said he had heard that can cause 220 volts instead of 120 volts to go through the outlet.

I have done some research and find there are several types of "surge" protectors available, with widely varying ($30 - $250) prices and features.

What are the real concerns when connecting to camp site power supplies, and what features do I really need to look for (if any) in protective products?

  • Full hookup = water, sewer & electric.

Update as Bounty is posted I have continued to look for an independent comprehensive list of electrical risks associated with campers/rvs connecting to camp power supply, and have found the following issues.

The best answer, will focus on risks specific to camp sites, where electricity is being delivered WITHOUT protection from local code enforcement, and address concerns without regard to country (i.e not US or UK specific).

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    I seriously doubt a lose wire can cause 220 volts. You saw 30 volts. I get you like this sit but this might be a better fit on electronics.stackexchange.com, – paparazzo May 17 '18 at 19:06
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    If running 2-phase 208V and splitting it to two 120V single phase circuits, mistakes most certainly can include getting 220V by using the two hot wires rather than hot+neutral. An unconnected neutral can also lead to any number of weird voltage readings. – Jon Custer May 18 '18 at 14:27
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    @JonCuster thank you for the comment, it sounds like a good start to a great answer. Would you be willing to write an answer? – James Jenkins May 18 '18 at 14:45
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The biggest danger is a broken ground wire, and some leakage path from the hot to the chassis of your camper. That puts the whole chassis of the camper at high voltage. That's actually no danger to you if you're in it, but is a danger when you are connected to ground outside and touch the chassis.

Even then, any competent installation will have circuit breakers with ground-fault interrupters. Most likely these are required by code for power that is used "outside".

The system is designed so that any one failure won't cause a danger. There have to be two or more failures of the right kind for that to happen. The probability of something getting to the point of being dangerous is therefore remote.

  • Thank :) but it is the incompetent installations that I am worried about. In this particular scenario the over head wires where strung between a combination of polls and Trees. In fact the meter and outlet for my site was bolted to a tree, not sure how much oversight or code enforcement existes across different areas of the country (US) or world. – James Jenkins May 18 '18 at 12:44
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    @James: What you describe was likely not to code. The electrical inspector may never have been there. Until someone complains or gets electrocuted, officials probably won't look at it. If it does get their attention somehow, then the camp manager could be in trouble. – Olin Lathrop May 18 '18 at 15:20
  • The are multiple areas of the US without building codes. They tend to be away from civilization, and places I am likely to make a first visit. That is what I need to protect my equipment and self from. – James Jenkins May 18 '18 at 15:31
  • A broken ground isn't the biggest danger: you still need a second fault to make the chassis of your RV live. The biggest danger is a hot/ground reversal, because that connects the live wire directly to your RV's chassis. – Mark May 25 '18 at 2:21
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    @Mark: I see now that you did say hot/ground reversal, which I somehow read as hot/neutral. Perhaps that was because hot/ground reversal is so bad as to be absurd. If the installer didn't kill himself, then there would still be the problem of the outlet "not working". With hot/ground flipped, the power-delivery wires would be neutral and ground. You don't get any power from those. Such outlet wouldn't even pass the "plug something in and see if it runs" test. Presumably something that blatantly broken would never get to the point where a customer would try to connect to it. – Olin Lathrop May 25 '18 at 20:55
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I am not an Expert the following is the result of a basic knowledge of electricity and extensive research, specific to this issue. I welcome constructive review and suggestions there is a lot of complex considerations and I have tried to balance brevity with concise and accurate descriptions.


When using electricity provide through a commercial power grid (i.e. plug into an existing supply, or shore power) There are several electrical supply events that can cause damage to your equipment, harm or even kill you. All commercial power grids supply AC (Alternating Current) power, there are 4 primary attributes of AC supply, changes in any of those attributes can cause issues. Further reading

There are two significant divisions in (the US) RV/Camper Surge/EMS protection market.

Amperage: 30 Amp VS 50 Amp. The more electrical draw the more amperage is required to run it. Supply and demand should be balanced. In the United States three options are commonly provided, each uses a different style plug. A supply point may offer only one, any combination of two, or all three.

  • 15 - 20 Amp (normal household plug, small 3 prong, 120V = 2,400 Watts)
  • 30 Amp (large three prong, 120V = 3,600 Watts)
  • 50 Amp (large 4 prong, 240V, split-phase = 12,000 Watts)
  • It is important that your protective device has the same amperage rating as your campers expect draw. A 30 Amp circuit provides a single 120V supply, while a 50 Amp Circuit provides two 120V supply, giving the RV 240 Volts.
  • Adapters are available, i.e. with the correct adapter a 30 amp power cord can be used on a 20 Amp or 50 Amp supply. Using an adapter can cause part or all of the protection to be ineffective, this varies by surge/EMS/product.

3 option pedistal box

In the above pedestal image we can see three separate outlets. From left to right they are 50 amp, 30 amp, and 20 amp. Each receptacle has its own dedicated breaker sized for that particular outlet. This gives the RVer the choice off choosing whichever outlet they need to best match their RV's electrical service. Source, image and quote

Single VS Multiple: Some surge/EMS/products needs to be replaced. after protecting from a single event, others will reset and can protect from multiple events. Single use devices have a lower initial cost.


I was unable to locate a single comprehensive list of potential risks. The points below are harvested from lists of protections provided by different manufactures. I only found 3 manufactures, I think my search tools are limiting results to the United States.


Amperage: In this context it might be thought of as "Ampacity" how much electrify is being used, and will it damage the supply lines?

Ampacity is defined as the maximum amount of electric current a conductor or device can carry before sustaining immediate or progressive deterioration. Also described as current rating or current-carrying capacity, ampacity is the RMS electric current which a device or conductor can continuously carry while remaining within its temperature rating. Source

  • Risk: This is mostly a concern where usage is more than the supply will tolerate. As an example if the supply pedestal is wired to deliver 30 Amps and you use an adapter to plug your 50 Amp RV into a 30 Amp pedestal, then turn on all the lights, TV, and AC units, you will probably draw more then 30 Amps and optimally the circuit breaker in the pedestal will break the connection, power to your RV will stop and you will need to turn something off before resetting the breaker. If the breaker didn't interrupt the flow, electrical lines could melt causing a fire and loss of electrical supply lines.
  • Protection: I did not find any RV protection surge/EMS/products addressing this issue. Your Camper/RV's own circuit breakers should protect from internal issues, while supply issues are only a concern for surge protection events which all surge/EMS/products do address.

Surge Protection Protect from voltage spikes. There are at least half a dozen different components used in devices, often in combination. most offer little or no protection for longer durations of high voltage, protecting only from quick short spikes


Reverse Polarity: The hot and neutral wiring is reversed, this is the result of a physical connection being incorrectly hooked up. The reversal can occur anywhere in the supply line after the transformer.

  • Risk: Physical electrical shock can occur to people, I don't find any mention of risk to equipment. A real time change would require a physical change up the supply line, like the repair of issues elsewhere in the campground.
  • Protection: Some surge/EMS/products indicate the fault, others will indicate and shut down power until corrected.

High/Low Voltage: Appliances like Air Conditioning use a specific amount of watts, if the voltage changes, the watts stay the same but the amperage through wire changes.

The most frequent condition is low voltage at the campground pedestal. You may arrive at your campsite early and check your pedestal voltage with a voltmeter and find it within tolerance. However, once other campers arrive and start to fire up their air conditioners the voltage is likely to drop. Source


High/Low Frequency: Hertz (Hz) is the the rate at which AC (alternating) power cycles. It is determined by the speed (RPM) of the motor generating the electricity at the power station.

In North America all electrical power is 60Hz while in Europe and most of the rest of the world electrical power runs at 50 Hz. Hz is basically a counter of how many electrical pulses or waves occur in one second. Source

A 50 Hz motor operating on 60 Hz will attempt to rotate at a 20% increase in speed. The load will become 1.23 (1.2 x 1.2 x 1.2) or 1.73 times greater (173%) than on the original frequency. Source

  • Risk: The risk of damage to electrical devices varies greatly; it can range from poor performance, to no impact, to increased risk of total failure and burnout. The only cause of change I could find was the speed of generator/alternator rotation at the supply point. Personal injury potential would be secondary to fire from electrical failure.
  • Protection: Some surge/EMS/products do not monitor frequency, others will monitor and shut down supply.

Time delay reset: When a surge/EMS/product stops the flow of power between the pedestal and the camper/RV, and the supply power issue is immediately corrected the surge/EMS/product may delay providing power to the camper/RV for some period of time.

  • Risk: Rapid on and off supply can be hard on some devices, devices like Air Conditioners are particularly impacted and need up to 2 minutes off before being powered back on.
  • Protection: Delay times vary by surge/EMS/product, some have adjustable delay times.

Accidental 240V: Much like Reverse polarity, accidental 240V comes from mis-connecting two wires someplace in the electrical supply.

120/240 split supply

If you put a voltmeter across lines L1 and L2 you'll see 240 volts. But if you test L1 to N or L2 to N you'll see 120 volts. Source, image and quote

  • Risk: The risks are the same as any increase in voltage (device failure, fire, etc) but most surge only protection to does not occur until 300V.
  • Protection: Some surge/EMS/products don't monitor, some monitor and display, some monitor and shut down supply.

Ground, Neutral, Home & RV


Overview Open Ground and Open Neutral are are one of the most difficult areas to understand and describe. Firstly; Homes and Camper/Rvs are wired differently and subject to different codes. Secondly; there are a bunch of variables. Thirdly; issues can be transient (come and go). Fourthly; I am not an expert, this is a summery of some of what I have learned in my research.

In many references that are not RV specific Neutral and Ground are used interchangeably as synonyms. In an RV this is not the case, the two are very distinct connections with different risks.

Both conditions can be due to a broken/disconnected wire, a loose connection or they may develop sporadically from any number of causes.

all RV electrical systems are wired with their Ground and Neutral buses floated (un-bonded from each other). There’s lots of good reasons for this, most specifically that it’s an NEC and RVIA code requiment that the safety ground wire never carries any load current, and there can be only one Ground-To-Neutral bonding point in any distributed electrical system in the USA. Now, when you’re plugging your RV into power from a building (your garage outlet) or campground (pedestal outlet), your RV has its Ground and Neutral buses “bonded” (connected) together externally as part of the service panel’s earthed safety ground system. Again, lots of reasons for this, but the fact is you can only have a single G-N bonding point according to the National Electrical Code and RVIA building codes. Source

.

If the Star Point of Unbalanced Load is not joined to the Star Point of its Power Source (Distribution Transformer or Generator) then Phase voltage do not remain same across each phase but its vary according to the Unbalanced of the load. As the Potential of such an isolated Star Point or Neutral Point is always changing and not fixed so it’s called Floating Neutral. Source

Selected References:


Open Neutral: The Neutral wire is the path for electricity that is doing work, to complete it's circuit. Normally an open or floating neutral results in no electrical flow. BUT Depending on the electrical supply in your campground, it can also cause fluctuations in voltage between 1 and 240 volts.

  • Risk: No power, high or low voltage, devices not working, devices working on incorrect voltage leading to device failure. Personal risk is related to fire secondary to device failure.
  • Protection: Some surge/EMS/products don't monitor, some monitor and display, some monitor and shut down supply.

Open Ground: This is the path for potential electrical energy that is not doing work. Your home is grounded by a grounding rod and metal pluming. Your RV is insulated (not grounded) by the rubber tires, plastic leveling blocks, plastic garden hose water supply. Metal landing leg and/or jacks touching the ground DO NOT provide a reliable ground path.

  • Risk: An Open or Floating Ground, means the third wire (ground) is not connected, this is your fail safe. Your RV may develop "Hot Skin" and you may feel a slight tingle when touching the side of the RV. The difference between tingle and death are very close.

If you do feel a tingle it means there's at least 30 volts AC on the chassis and body of the vehicle. And as little as 30 or 40 AC volts through your heart can cause it to go into fibrillation. Source

  • Protection: Some surge/EMS/products don't monitor, some monitor and display, some monitor and shut down supply.
  • "Supply and demand should be balanced." That's definitely true on the network scale, but how is it relevant for an RV circuit protection? – imsodin May 27 '18 at 12:34
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    This is mostly a dump of info about outdoor electrical hookups for campers, but it doesn't really answer the question of what the risks are due to improperly installed or broken hookups. That was what this question was originally about, although the OP made a recent edit. – Olin Lathrop May 27 '18 at 13:04
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    @JamesJenkins My question still remains. In general there is lots of info, that may be/is (didn't check) true, but that isn't related. The information in the first amperage paragraph (why are there two?) is familiar, but there are connections between facts that I don't see at all and there is still info that seems unrelated to RV electric safety. In general I somehow agree with Olin: There is so much information here and I don't see a central theme, that would guide through the answer and address the question, i.e. something that does not only state infos, but relates and integrates them. – imsodin Jun 3 '18 at 14:31
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    In your "open ground" section, you say that ground fault interrupters don't work if the ground lead is open. This is not true. They trip whenever there is sufficient current imbalance between the hot and neutral lines. Also, voltage doesn't go "through" anything. Voltage is applied across something, current flows thru it. You have collected a lot of facts, but unfortunately it seems that how the system actually works is still somewhat mysterious to you. – Olin Lathrop Jun 5 '18 at 11:25
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    This answer is currently a knowledge dump. Most of this information is completely irrelevant and does not answer the central issue of connecting an insulated craft to the electrical grid. I think the only pertinent information is that about the ground/neutral wire differentiation, and the possibility of unexpected voltages. electronics.stackexchange.com/a/213485 talks about ground vs neutral and is 100% applicable to RV's (think of your camper as one large appliance). – johnVonTrapp Jun 6 '18 at 17:44

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