Boondocking and Generators

At some time in the near future, we are contemplating doing some camping in the wild sometimes referred to as Boondocking. Boondocking is a term used by RVers to describe RVing without being connected to water, electricity, or sewer. Because you’re not connected to any services it’s also called dry camping. Other terms you might see that all refer to boondocking are free camping and wild camping. One thing that doesn’t form any part of the definition of boondocking is the location of your RV. This is where we get different types of boondocking. You will hear terms like Wallydocking, Moochdocking, and so forth.

 To make life easier we will ensure that our freshwater tank is sanitized and filled with fresh water. Also checked off the list I will make sure we have the honey pot stored and ready for use. Additionally, I will have the generator tuned and in good working order. I do not have an onboard generator and so we use a portable wheeled generator.

 The generator is used intermittently during the day and early evening to keep the fridge up to temp and to give the house batteries a boost if they need it. All of our lighting is 12 volt. We use solar power to charge our devices and to some degree, keep the batteries up. Occasionally we will run the air conditioner late in the evening to make sleeping more pleasant. Other than that, it’s peace and quiet and a lot of relaxation. Until the wife tells me her hairdryer isn’t working or some such problem.

 We need to understand that the generators we use for boondocking can only be relied upon for minor use and not to power everything that we have at the same time. Of course, you can have a power plant that will fill the back of a pickup truck capable of powering everything you and your two neighbors have. But then we would be defeating the purpose of boondocking and at that point, go stay at a campground with full hookups.


At this point, we will want to understand what a generator can and cannot do and to know how it works. There are a number of generators available capable of doing the job that you expect. First, we need to decide on what we want to power and for how long that power will be needed.

 Take an inventory of your electrical appliances that you will be wanting. Don’t forget the coffee pot and toaster.

 How a generator works to create energy:

Burning fuel produces mechanical energy that runs an engine. The alternator converts that mechanical energy to electrical energy and provides specific power output that is captured to run electrical devices. If you're familiar with how a car runs, you may recognize some of the terminology and processes outlined below. Here are some of the details of this energy transfer process: 

Fuel gives your generator its source of energy. If you’re buying a smaller generator for use in an emergency or while away from regular power infrastructures, your generator will likely be gasoline-powered. The typical fuel tank contained in a generator is only large enough to provide a few hours of power if used continuously. Keep an extra gasoline tank nearby for uninterrupted power. 

Larger, generators intended for long-term use (often called prime-power generators) may use a diesel or propane fuel source. To ensure continuous operation, they may also require an external fuel tank to be installed nearby. Be sure to understand your generator's fuel needs before purchasing. It is also important to perform regular maintenance to ensure a long lifespan for your generator, and efficient use of your fuel.

The generator's engine burns the fuel to create mechanical energy. Like any other engine, it requires oil and coolant to operate.  Both must be regularly changed, following the manufacturer's recommendations. Smaller engines will often be air-cooled, while larger engines will have a liquid-cooled radiator similar to a vehicle's and use coolant such as anti-freeze.

One of the biggest questions is, 'what size of generator should I buy?' The size of your generator's engine affects how much electricity your generator will be able to create. If you aren’t certain how big a generator you should buy, review the amp guide.

As the engine runs, it transmits the mechanical energy to the alternator, just as it does in your car or truck. The alternator has several components. A rotor inside the alternator spins to create a rotating magnetic field in the stator. The stator doesn’t move, is made of an iron core wrapped in metal coils, and conducts electricity. Inside the alternator casing, the mechanical energy is used to create electricity as the rotor spins.

The electricity is controlled through a voltage regulator, which helps to make sure that when you draw electricity from the generator, the generator itself still has enough power to continue operating. When a generator is turned on, its first energy is devoted to running itself, until it builds up enough energy to have output voltage. Once that energy is tapped into, the regulator will prompt the alternator to alter its behavior to create more current, until it’s reached its highest possible capacity.

The voltage regulator helps the generator to produce 115-volt, single-phase, 60 cycle power – the same that you will typically plug into at home. Some generators will also produce higher voltage, 3-phase power as well (used for many commercial power applications).

 Whether you’re installing a generator for backup power, preparing for a disaster, or getting ready to work or play away from easy-to-reach outlets and established powerlines, generators work essentially the same way and carry similar challenges. It’s easy to take electricity for granted. We don’t realize the challenges that can arise from needing power where there’s no infrastructure, or how difficult it can be to recover power when infrastructure is damaged. A generator can help fill the gap during powerless times or when you are far from a power source.

 How to Choose a Generator

What size generator will I need? Add up the power requirements of the appliances and devices you will want to use. (Check the back and sides for a label with this info.) Add up the wattage of all the electrical appliances that you intend to use and don’t forget the light bulbs you will want to use.  Also keep in mind that if you have a CO detector, it consumes power.

 Find the total amps you need by dividing watts by volts. As a rough guide, the following chart of 120-volt appliances will give you a rough idea of the number of amps used by different appliances. Always check your particular appliance and change your chart accordingly.

Now, to help you out with your amp chart I am including some typical amperage draws for appliances and accessories commonly used in RV’s. Keep in mind I’m not an expert on electricity by any stretch of the imagination. This is just a basic guide to assist you in how many amps you are using at any given time. If you need to know exact amperage ratings you can check the data plate on any motors, appliances, or electronic equipment you are using. (USE AT YOUR OWN RISK) If you can’t locate a data plate with this information check the appliance or electronic equipment owner’s manual. This information might provide wattage requirements rather than amps. Here are a couple of simple formulas to help you convert some common electrical terms.

 Converting Watts to Amps

Conversion of Watts to Amps at fixed voltage is governed by the equation Amps = Watts/Volts
For example 12 watts/12 volts = 1 amp

 Converting Amps to Watts

Conversion of Amps to Watts at fixed voltage is governed by the equation Watts = Amps x Volts
For example 1 amp * 110 volts = 110 watts

 One other thing to keep in mind is many RV appliances require more amps to start the appliance than they do to run the appliance. A roof air conditioner can draw 16 amps to start, but may only use 13 amps once it is running.

120 Volt AC Amp Ratings

Appliance or Electronic Equipment

Estimated Amps

Air Conditioner (X number of A/C)

12-16 Amps


5-6 Amps

Coffee Maker

5-8 Amps

Compact Disc Player

1 Amp

Computer (Laptop)

2-3 Amps


1-8 Amps


1-2 Amps

Curling Iron

<1 Amp


2-6 Amps

Electric Blanket

0.5-1.5 Amps

Electric Fan

1 Amp

Electric Water Heater

9-13 Amps

Electric Skillet

6-12 Amps

Hair Dryer

5-12 Amps


5-10 Amps

Light (60 watts / 120V)

<1 Amp


8-13 Amps

Microwave (Convection Oven)

13 Amps

Refrigerator in AC mode

5-8 Amps

Space Heater

8-13 Amps


1.5-4 Amps


7-10 Amps

Vacuum (handheld)

2-6 Amps


1-2 Amps




12 Volt DC Amp Ratings

Appliance or Accessory

Estimated Amps

Aisle Light

1 Amp

CO Detector

1 Amp

Fluorescent Light

1-2 Amps


10-12 Amps

LP Gas Leak Detector

1 Amp

Overhead lights (Per Bulb)

1 Amp

Porch Light

1 Amp

Power Roof Vent

1.5 Amps


4 Amps

Range Hood (Fan & Light)

2-3 Amps

Refrigerator (LP Gas Mode)

1.5- 2 Amps

Security System

1 Amp

Television (12 volts)

4-5 Amps

TV Antenna Booster

<1 Amp

TV Antenna Booster 12 Volt outlet

Up to 8 Amps

Variable Speed Ceiling / Vent Fan

4 Amps

VCR Recorder / Player

2 Amps

Water Pump

4 Amp


Choose a generator that produces more amps than you need – because some machines draw up to 3 times as much power when starting up, and others lose efficiency over time. The best option is a permanently-installed stationary generator.


Using a Generator

The primary hazards to avoid when using a generator are carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning from the toxic engine exhaust, electric shock or electrocution, and fire. Follow the directions supplied with the generator.

  • To avoid electrocution, keep the generator dry and do not use in rain or wet conditions. Operate it on a dry surface under an open canopy-like structure, such as under a tarp held up on poles. Do not touch the generator with wet hands.
  • Be sure to turn the generator off and let it cool down before refueling. Gasoline spilled on hot engine parts could ignite.
  • Store fuel for the generator in an approved safety can. Use the type of fuel recommended in the instructions or on the label on the generator.

Local laws may restrict the amount of fuel you may store or the storage location. Ask your local fire department. Store the fuel outside of living areas in a locked shed or other protected areas. To guard against accidental fire, do not store it near a fuel-burning appliance, such as a natural gas water heater in a garage.

  • Plug appliances directly into the generator, or use a heavy-duty, outdoor-rated extension cord that is rated (in watts or amps) at least equal to the sum of the connected appliance loads.

Check that the entire cord is free of cuts or tears and that the plug has all three prongs, especially a grounding pin.

  • Never try to power the house wiring by plugging the generator into a wall outlet. Known as “back feeding,” this practice puts utility workers, your neighbors, and your household at risk of electrocution.
  • Remember, even a properly connected portable generator can become overloaded, resulting in overheating or generator failure. Be sure to read the instructions.
  • If necessary, stagger the operating times of various pieces of equipment to prevent overloads.


Prevent Carbon Monoxide (CO) Poisoning

  • Never use a generator, grill, camp stove or other gasoline, propane, natural gas or charcoal-burning devices inside a home, garage, basement, crawlspace or any partially enclosed area.
  • Keep these devices outdoors, away from doors, windows, and vents that could allow carbon monoxide to come indoors.
  • Opening doors and windows or using fans will not prevent CO buildup in the home. Although CO can't be seen or smelled, it can rapidly lead to full incapacitation and death. Even if you cannot smell exhaust fumes, you may still be exposed to CO. If you start to feel sick, dizzy, or weak while using a generator, get to fresh air RIGHT AWAY - DO NOT DELAY.
  • Install CO alarms in the RV and outside sleeping areas to provide early warning of accumulating carbon monoxide. Test the batteries frequently and replace them when needed.
  • If the carbon monoxide alarm sounds move quickly to a fresh air location outdoors or by an open window or door. Call for help from the fresh air location and remain there until emergency personnel arrives to assist you.

Happy Camping and remember "Facetime With Nature". And find all your outdoor gear at the Outdoor Family Store.


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