Sammy Faircloth

See other Advice articles filed in ‘Electrics’ written by Sammy Faircloth
   
Everybody uses a range of electrical appliances and devices while on tour. Sammy Faircloth shows you how to power up safely and monitor your usage.

Most caravanners like to run lots of appliances while on electric hook-up, but some take for granted the amount of power supplied.

Most UK campsites provide 16A hook-up points, but there are some sites with lower-rated supplies. For example, it is not uncommon for the electricity supply in the Netherlands to vary between 4A and 10A.

Our family is no different, and quite often when we are camping, my daughter (Emily, aged 15) will be straightening her hair, while my son (Daniel, aged 11) is playing a game on his tablet, my husband (Nigel) is working from his laptop, and I've got the important job of making a cup of tea.

It has been known for us to trip out our hook-up unit because we have tried to run too many devices at once.

So how can you avoid this? Here are some best practice tips for using your caravan's electricity supply safely.

Hooking up

All modern caravans should come with a 25m flexible cable (usually orange, so that it can be seen in the grass, to avoid people tripping over it), with pre-fitted three-pin blue connectors suitable for UK sites. They should comply with BS EN 60309-2.

  • Fully unwind your hook-up cable and place it carefully underneath your van. Bear in mind that, if you do not unwind it completely, there is a chance the cable will overheat and potentially catch fire.
  • Insert the blue connector with the recessed tubes (female end) into your van's input socket.
  • Connect the male end (with the pins) to the hook-up unit, ensuring the cable is lying flat, so nobody trips over it. The current is now flowing to your Consumer Unit.
  • Carry out a safety check by pressing the test button to confirm the master switch trips out - as it should if anything goes wrong.
  • If it does this promptly (as it should), turn the switch on again so that the supply is ready for use.
  • Insert a mains tester into a 13A socket to check there is no reversed polarity. This term means the campsite system has somehow been wired the wrong way around, with neutral and live cables incorrectly swapped. That's potentially dangerous, so it's best to go without your mains supply if this condition is revealed on the tester. This is highly unlikely in the UK, but reversed polarity is occasionally found on the Continent.

Hook-up in the UK

The amount of current available on a hook-up unit is rated in amperes or amps, and in the UK, this is usually 16A. But on arrival at your site, you should check the maximum amps on the hook-up unit.

Next, you need to take a look at the appliances you will be using. Most are rated in watts, which refers to their rate of consumption. Modern caravans usually run from a 230V AC supply (check your handbook).

Then you can estimate the maximum consumption from your hook-up unit with these simple calculations:

watts + volts = amps

volts x amps = watts

All electrical appliances should have a label stating their power consumption.

As an example, a typical kettle is 2200W. Dividing this figure by the 230V supply gives 9.6A. That is about 60% of the consumption on a 16A hook-up. This is before you allow for essential appliances, such as the water heater, lights, fridge, space heater and pumps.

It is a good idea to make this calculation before turning on all of your electrical items at once. Otherwise you might upset a few neighbouring caravanners and the campsite wardens, when you trip out the hook-up point.

You might also consider buying low-wattage appliances, such as travel kettles, which are around 750W.

As a guide, I have produced a chart for the consumption of various items based on a 230V supply (see below).

This has proved very useful when staying on a temporary pitch with an electricity supply limited to 6A!

Appliances and their power usage

  • Caravan in-built heater (three settings): 2000W, 1000W or 500W; 8.7A, 4.3A or 2.2A
  • Water heater: 1500W; 6.5A
  • Microwave: 1200W; 5.2A
  • Travel hairdryer: 1200W; 5.2A
  • Toaster: 800W; 3.5A
  • Travel kettle: 750W; 3.3A
  • Portable heater: 600W; 2.6A
  • Laptop charger: 391W; 1.7A
  • Fridge: 153W; 0.67A
  • Hair straighteners: 60W; 0.26A
  • Battery trickle charging: From 7W; From 0.03A
  • Water pump: Negligible
  • Lights: Depends on bulbs

Note: these figures are based on appliances in Sammy's caravan

Hook-up in Europe

In the UK, we use a three-pin connector (CEE 17), while in some European countries, such as France and Germany, they use a two-pin connector.

To resolve this, purchase a hook-up adaptor before travelling abroad - you can get these from any UK accessory shop. It might also be possible to hire an adaptor from the campsite shop.

Mains supply on European sites varies considerably, from 3A to 20A. In some countries, such as Germany and Austria, you'll also find metered hook-up units, particularly in ski season.

The hook-up units in some European countries can look a bit like 'spaghetti junction'. Always exercise caution and, if you feel the unit is not safe, find another one or report it to the site reception.

On a recent visit to France, we were quite surprised by the distance from our pitch to the hook-up point. Some campers had to trail their cable across an access road, which isn't ideal, because there is always a risk that the cable could become damaged.

Our 25m cable reached the nearest hook-up point, but only just - we had to pitch close to a border hedge and run our cable through someone else's pitch. To avoid this, it might be worth packing an extra 10m cable, a weatherproof plug and a coupler safebox.

Top tips

  • Never leave spare cable tightly wound on a drum
  • Lay cable flat on the ground to avoid trip hazards
  • Always check how many amps are available from the campsite hook-up point
  • To work out amps, use the calculation watts + volts
  • Check which electrical items you have in your caravan and make a chart of their wattage and consumption
  • Keep a site hook-up adaptor in your van for European travel

Final thoughts

In the winter, we experience shorter daylight hours and colder temperatures, and this tends to put pressure on the electricity supply.

With the lights, heating and TV on, there is a chance you will trip out the hook-up unit.

This is not only inconvenient for other campers, but also for the site wardens.

So avoid that 'walk of shame' and respect the limitations. You wouldn't waste electricity at home, so why do so on site?

IMPORTANT! Electricity is dangerous. Disconnect any mains supply and the 12V battery before starting DIY work. Seek the advice of a professional if in doubt.
Future Publishing Limited, the publisher of Practical Caravan, provides the information in this article in good faith and makes no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. Individuals carrying out the instructions do so at their own risk and must exercise their independent judgement in determining the appropriateness of the advice to their circumstances. Individuals should take appropriate safety precautions and be aware of the risk of electrocution when dealing with electrical products. To the fullest extent permitted by law, neither Future nor its employees or agents shall have any liability in connection with the use of this information.