How to Use A Portable Generator Safely while Boondocking

portable generator safety checklist

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A generator is the most reliable source of power when it comes to RVing off the grid. Unlike solar panels, a generator can begin producing power irrespective of the time and weather.

However, knowing how to use a generator properly is important. Because a generator uses flammable fuel to produce electricity and toxic exhaust gases. This raises safety concerns when using a generator that can have devastating consequences.

So, how to use a portable generator safely when boondocking?

Here is the checklist to help make using a portable generator safer.

  1. Never buy a cheap generator
  2. Carbon monoxide can kill you in minutes
  3. Calculate your total power needs accurately
  4. Refuel a running generator is dangerous
  5. Avoid running the unit in wet conditions
  6. Ground your generator
  7. Use a good quality power cord
  8. Store your generator properly
  9. Your generator should be far from your RV
  10. Turn on and shut down properly
  11. Frequent inspection and maintenance are the keys
  12. Secure your generator to prevent theft
  13. Voltage fluctuations can damage your appliances

The key to using a portable generator safely is to know what to do and what not to do when operating the unit. Most of these safety tips will apply irrespective of the type of generator you’re using to power your RV.

13 Tips for Using a Portable Generator Safely

Portable generators are the most reliable tool to generate power off the grid. They are simple to use and can be operated by the most novice.

However, these wonderful machines can turn on you if you don’t follow the safety precautions when using them. In worse cases, fire and death are inevitable.

But, don’t worry, as these 13 tips will give you the do’s and don’ts when running a portable generator so you can spend more time camping and less worrying.

1. Never Buy a Cheap Generator

Generally, the price of a product and its warranty period is the direct indicators of its quality. So, the higher the price, the better is its quality.

This is especially important in the case of a generator as a generator is a hazardous equipment. A generator uses flammable fuel to produce electricity, and both can harm you.

Cheap generators use low-quality parts, which can fault at any time, increasing the safety concerts for both the unit and yourself. With cheaply built units, comes the increased risk of parts failing, fire, and electrocution.

Therefore, never buy a cheap, non-branded generator even if you’re on a tight budget, as this small save in money may cost you your life. Get a generator from a branded manufacturer that offers a longer warranty.
In terms of price, get the most expensive unit you can afford. Here you’ll find my recommendations of a few gas-run portable generators and a few dual-fuel generators.

2. Carbon Monoxide is a Silent Killer

Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas that can kill you in a matter of minutes. Its colorless and odorless properties make it a silent killer.

Irrespective of the size, all portable generators produce CO along with other toxic gases. The most common symptoms of CO poisoning are dizziness, headache, vomiting, confusion, and weakness. Get fresh air if you’re affected.

To prevent CO poisoning, run your generator with all doors and windows of your RV closed. Moreover, place your generator at least 10-15 feet away from your camper.

Install multiple battery-operated CO detectors around your RV. A carbon monoxide detector is the most affordable insurance that you can buy to save you and your family from carbon monoxide poisoning.

3. Get the Right Size Generator

Calculating your RVs total power needs accurately is an important aspect to consider when buying a new generator. Failing to calculate your total power needs will result in a generator that is either underpowered or overpowered for your RV.

An underpowered generator will not meet your RV power demands. It will overload the generator while creating all sorts of problems including overheating to increasing the fuel consumption.

On the other hand, an overpowered generator will be a waste in every possible way. It will be heavy, consume more fuel, produce more power, and be louder.

Instead, you need to calculate your total power needs and add 20% to that to add a buffer space to find out the right size generator for your RV.

4. Never Refuel a Running Generator

Refueling a generator is as simple as pouring the gas into the fuel tank from a fuel can. But, this simple task can quickly turn into a catastrophe if you don’t follow the correct refueling procedure.

Never refuel a portable generator that is running or hot. Trying to refuel a running generator increases fire hazards as gasoline spills can lead to an uncontrollable fire or explosion if they come into contact with the hot engine or exhaust.

Before refueling, turn off the generator and let it cool down for 10-15 minutes. Wipe off any spilled fuel and let it air dry before starting back the generator.

5. Avoid Operating a Generator in Wet Condition

Generators and wet conditions don’t mix well. Because generators produce electricity and water is a good conductor of electricity, it increases the hazards of electric shocks or, worse, electrocution.

It can hurt or kill you, your family, or the campers around you if the current flows through the wet ground. Moreover, it can short out the electrical circuits on the generator, causing a big fire.

Though most modern generators can handle light showers, they won’t survive heavy monsoons. However, you need to follow the correct safety procedure if you want to run the generator while it is raining or snowing.

6. Ground your Generator

Grounding your portable generator before using is a safety tip that many fail to follow when camping. It can help protect your generator and the appliances connected to it from damage.

An electrical grounding or earthing simply means making a way for faulty electricity to reach the earth via a cable. Grounding can keep you safe from electrocution and your appliances from voltage spikes.

However, whether you need to ground your portable generator when camping or not will depend on how you plan to use it. Make sure to follow proper guidelines to properly ground your portable generator.

7. Use a Heavy-Duty Power Cord

The power cord of an RV is what brings external power be it from a generator or shore to your RV. Using a low-quality extension or power cord can increase the risk of electrocution or fire.

A worn-off or damaged power cord where the copper wire inside is exposed will increase the risk of short circuits and electrocution. It can electrocute the ground if it is wet, increasing the risk for you and other campers around you.

Additionally, cheap power cords are made using low-quality materials, which are known to overheat and melt, causing a fire. 

Most RVs these days use either a 30 amp or a 50 amp electrical system. When buying a power cord, make sure to buy one for the type of RV you have and from a reliable brand.

Though using a 50 amp cord to power a 30 amp RV will not cause any problem, powering a 50 amp with a 30 amp extension will. Using the smaller amperage cord to transfer larger amperage will cause it to overheat and melt which can result in a fire.

8. Store your Generator Properly

Storing your generator and fuel cans properly after a camping trip is an essential part of generator safety. Not following the proper procedures when storing a generator can lead to a world load of problems hiking up the safety concerns.

A generator that is stored with fuel in it can clog up the fuel system which can prevent it from starting and running when you need it. Moreover, ethanol-blended fuels are water-friendly which when stored in the generator for an extended period can rust the internal parts of a generator.

You either need to drain your generator’s fuel tank or add a fuel stabilizer when storing a generator. Additionally, make sure to cover the unit and keep both the generator and fuel cans in a cool and dry place away from any heat source.

9. Place the Generator Far from your RV

The #1 safety concern that comes from running a generator close to your RV comes from CO poisoning. As the generator runs close to your rig, the toxic exhaust fumes enter your RV through any opening it can find.

This is especially dangerous if you place your unit next to an open door or window. To protect yourself and your family from carbon monoxide poisoning, close all doors, windows, and vents when running the generator.

Place your generator on a firm level ground that is at least 10-15 feet away from your rig. Additionally, make sure the exhaust is pointing away from your RV and if possible, towards the direction of the wind. Install multiple battery-operated CO detectors around your rig.

Secondly, the noise produced by a running generator can be disturbing, especially if you try to sleep with one running. Though most camping-style inverter generators are very quiet, this can be an issue with traditional generators.

10. Turn On and Shut Down Properly

Knowing how to start and stop a generator safely is important to prevent damage to the generator.

Before starting a portable generator, remove the RV power cord or any other appliances connected to the unit. Trying to start a generator with a load connected to it can damage the generator.

Check to see how much fuel is in the tank as you don’t want your generator shutting down with a load connected due to insufficient fuel. Top off your fuel tank with the right type of fuel, especially if your generator runs on gas as you cant refuel while the unit is running. Check the oil level and color to verify you have sufficient engine oil and at the right condition.

Now, let’s fire up the unit following the correct procedure.

First, locate the fuel valve and turn it in the ON position. Next, move the choke lever to the CHOKE position and turn the ignition or engine switch to the ON position.

With automatic start generators, push and hold the start switch until the motor starts running. However, with recoil start generators, pull the recoil cable sharply a few times till the unit starts running.

Give the motor a few seconds to run and settle and move the CHOKE to the run position. Now, plug in your appliances one by one.

Once you have finished using your generator, it’s time to shut down the unit. Shutting down your generator is as simple as disconnecting the load, pressing the engine kill switch, and turning off the fuel valve.

11. Frequent Inspection and Maintenance is the Key

When maintained properly, a generator can last you a lifetime without breaking down when you need it the most. Regular maintenance will keep the unit in top working order whole reducing the need for expensive repairs.

Visual inspection can tell you a lot about your little friend’s health. Look for physical damage to the wirings, fuel lines, signs of rust, and oil leaks. Check the engine before starting every day to make sure it is not below the recommended level.

Make sure to purchase a maintenance contract and go for proper servicing at least once or twice every year.

12. Secure your Generator to Prevent Theft

One of the safety concerns that worry many campers when boondocking is generator theft. Camping generators are lightweight and have a good resale value, making them an ideal target.

Your dry camping trip will come to a sudden halt if your little friend grows legs. However, there are many ways to prevent portable theft while boondocking.

13. Voltage Fluctuations can Damage your Appliances

Voltage fluctuations are a serious issue that can damage and kill appliances. This is especially true with sensitive appliances like cell phones, laptops, TVs, and other consumer gadgets.

Though you don’t have to worry about it if you’re using an inverter generator, you need to clean the power if you’re using a conventional generator.

The most convenient way to prevent your appliance from power fluctuation damage is to buy an inverter generator. However, you can clean your generator power by using a surge protector if you don’t want to invest in an inverter generator.

Conclusion

Knowing how to use a portable generator properly will not only extend its life but will also keep it in top working order. They will also ensure the safety of your machine and prevent any mishaps from hurting you and your family.

Make sure to follow the guideline and refer to your generator’s user manual for more details about your specific model.