30 Amp vs 50 Amp – The Surprising Difference

Maybe you have been wondering “What is the difference between a 30 amp vs 50 amp RV electrical service anyway?

But if you are like most people, these electrical terms just get confusing after a while.

Well in this article, I want to help you understand the overall differences. That way you will know what kind of electrical service you need for your own RV.

And you will be better prepared to make the choice between a 30 amp vs 50 amp RV.

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Table of Contents

What Does 30 Amp VS 50 Amp Mean?

Probably the best way to help explain these RV electrical terms is to use the illustration of a water hose.

All water hoses conduct water. But some hoses are bigger than others and therefore can conduct more water.

Think of the difference between a regular garden hose and a fire hose. Obviously the fire hose has much greater potential for moving water through it at one time.

And to get water to go through the hose you need some water pressure behind it. The more pressure behind the water, the faster the water goes through the hose.

But the size of the hose determines how much water eventually comes out at the hose end.

Now using that illustration think of the volts as the water pressure. Then think of the amps as the size of the water hose.

The volts that we plug into at an RV campground is supposed to be 120 volts at all times.

So how do we get more usable electricity for our RVs? We have to use an RV electrical wiring system that can carry more electricity.

In other words, we need to make the hose bigger somehow. And how do we accomplish that?

A 30 Amp RV Outlet – How Much Electricity?

First of all, a 30 amp RV plug has 3 wires, 1 – 120 volt wire, 1 neutral wire, and 1 ground wire.

What does a 30 amp RV plug look like?
What does a 30 amp RV plug look like? Here it is!

Now lets use an electrical formula that says that if you multiply volts times amps it will tell you how much total power (or watts) can be consumed.

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This means that if we have 120 volts and 30 amps, we multiply them and get a total of 3600 usable watts of power.

3600 watts of power

This is the maximum amount of power that 30 amp RV outlets can produce safely at one time.

30 amp vs 50 amp - this is a 30 amp RV receptacle
A 30 amp RV plug has 1 – 120 volt hot wire, 1 neutral wire and 1 ground wire rated for 30 amps

So what can we run on 3600 watts of power? Usually most 30 amp RVs have 1 air conditioner, a microwave, a television and a refrigerator.

These are the main power hungry devices. But they also have several AC wall receptacles for use of other electrical devices.

But if you use too much power at one time by running too many power hungry devices, the system will be overloaded.

And then it will shut down as a safety feature. This means that the main circuit breaker trips to prevent overheating the RV wiring. And potentially causing a fire.

If you turn off some of the power hungry devices and turn the circuit breaker back on, you will usually be fine.

As long as your power consumption is within the 3600 watts of power that 30 amp outlets can supply.

So how do we get more power into an RV for more devices?

A 50 Amp RV Outlet – How Much More Power?

The best way to increase usable power for an RV is to buy an RV that is set up for 50 amps of power instead.

At face value, it sounds like an RV 50 amp receptacle has just 20 amps more power for use. But it actually has so much more. And here’s why!

An RV 50 amp receptacle plug has 2 – 120 volt wires, 1 – neutral wire, and 1 – ground wire.

So that means that they did more than just increase the size of the one 120 volt wire of a 30 amp R V plug.

Instead, they included two 120 volt wires and increased the capacity of each wire at the same time.

12,000 watts of power

So lets use our formula for power consumption again. Now we have 120 volts times 2 lines which equals 240 total volts.

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Then we multiply that by the 50 amps capacity of each line and we have a total of 12,000 watts.

This is the amount of power that can be safely consumed by a 50 amp RV electrical system at one time.

So what does a 50 amp plug look like? Here is a photo of one and you can see the two 120 volt lines in the center of it.

What does a 50 amp RV plug look like? This photo show you!
What does a 50 amp RV plug look like? Here it is!

Now lets look at a 50 amp outlet that the plug goes into. You can see two of them at the bottom of this picture.

30 amp vs 50 amp - this is a 50 amp rv receptacle
A 50 amp RV plug has 2 – 120 volt hot wires, 1 neutral wire and 1 ground wire rated at 50 amps

What Does It All Mean For You?

So what we have learned is that a 30 amp RV can safely consume 3600 watts of power at one time.

But a 50 amp RV can safely consume 12,000 watts of power simultaneously. WOW! That is a big difference.

This means that a 50 amp RV can easily run more power hungry devices at the same time.

For instance, 2 or more air conditioners. A television. A washer/dryer. Residential appliances, including refrigerators. As well as the microwave and wall receptacles for other devices.

So what does all of this mean for you?

Well, if you buy an RV with 50 amp RV wiring, expect to pay more simply because the heavier RV wiring costs more. But do you really need all of that power?

It probably depends on your chosen lifestyle. Do you feel the need for a 40 foot diesel pusher? Or a huge fifth wheel? Or a toy hauler?

Then you probably will also need the 50 amp RV wiring that often goes with those kind of RVs.

But what if you are happy with a smaller RV, perhaps a Class B or C, or a travel trailer?

Most of these RVs have only one air conditioner which is one of the major power consumers.

And then 30 amps of power should be just fine for your needs. And you can save the extra expense of the more robust RV wiring.

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Either choice is fine. Just realize the limits of each RV electrical system, and work within those limits.

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Can You Plug A 50 Amp RV Into A 30 Amp RV Outlet?

So what happens if you have a 50 amp RV, but your campsite only has a 30 amp RV outlet? Is it even possible to plug in to the electric service in this case?

This is not as common a scenario these days as it has been in the past. But it does still happen. So you should be prepared for it.

As we discussed above, a 50 amp RV can consume 12,000 watts of simultaneous power.

But a 30 amp RV receptacle can only produce 3600 watts of power safely. So how can you make this situation work?

The good news is that there are 30 amp to 50 amp adapters that can help out here. And it’s really simple to use.

You can view a 30 amp to 50 amp adaptor here

You simply insert your 50 amp plug into the female end of the adapter. And you insert the 30 amp male end of the adapter into the 30 amp plug.

You will have power in your RV at this point. But only 3600 watts worth at one time.

So just be careful with your power usage and you should be fine. In most cases only running one air conditioning unit will be possible.

And just keep the usage of other high wattage devices like hair dryers and microwaves to a minimum.

Can You Plug A 30 Amp RV Into A 50 Amp Plug?

OK, so we covered the possibility of plugging a 50 amp RV into a 30 amp RV outlet. But can we plug a 30 amp RV into a 50 amp RV outlet?

Let’s review the power difference again. The 30 amp RV can only safely handle 3600 watts of power at one time. Otherwise it will trip a breaker in the main RV electrical panel.

But the 50 amp RV outlet is capable of producing 12,000 watts of power at one time safely.

So are there adapters for plugging a 30 amp RV into a 50 amp RV receptacle?

Yes, there are. And they work very well and are simple to use as well.

You can view a 50 amp to 30 amp RV adapter here

Essentially, the adapter renders one of the 120 volt lines in the 50 amp plug useless. So no power is going through it.

The other line is still feeding power to the RV. It has a full capacity of 50 amps, but a 30 amp RV should never pull that much power. At least not without tripping the breaker in the RV itself.

Also, in this case, there is no change needed in the use of power within the RV either. There is still only 30 amps coming into the RV, so all electrical components should function normally.

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A failsafe solution to the amperage challenge

Now some people insist that there could be a danger of possible overload in this scenario. They argue this is the case since the 30 amp RV is still plugged into a 50 amp line.

There are opinions on both sides online. And if you want to be absolutely safe, just buy a 30 amp EMS surge protector that I will discuss below.

In that case you could use the 50 amp to 30 amp adapter and the 30 amp EMS surge protector together. And the surge protector would shut off the power to the RV is anything over 30 amps is detected.

It’s your call, but many RVers use the 50 amp to 30 amp adapters without any issue at all.

Don’t Forget To Protect Your RV Wiring

Regardless of whether you have a 30 amp RV or a 50 amp RV, you will need electrical protection.

That’s because power surges, spikes, and even low voltage can harm your RV’s electrical wiring. And also any sensitive and expensive equipment that you are using at that time.

So it makes sense to protect your RV and electronics from these dangers. After all, they can affect either a 30 amp or a 50 amp RV equally.

My recommendation is to choose an RV surge protector with EMS (electrical management system) capabilities.

There are portable units that will monitor your electrical connection at all times. And if a dangerous electrical event begins to happen, they shut off the electricity immediately.

Then as they monitor the situation further, they will turn the power back on when it is safe to do so.

Here are some RV surge protectors I can recommend for 30 amp and 50 amp RVs:

30 Amp Surge Protector with EMS

50 Amp Surge Protector with EMS

Disclosure: Please note this post may contain affiliate links. This means – at no additional cost to you – I earn a commission if you make a purchase using our affiliate links. I only link to products and companies I use and feel comfortable recommending. The income goes toward supporting the free content on this website

Conclusion

After reading this article, you should understand more about how RV wiring works.

No doubt the information was a little surprising too. For instance, to find out what a large power difference there is in a 30 amp vs 50 amp comparison.

Most RVers are completely unaware of how their RV electrical wiring actually works. So you are now well ahead of the game on this subject.

Happy and safe travels my friends!

4 thoughts on “30 Amp vs 50 Amp – The Surprising Difference”

  1. Great job on the explanation!! Very easy to comprehend. And thanks for including the photos.

    1. Thanks for the nice comment Sandy. I’m glad you enjoyed the article. 🙂

  2. Rosy Newlun says:

    Ahhh. Sure feels good to understand a tiny bit of electrical information. I’ve always avoided it because my husband is not the best when it comes to explaining things. As soon as he tries to start talking about it, a nap takes over my brain.
    We’ve owned lots of RVs during our marriage, but not for the last 20 yrs or so. It helps to learn what we can before we make another purchase. I really appreciate your explaining this in terms of water and hoses. Man, it makes so much for sense for me! Thank you!!!

    1. Thanks so much Rosy. I’m very happy to hear that the explanation in this article was easily understood. That’s the result that I was shooting for. Thanks for leaving such a nice comment!

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