RVing Basics: Water Hookups

How Tos & Tips

If you’re new to RVing, understanding your RV water system can sound a little intimidating. How do water hookups work? Should you hook up to water each time? And “hookups” is plural – how many are there anyway?

We’ll answer those questions and more in this post on understanding your water hookups, so you can be showering, washing dishes, and flushing in no time!

a camper set up in a forested site with a campfire burning

RVing 101: Water Hookups

If you’re camping at a site that offers full hookups – water and electricity – you’ll want to connect to the city water or other water source. This will send water through your hose from the city water port to your sink, shower, and other devices.

If you’re camping with no hookups – called boondocking or dry camping – you’ll still want to fill up your freshwater tank before you go, so you can use your stored water to operate these appliances while you’re away from civilization. In this case, you’ll also want to conserve water in your RV since you’ll have a finite amount for the length of your trip.

You’re going to want to know how to hook up to a water source, whether that source is continually pumping water into your RV or just filling it up for you to use later!

How Does Water Work in an RV?

You’ll hook your freshwater hose up to the campground’s water source to send water to the different sinks, toilets, and showers in your RV. A water pump ensures that the water gets pumped through your RV to the different appliances where you need it. After that water is used, it goes to one of two tanks, to be held as waste water until you can drain it.

Therefore, your RV has three separate water tanks for three types of water.

The Fresh Water Tank

You have a freshwater tank that holds all your potable (drinkable) water. This is the water that will come out of sinks and showers.

The Gray Water Tank

The gray water tank holds water that goes down all drains in the sinks and shower. This includes water you use while brushing teeth, washing dishes, and showering. It’s dirty, but not as dirty as…

The Black Water Tank

The black water tank holds all the water that has been flushed down toilets in the RV. It’s also sometimes called the septic tank and holds all the waste.

At the end of your camping trip, you’ll want to empty both waste water (gray and black) tanks and your freshwater tank if you don’t anticipate using it again soon. Most campgrounds have a dump station where you can empty tanks.

To empty your tanks, wear rubber gloves. Take your sewer hose and connect it to the sewer hookup. Connect the other end to the black water tank, open the valve, and let the contents drain out. Be sure to close the valve completely when you are done. Next, connect to your gray water tank and let that water drain out (this will help wash away any residue left in the hose from draining the black water). Finally, if you’re draining your fresh water, drain that. Flush and rinse your tanks when you’re finished so they’re clean and ready for the next trip!

a close-up of hands washing dishes

Hooking Up Your Water Lines at a Campground

If you’re staying at a campground that offers hookups, you simply need to connect your hose to their water hookup to get running water in your RV. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Find the freshwater drinking hose for your RV, motorhome, or trailer. If you’re not sure about the quality of the water where you’re camping, you may want to use a water filter, which you should attach during this step. You may also want a water pressure regulator to protect your water line from too much pressure. Attach your regulator to your hose at this point also.
  2. Screw the other end of the hose into the campground water supply hookup.
  3. Your RV water system has a switch to go between city water and your own RV tank. Be sure it’s set to city water if you’re hooked up. When you’re boondocking, you’ll want that switch to indicate your own tank.
  4. Be sure your RV water pump is on while using water, to ensure that it actually comes out of sinks and showers when you need it.
  5. Also, be sure your hot water heater is turned on.
  6. That’s it! You’re ready for a nice, hot shower after a long day of driving and setting up camp!

a close up of a shower head spraying water

Tips for Conserving Water in Your RV

You’ll want to be conservative with your water use while RVing, especially if you’re relying on just your freshwater tank while boondocking. If you do run out, of course you can always break camp, find a water source, and refill but it’s much easier to conserve your water than to do that! Here are a few tips for saving water in an RV:

Cut down on showers and limit times

You don’t need to shower every day – you’re camping! Toss your hair in a ponytail, add an extra swipe of deodorant (or get deodorizing wipes), and take fewer showers during your trip. When you do shower, turn off the water while shampooing your hair or soaping up, then turn it back on to rinse clean.

Turn off sinks when not needed

When you’re brushing teeth, turn the water off while actually brushing and turn it on just to rinse. When washing hands, keep the water off while you lather your hands. We tend to leave the water on while doing many small tasks at the sink and you can save a lot by turning it off!

Bring along drinking water

Bring jugs of drinking water to drink instead of using water from the sink.

Limit dishes

Make sure everyone in your party is using the same drinking glass for water all day long instead of getting new ones and making more dishes to wash. Also, consider what you’ll be eating. Can you grill or plan one-pot meals to cut down on dishes?

Install water-saving appliances

Check your motorhome to see if your shower and toilet save water. If you plan to do a lot of dry camping, it may be a good investment to get the latest in water-saving appliances (and it’s eco-friendly of you, too!).

Limit toilet flushing

Only flush if you must. You can also save gray water from dishes, by draining pasta, washing hands, and more and use that to flush rather than using fresh water from the tank.

Although it can sound daunting to understand all the different hookups in an RV if you’ve never used one, it’s easy to master hooking your RV up to water and power at a campground. Also, thankfully the RV community is full of helpful, experienced people who are almost always willing to lend a hand to a new camper! Don’t hesitate to ask a campground host, or a neighboring camper to help if you have trouble with your hookups. Check out this companion article on how to use water in your RV for more tips on using your water while camping.

Happy camping!