30 Amp vs 50 Amp: What’s the Difference?


Tucker Ballister

Favorite Trip

5 Months Solo on the Road

Home Base

Hendersonville, NC

Favorite RV

2008 Fleetwood Bounder

About Contributor

Tucker Ballister is our Technical Content Writer. He’s a lover of the open road and the proud owner of a 2021 Sunlite Classic travel trailer (his 3rd RV to date). Check out more of his RV adventures, gear reviews, and outdoor advice at thebackpackguide.com.

What’s the difference between 30 and 50-amp service?

Whether you’re new to RVing or already intend to upgrade from a 30-amp to a 50-amp RV, knowing the technical differences between these RV electrical systems informs your decision on which to get and how to adequately protect and utilize electricity in your RV. 

Understanding Electrical Terminology

CWTI Instructor explaining electrical principles on whiteboard
Photo by Camping World

Here are a few key definitions that help you understand the different electrical terms utilized in this article, as well as our other resources for RV electrical systems

  • Amperes (current): The quantity of electrons that flows through a conductor – aka, the amount of current flow.
  • Wattage (watts): A measure of electrical power equal to one ampere under the pressure of one volt.
  • Voltage (volts): The electrical pressure or difference felt between two points in a circuit – aka, the force that causes electrons to flow due to a difference of potential.
  • Resistance (ohms): Opposition to electrical movement. Less resistance = more electron flow; more resistance = less electron flow.
  • Hot Wire: Carries the current from the power source to the outlet.
  • Neutral Wire: Carries used electricity from the load back to the power source.
  • Ground Wire: A safety measure that provides a lower resistance pathway to ground than the human body, reducing the risk of severity of electrical shock.

What is 30 Amp versus 50 Amp Service?

Your RV’s amp service— 30 amp or 50 amp — tells you how much current flow your RV is built for. Exceeding that current flow will cause a tripped breaker or blown fuse. 30 amp RVs are built to consume up to 30 amps of current flow, and 50 amp RVs are built to consume up to 50 amps.

The Key Differences: 30 Amp versus 50 Amp

RVs with lower load requirements generally utilize 30 amp service. 50 amp service is more common on larger RVs with higher load requirements, as the plug supplies two separate 50 amp, 120-volt feeds. 

For comparison’s sake, most residential homes are built with a 200 amp electrical service. This may be higher based on the size of the home and its load requirements.

Here are the major ways these two RV electrical systems differ: 

  • The Plugs: 30 amp service requires a three-pronged plug versus 50 amp service requiring a four-pronged plug.
    • 30 Amp Plug: a 120-volt hot wire, a neutral, and a ground.
    • 50 Amp Plug: two 120-volt hot wires, a neutral and a ground.
  • The Maximum Wattage: 30 amp service supplies up to 3,600 watts versus 50 amp service providing up to 12,000 watts. 
  • The Number of Outlets: 30 amp RVs generally have fewer outlets than 50 amp RVs.
  • The Breaker Panel: 30 amp RVs have a single row of breakers. 50 amp RVs have a split breaker panel, allowing heavy amp draw components to be split between the two sides of the panel. 

Technician Tip: Note that the main breaker set in a 50 amp coach is not interconnected, so it provides 120-volts AC, not 240-volts AC. However, they share a trip bar so that they trip together and reset together. Should the user exceed 50 amps or 6,000 watts on one side, both sides will trip even if there is little to no load on the other side. The result is less than the anticipated 12,000-watt capacity. Users must be cognizant of how the load center is balanced in order to manage it properly. This balance may be altered by the certified technicians at Camping World to better suit the individual user’s needs.

Average Amp Draw of Key RV Appliances

Technicians testing electrical current flow behind RV refrigerator
Photo by Camping World

An important principle to understand when you’re new to RVing is the average amp draw of your large and small RV appliances. In most cases, you should avoid powering on all appliances simultaneously, as this is likely to overload one or more circuits, causing a breaker to trip or fuse to blow. 

Here is the average amp draws for your main RV appliances: 

  • Air Conditioner: ~15 amps
  • Electric Heating Element for Water Heater: ~10 amps
  • Microwave: ~10 amps
  • Refrigerator: ~5 amps

Other appliances that draw amperage include televisions, space heaters, coffee makers, electric fireplaces, hair dryers, onboard converters, and more. Items with heating elements — hair dryers, curling irons, coffee makers, electric skillets, etc. — will consume large amounts of power and may require shutting something else off in order to operate them safely.

When you add these amperages, you can see how quickly you approach a 30 amp RV’s electrical threshold. This is why managing your power consumption is so important to avoid overloading a circuit.

30 Amp vs 50 Amp Service and Generator Use

If your RV has an onboard generator, or you’re using a portable generator, do the math to understand how much amperage it’s rated for. When running your RV’s appliances on the generator, you may not be able to consume as much amperage as when connected to a power pedestal. 

For example, let’s say your 50 amp RV has a 5,500-watt generator. At 120 volts, that generator supplies up to 45.83 amps (5500 watts / 120 volts = 45.83 amps). This is critical to remember when boondocking or running your generator between campground stays.

30 Amp vs 50 Amp Electrical Adapters

RV electrical adapters hanging in Camping World retail store
Photo by Camping World

It’s important to know that compatible electrical adapters allow you to plug a 30 amp RV into a 50 amp pedestal and vice versa. There are also adapters for plugging a 30 amp RV into a 120-volt AC receptacle, but there are limitations. 

Here are the important takeaways: 

  • A 30 amp RV won’t receive more than the 3,600 watts it’s designed for, even when using an adapter to connect to a 50 amp plug.
  • A 50 amp RV will be limited to 3,600 watts when using an adapter to connect to a 30 amp service.
  • A 30 amp RV will be limited to 2,400 watts when using an adapter to connect to a 20 amp 120-volt AC outlet.
  • A 30 amp RV will be limited to 1,800 watts when using an adapter to connect to a 15 amp 120-volt AC outlet.

Explore our full selection of electrical adapters to find the right choice for your RV.

30 Amp vs 50 Amp Surge Protectors

Whether your RV has 30 amp or 50 amp service, you’ll need a surge protector designed for that level of service. This device prevents electrical surges from damaging your RV’s electrical system and appliances. 

Learn more about RV surge protectors and how to choose the right one for your RV.

Access to reliable electricity is a major reason why tent campers call RVing “glamping.” But there’s much to learn about RV electrical systems when you’re new to them. Here are a few more resources: 

Do you have any questions about 30 amp or 50 amp electrical service? Let us know in the comments below.

  • Comment (4)
  • Ron & Anna Hartsel says:

    We are new to RVing. We have a 2005 Holiday Rambler Ambassador. It is a 50amp MH. I am trying to understand the whole 30/50 amp usage. When I have been connected to 30 amp the load meter (Intellilec) displays the amps, but when using 50 amps it doesn’t. Is there something wrong?

    • Hi Ron & Anna!

      I ran your question by our technical service team and here’s their response:

      This system looks at the sine waves of the 120VAC power to compare them for phase rotation. Basically, there are two lines of 120VAC in a 50 amp system and one line of 120VAC in a 30 amp system. The Intellitec system will examine the 60Hz frequencies and if there is a single sine wave, it assumes you are on 30 amps, if it sees a double wave, it assumes you are on 50 amps (the precise frequencies are never identical, i.e., 59.9Hz and 60.1Hz). The system will monitor the amp loads when you are operating the coach and it can switch off individual circuits to keep you under the maximum capacity of what you are connected to. It also memorizes how many amps it saved shutting off an individual circuit and will turn it back on when that amount of surplus is regained. It only displays the amp draw for 20 and 30 amp systems and the generator. When on 50, it doesn’t feel it is necessary to provide a constant display of load. Bottom line, there is nothing wrong with their equipment.

      I hope that helps, but please let us know if you have any follow up questions!

  • Lynn says:

    So if my air& fridge are pulling 20 amps plus TV,fan& occasional microwave it wouldn’t be safe for me to add a mini fridge running full time?

    • Hi Lynn,

      You’ll need to add together the amp load for each appliance you wish to run simultaneously and make this determination. If you know the air and fridge are pulling 20 amps, you MUST know how much the other appliances they named are pulling and don’t simply guess. If the total comes to 25 amps and the mini fridge pulls 8 amps, a 30 amp coach would fail, but a 50 amp coach would be ok.

      Let us know if you have any other questions!

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