Wecome To RVs and OHVs

This blog is all about RVs (recreational vehicles) and OHVs (Off Highway Vehicles), camping, sailing, and survival
and how they work together to provide wholesome family fun and great learning opportunities.
Many posts are intended to familiarize novice campers and RVers with RV systems and basic camping and survival
skills. But even experienced RVers and campers will enjoy the anecdotes and may even benefit from a new
perspective. Comments, questions, and suggestions are encouraged. The organization is pretty much by date of publication. Please use the SEARCH option below to find what you are looking for.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Using Electronic Devices When Camping

Wait a minute!  Aren't camping and other outdoor activities a way to escape our dependence on electronic devices?  Absolutely!  Yet there may be times, if we are carefully selective, when electronic devices may actually enhance our fun.  Teenagers today are highly connected to their electronic devices and would likely consider total disconnection to be cruel and unusual punishment.  While learning to live without them has its character-building advantages, being able to accommodate their occasional wants and needs may make a trip more enjoyable for everyone.

Our modern world is highly dependent on electronic devices.  We rely on our computers, cell phones, GPSs and (at least for teens) hand-held video games.  While we often go camping to escape some of the electronic tethers that tend to control our lives,  there are also times we will want or even need to use them.  All of these are marvelous inventions that provide wonderful capabilities, but they also require support, most importantly power and often cell tower or Internet access.  Both electrical power and cell tower or Internet access are often scarce in a camping environment.  If you are car camping or in an RV you should have ready access to 12-volt battery power.  Many RVs also have 120-volt generators. Inverters can convert 12 volt DC power from the battery in your car or RV to 120 volt power to run electronic gadgets.  If you take your portable devices with you out on the trails, you may need to bring along some kind of auxiliary battery or charger to recharge them.  Solar chargers are especially well-suited for camping and other off road endeavors.

One of the most useful devices for campers is a GPS system or a cell phone with GPS.  Being able to get turn-by-turn directions to where you’re going saves a lot of unintended detours and can avoid a lot of bad roads, traffic, and construction.  Some GPS systems are even appropriate for off-road use, tracking your exact route and allowing you to reverse the route to get back to camp should you get disoriented or encounter poor visibility that would prevent you from using landmarks to find your way back.   The digital camera on most modern cell phones can be an invaluable aid if you have to make repairs in the field.  Take a picture of things BEFORE you take them apart so you have a good reference for how they go back together.

CB radios and FMRS/GMRS walkie talkies can provide excellent short-range communications between vehicles in a convoy or between riders or hikers out on a trail.   FMRS radios do not require a license.  GMRS radios have some higher output channels that give you greater range but do require an FCC license.  Some of the FMRS/GMRS channels overlap CB channels so you can use your CB base station in camp to monitor communications among members of your group out on the trail. That might be particularly important if someone needs assistance, such as mechanical problems or a medical emergency.  HAM radios can give you greater range, especially if you can make use of  "repeaters" operated by Ham Radio Clubs or other organizations in the area.  HAM signals sometimes take advantage of "skip" to reach far distant stations.  That means you might be able to reach someone on the other side of the country but not someone behind the next hill!

We have successfully used inexpensive walkie-talkies to communicate between riders on dirt bike rides.  We just pack the radios in a pocket of the Cambelbak hydration packs we're already wearing.  Headsets with microphones and either voice activated or push-to-talk switches let use use them without taking them out or even removing our helmets.  There are also really nice helmet mounted communication systems that work very well but they tend to be a bit more expensive than common walkie-talkies, like about 10 times the cost!
For many years portable radios have provided information and entertainment in campgrounds and on the trail.  Portable cassette and CD players provide even more options.  Just make sure you bring extra batteries or have a way to recharge your equipment.  Solar chargers are especially appealing to tent campers but even RVers can put them to good use.   They can be used to obtain important weather reports that might affect your outing as well as providing entertainment and background music for some activities.

Laptops, tablets, and smart phones give us highly portable computer power we can use almost anywhere we go.  If you happen to be within range of a cell tower, you may even be able to access the Internet from your phone or tablet.  That can be helpful if you need help with an emergency repair or just to look up some bit of information relevant to your situation.  And, if you really need an electronic "fix" for your gaming or movie addiction, you might be able to accommodate even that.

Portable electronic devices depend on reliable battery power.  Hand-held CBs and walkie talkies may have rechargeable or replaceable batteries.  You can usually remove rechargeable battery packs and replace them with ordinary batteries in a  pinch.  Always carry a good supply of replacement batteries for all your hand-held devices.  Cell phones and GPSs usually have only rechargeable batteries so you will need a way to recharge them in camp.  Many such devices these days use a USB charge cable that can be connected to a computer or 12-volt or 120-volt charger.  12-volt chargers plug into the cigarette lighter or 12-volt power receptacle on your vehicle or battery power pack.  You can purchase pocket-sized auxiliary battery packs with USB connectors to recharge most GPSs, cell phones, etc if you need or want to carry extra power with you out on the trail.  In camp you can use the 12-volt charger plugged into your vehicle.  We have noticed that our cell phones charge faster using the 120-volt wall charger than with the 12-volt car charger so we usually use a small inverter plugged into the cigarette lighter to power the wall charger to charge our portable devices.   One advantage to the car chargers are that they are fairly inexpensive.  You can even get them at Dollar Tree, along with standard sync cables for Android phones (Lighting cables for iPhones are harder to find and more expensive).  Be aware that although the car chargers may look the same they may not always act the same and deliver the same performance as the OEM chargers from your phone manufacturer.  In some cases, using an unapproved charger may even void your warranty!  However, in my experience, the only problems I have encountered have more to do with reliability and longevity and a longer charging time.  I have also discovered that all 12-volt chargers usually take longer to charge my phone than a wall charger.  So we usually use a small inverter that plugs into the cigarette lighter in the car and then run the wall charger off that instead of using a 12-volt charger. 

Using high-quality replaceable batteries will usually give you the best performance and they will usually last longer than cheaper batteries.  Alkaline batteries are usually better than standard batteries and newer lithium ion batteries can deliver even better performance, but in each case you pay for what you get.  Because my backup batteries often sit around in my camp kit or motorhome for some time before getting used I tend to avoid stocking up on high priced batteries that may be dead by the time I need them.  Instead, I stock up on inexpensive batteries at Dollar Tree or get them on coupon sales at Harbor Freight so I always have plenty on hand.

Portable power packs (rechargeable batteries) can be used to power or recharge cell phones and other small hand-held devices on the go.  A attractive alternative that provides free power (once you pay for the charger!) is a solar battery charger.  These use solar panels to charge your batteries using only sunlight.  The only problems I’ve found with them are that 1) they tend to be a little pricey and 2) the are usually somewhat awkward to carry conveniently when hiking or trail riding.  However, both the cost and the effort to bring them along may be well worth it to be able to recharge your devices in remote areas.  Portable solar chargers that are small enough to be carried with you are becoming fairly affordable and can mean the difference between using your cell phone or simply cursing it!

Because our excursions away from camp are usually measured in hours, not days, I don’t usually carry spare batteries with me out on the trail.  I just check them before each outing and replace any that are getting low before we take off.  If you are going to be back-packing or engaging in some other activity where you will be away from your base camp for more than a few hours you may want to carry spare batteries for your flashlights, lanterns, and your electronic devices.  Solar LED lanterns are becoming a viable option for remote camping.  Some even have USB  ports to charge your cell phones or other small electronic devices.  They are kind of the best of both worlds:  efficient portable light that can be recharged for free anywhere you have sunlight.  I wouldn’t recommend them for spelunking or cave diving!   Just remember to take them out of your tent and put them out in the sun every day to recharge.  LEDs low power demand means you get the most out of each charge.  I've seen an LED lantern still bright for months after being left on in the barn all night.  Do that with an ordinary incandescent type light and the battery would have been long dead way before morning!

While RV camping with 12 volt battery banks and 120 volt generators lends itself to the use of just about all the electronic (and electric) gadgets you have at home, tent campers may be able to avail themselves of many electronic opportunities.  With lots of battery powered devices and with modern portable generators now being smaller, quieter, and more affordable, even tent campers can enjoy a wide range of modern conveniences in camp.

Solar chargers, hand cranked chargers, and battery packs are available to recharge cell phones and other small USB devices out on the trail.  You will see USB charging ports built in to some solar lanterns and even propane powered stove!

One more important aspect for using electronic devices when camping:  be thoughtful and courteous to your fellow campers.  Just because you like the sound turned up until you can feel the bass doing CPR on your chest doesn't mean the people around you will appreciate it!  Radios, CD players, and TVs are generally the worst offenders but sometimes people are lax about using noisy power tools around camp too, so think about where you are and what time it is and who or what other activities your use of electronic or electric devices is going to impact.

Stay connected!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Water Sports

Being in and around water is a good way to stay cool on a hot summer day.  That is one reason many campers and RVers seek out destinations near the ocean, lakes, or streams.  Such locations are often already cooler than surrounding hot, dry areas, but they also usually offer the opportunity for recreational pursuits in the water where you can really cool off while having fun.   Besides that, places with water are usually prettier.

We recently acquired a 24’ sailboat.  I have always had an interest in sailing and had done a little in my younger days.  I was pleasantly surprised to see how much of what I’ve learned about RVs and camping could be applied to our new recreational opportunity.   Many of the storage, equipment, and conservation aspects of RVing translate directly to boating.  However, there are also significant differences you will need to pay attention to if you are a boater.  

Boats and water sports have their own unique safety requirements.  Some are not only logical and meaningful needs, but are also legal requirements.  There is specific safety equipment you must carry on a boat. Not only is for your safety and the safety of your passengers, but for the safety of other boaters. Failing to have it onboard could be disastrous if you encounter a situation where it is needed and can be very inconvenient and quite expensive if you happen to be inspected by law enforcement.  Should you have an accident and not have the legally required equipment you could face significant liability issues.

Personal and equipment safety are the first things that come to my mind.  Every person on a boat should wear a personal flotation device (life jacket).  In almost all jurisdictions it is required by law, especially for children. But it is always a good idea for adults to wear their life jackets at all times when on the water.  You just never know when something might happen and you end up unexpectedly in the drink!  It doesn’t matter how good a swimmer you are, if you are unconscious or injured, you’re going to need all the help you can get.  Life jackets should be of a proper size for each person and the straps should be adjusted so they fit comfortably but correctly so they will keep even an unconscious person’s face out of the water.  Regulations usually require you to have a life jacket on board for every passenger.  Ironically, regulations don't always require those passengers to wear the life jackets all the time but it is prudent to do so.  If, for any reason, you choose not to wear your life jacket, be sure to keep it within reach.   Boats over 16 feet (except kayaks and canoes) are also required to carry at least one throwable flotation device.  An iconic example is a live preserver, but for convenience there are throwable flotation devices that serve as cockpit cushions until needed.  For man overboard rescues you will also need an appropriate length of floating rope.  You don’t have to be able to swim in order to enjoy boating, but it is certainly a VERY good idea to know how.  Sooner or later you will probably fall or get knocked off your boat or the dock -- or on a hot day you might just feel like jumping in!  And even if YOU don’t someone in your party might and you might need to go into the water to help rescue them.

There are several different categories of boats and boating activities.  The main groups are sail boats and power boats.  Power boats may include ski boats, fishing boats, cruisers, and personal watercraft.  Also, a sailboat under auxiliary power is considered to be a power boat and subject to rules and regulations for power boats. Typical activities are cruising, water skiing, wake boarding, fishing, and racing.  No matter what you chose, you will want to make sure you understand the advantages and disadvantages as well as the rules and regulations for what you want to do.  The type of activities you choose will determine the kind of vessel you need to get, what kinds of personal protective equipment you’ll need, and the type and amount of training you will need.  If you are interested in racing you will need far more training and in some cases licensing than you’ll need for recreational cruising.   In most jurisdictions you will need at least a valid driver’s license to operate a power boat.  Usually there is no license needed for sailboats or manually powered craft, like canoes, row boats, and kayaks.   Personal water craft might include surf boards and paddle boards as well as jet skis and seadoos

Boating has its own set of signals you will need to be aware of.  Boats don’t have turn signals or use hand signals like cars.  Audio signals (horns or whistles) are used to communicate the intentions of boats approaching each other on the water and for warnings.  A single short blast (about 1 second or less) indicates “I want to pass you on the port side”; two short blasts means “I want to pass you on the starboard side”.  A hint for remembering the signals is that "port" has only one syllable; starboard has two.  You indicate your recognition and acceptance of the other boats intentions by repeating the signal.  If you don’t understand or you disagree (for example, you have someone in the water or you are aware of some danger on the intended course), reply with five short blasts.  Longer blasts of around 6 seconds every two minutes are used when there is poor visibility such as fog or going around a blind corner.   Power boats use just the long blast; sailboats use the long blast followed by two short ones.  Large boats with air compressors may have air horns like those on semis.  A portable air horn is a handy way to add signalling capability to any boat.  By the way, unpowered boats (canoes, kayaks, row boats, and sailboats) always have the right of way over power boats.  That makes good sense when you think about it:  power boats are lot more maneuverable and it is easier for them to slow, stop, or change direction than for unpowered boats.  Calling boats without motors ‘unpowered’ is kind of a misnomer.  Each has its own source of power, whether it be human or wind.  By the way, remember a sailboat using an auxiliary motor is considered to be a power boat and must follow the rules for power boats.  

Boats are required to have navigation lights when operated at night:  a red light visible from the port (left) side; a green light visible from the starboard (right) side; and a white light visible from the stern (rear).  You’ve probably observed the same kind of navigation lights on airplanes flying overhead at night.  There are specific rules for the angles and distances at which the lights can be seen so navigation lights must be of an approved design.  Fortunately, these days there are inexpensive battery powered LED navigation lights available in case your boat doesn’t have any and you want to use it at night.  If you are anchored at night you may also be required to have an "anchor light".  A sailboat operating under auxiliary power at night may also need a "mooring light".

Boat wiring is often very similar to RV wiring, sometimes having both 12 volt and 120 volt systems.  Some boats may have 24-volt electrical systems.  Marine-grade wire is different from automotive or residential wire.  Marine wire usually has more (and smaller) strands for a given gauge and each copper strand is tinned to avoid corrosion.  I’ve seen the affect of using other types of wire on boats.  Someone had wired the cabin lights with ordinary zip wire (like flat lamp cord).  I’m sure it worked just fine when they installed it and it was cheap and easy to work with, but a few years later when I got the boat it had to be replaced because all the exposed copper connections were badly corroded.  They literally turned to dust when I touched them!  Marine wire is, of course, more expensive, but in the long run it is well worth it, not only for longevity, but for performance and safety.  Corroded connections can impair performance and could easily start a fire!

Just as with RVs and OHVs, tools and onboard supplies and spare parts are needed to keep everything, well “ship shape”.  What you have onboard needs to be customized to the specific needs of you and your vessel.  What you will need will depend mostly on the type of vessel (sail or power boat) and the equipment on board.  For example, a sailboat will need things like sail repair tape and a hand awl for repairing torn sails.  A power boat will probably need a more compete set of hand tools to be able to tend to the motor and drive system.    Some basic electrical tools and supplies will be applicable in most applications (other than canoes and kayaks), but you may need more extensive coverage if your boat is equipped with a lot of electronic equipment, such as depth finders, fish finders, and radio equipment.  However, the most elaborate and complete set of tools and spare parts won’t do you any good if you don’t know how to use them or how to diagnose problems and make appropriate repairs.  It is well worth spending a little time to become familiar with what can go wrong and what you can do about it.  You may find good advise on Web sites for your particular boat, venue, or style of sailing.  You can also learn a lot from fellow boaters.

Long term boat living doesn’t get as much media attention as full time RVing, but it is a viable option and there are many people who do live on their boats.  Even weekend sailors may stay overnight on their boats from time to time.  Sleeping accommodations on large yachts can be as comfortable as a hotel room, but on smaller craft things are going to be a bit restrictive.  The area under the bow of many cabin cruisers and other boats under 30’ serves as a ‘V-berth’ which is usually the main bed.  Shoulder room here is usually very generous, but your feet will be shoved into the point of the bow.  If you and  your bunk mate aren't already friends, you will be by morning -- or bitter enemies!  Other options include convertible dinettes and bunks under the cockpit.  In many cases, such as the V-berth in particular, the headroom is much like that of a truck camper.   You don’t want to sit up suddenly!  Once you become accustomed to the features of your boat you will be able to thoroughly enjoy it.  A modest sized cabin cruiser or sailboat with a cabin can provide a great deal of creature comfort for a weekend on the water.  The cabin will provide protection from sun, wind, and rain, give you a place to prepare and eat meals, and a comfortable place to sleep.  Sleeping on a boat may take a little getting used to.  Most of us haven’t been rocked to sleep since we were infants, but unless the water is unusually calm, there will be some motion.  The rocking can be very soothing, but for some people it causes sea sickness, whether you are trying to sleep or up and about.  You might want to bring along a little Dramamine to treat sea sickness just in case.  Sanitation on boats can be similar to that in land based RVs, sometimes having residential style fixtures.  On smaller boats you are more likely to find only a portable toilet, but that can be quite adequate for weekend needs.  Just don't count on using the facilities during rough weather.  It can be very uncomfortable and very messy!

Personal Watercraft, like Jet Skis and SeaDoos, are as much fun on the water as dirt bikes and ATVs are on the trails.  They are even ridden in a similar manner, straddling the seat and using handlebars for steering.  Again, I can’t over emphasize the need for appropriate personal protective gear.  Same goes for proper training.  Even though they are similar to dirt bikes, ATVs, and snowmobiles, the will behave differently.  Traction for acceleration, braking, and turning is very different on water than on dirt or sand or even snow.  It is annoying when a fellow rider roosts you out on the trails but the wake from other vessels can be a serious hazard for personal water craft, especially the wake from larger vessels moving at high speeds (like a ski boat or a harbor tour boat).  I was once towing a water skier when he was hit by a large wake from a harbor tour boat and it nearly yanked his arm off when the tip of his ski caught in the wake and flipped him over.

Any kind of water based recreation is likely to offer opportunities for cooling down that you won’t get with land based vehicles.  You can usually avail yourself of some kind of access to spray or even submersion to cool down as needed where on land cooling water sources are likely to be few and far between.  However, it also comes with increased potential for sunburn from the rays reflected off the water so you may need to shield yourself from reflections as well as direct sunlight.  You may also need to apply sunblock more frequently, even if you use “waterproof” products.   Sunglasses with good UV rating are a must, not just for comfort and fashion but also to protect your eyes against UV radiation that can literally be blinding.   We all know not to look directly at the Sun, but looking at the reflection on water can be almost as bad.  Because the reflection is so bright you will probably avoid looking at it, but many people tend to ignore the reflected rays until they are already sun burned by them well beyond the comfort level.

Boats don’t leave tracks the way land-based motorized recreation does, but there are still environmental considerations you need to be aware of.  You should never pollute the water.  Avoid spilling fuel or oil, keep your trash in your boat, do not dump trash or sanitary waste into the water.  In some locations that serve as reservoirs for community water supplies, you might find you are not even allowed to put any part of your body in the water.  Boats can be a danger to aquatic life,  You need to watch out for and take action to avoid hitting water fowl and other aquatic animals.  After all, they were here before we were!  There may be areas where boating is restricted or prohibited to protect wildlife; watch for warning signs and buoys.  There will always be speed restrictions near boat ramps, docks and other moorage areas, designated swimming areas and near dams and bridges.  

As we began our journey to become sailors I found many good resources on the Internet.  You will likely find several youtube videos about the kinds of boats, places to go, and types of outings that interest you.  One of the very best resources I have found for sailboaters is stingysailor.com — and its free!  The author gives very practical advice based on real life situations.  Another good, although a little more pricey, resource is practical sailor.com.

You don't have to have a boat to enjoy the cooling sensations of water sports.  Swimming or even wading is a good way to cool off on a hot day AND get some good quality exercise.  Sometimes just being near a lake or stream provides a cooler environment.  Lacking a swimming pool or natural swimming hole, you might fill up a kiddie pool to cool off in.  Or just turn on the sprinklers and run through them like a kid!  When camping you might substitute "Super Soaker" squirt guns for sprinklers.  If you just need a little cooling while relaxing in the shade, try giving yourself a spritz or two from a spray bottle.

Let’s get wet!


Normally we tend to avoid discussions of personal sanitation in polite company, but it can be a vital subject for campers, boaters, and RVers.  For self contained RVs or RVs in developed campgrounds, it is pretty well covered by standard on board features or facilities provided at the campground.  But for remote camping, especially if you are not in a self-contained RV, or on a small boat or tent camping you need alternatives.  Tent campers and backpackers are probably already familiar with how to dig and use latrines in the wilderness so we won't go over that here.  Instead here we will focus on portable toilets known as porta-pottis that can add a great deal of comfort and convenience to your camping experience. in small RVs and boats.  In fact, you might say porta-pottis try to give you the same kind of comfort you are used to at home.  However, the limited amount of water and limited holding tank capacity means you must exercise good rules of conservation to avoid over-filling them during a weekend outing.

A Porta-potti is a handy addition for tent camping and boats and RVs that are not self-contained. They can also be useful if your RV toilet is broken or your holding tank is full.  We have used a porta-potti in our Class A motorhome a few times when we wanted to avoid contaminating clean holding tanks during short uses.  When I talk about porta-pttoes I'm not talking about those big, smelly portable toilets you see at outdoor concerts and sporting events, although they are sometimes called that..  There are small individual portable toilets (Porta-pottis) made especially for camping.  Porta-pottis will be particularly appreciated by the ladies in your group.  They can be used inside a tent or you might set up a shower enclosure somewhere away from your tent to provide privacy.  They vary in size but are typically about 18” square and a little shorter for comfort so they take up little room in your vehicle.  They are designed to be self contained, having a built in water tank for flushing and a holding tank to capture the waste for subsequent disposal,

You will need to monitor the level of waste and empty it long before it gets completely full.  In fact, you will probably want to empty it when it gets about half full so it won’t be so heavy to carry or to lift to empty. They can be emptied into an RV dump station or carefully emptied into a flush toilet.   You may encounter restrictions against dumping them in some vault toilets in remote campgrounds.  A word of caution:  be careful how you carry the holding tank of your porta potti.  The flush handle can get caught on something and release the foul contents prematurely.  If that "something" happens to be your leg you'll have a soaked pant leg and a shoe full of sewage.  Keeping the flush valve on the outside avoids this problem, but you still need to be careful to avoid getting it caught on other obstacles or you'll have a nasty mess to clean up!
You need to use the same kind of chemicals in a porta-potti that you use in RV black water tanks, but because of the small size, you won’t need nearly as much per dose.  Be sure to check the directions on the box, pouch, or bottle to make sure you are using the right amount.  If you use too little,  it won’t work well.  You’ll likely have excess odors and the solids won’t break down.  If you use too much you’re just wasting product — and money.  Higher doses don’t work any better than proper doses and, in some cases, may actually interfere with the intended action.  However, you may need to use more during hot weather.  Most modern chemicals are reasonably environmentally friendly and shouldn’t harm septic systems.  If you will be dumping yours into a septic system (or the vault toilets in a campground) try to use chemicals that say they are OK for septic systems.  Some of the older chemical formulas included formaldehyde, which was definitely not environmentally nor septic friendly.

Chemicals are available in liquid and powdered form.  The powdered stuff may be in a foil pouch or configured as a drop in packet a little large than a golf ball.  The liquid is probably the easiest to measure if you need to used less than a full bottle per dose.   You can probably measure out powdered chemicals as well, but if you use drop in packets about all you can do is control the number of packets you use.  The chemicals are intended to serve two functions:  odor control and liquification of solid wastes including toilet paper, which is one reason you should only use RV friendly toilet paper in porta-pottis and RV toilets.  Want to now if your toilet paper is OK to use?  Put a couple of sheets in a quart jar of water and shake it up.  It if disintegrates quickly as you shake it, it is OK to use.  If it doesn’t it probably won’t break down in your toilet or holding tank.  Try doing the test with a facial tissue and you’ll see the way “bad” toilet paper will fail the test.  Hint:  don't put facial tissues in your RV toilet or porta-potti!  For that matter, don't even use that super nice quilted toilet paper you use at home.  Single ply tissue is best for use in portable and RV toilets.

Porta-pottis are self contained.  They have a fresh water supply tank with a bellows type pump to dispense water into the bowl.  The waste is collected in a separate bottom holding tank.  The two tanks can be separated.  You can carry just the top to a campground faucet to fill or just the bottom to a dump station or toilet to empty it so it isn’t so heavy.  Remember, water weighs 8 lbs per gallon.  A typical porta-potti can easily contain 5 gallons between the two tanks, making  it around 40 lbs when full plus weight of the unit itself.  When carrying the waste tank, be sure to hold it so the bottom of the tank, not the part with the flush valve, is next to your leg.  This will avoid any dripping any left-over liquid from on top of the valve onto you or your clothing.  It also keeps the valve away from your leg  If it is toward your leg you run the risk of bumping it and perhaps releasing a flood of foul waste onto your foot!  Believe me, it will make a big mess and you don’t want a shoe full of sewage!
You may need more than one porta-potti, depending on the size of your group and the room you have to transport them.  My wife and I have found one unit sufficient for the two of us for a weekend on our boat or tent camping.  It would have never been enough when we were camping with our six kids, even if we went the 4 boys out into the bush most of the time!  Since porta-pottis are somewhat bulky you may find it hard to carry them in small car trunks but they fit well in the beds of pickup trucks and in the storage in most SUVs.

Porta-pottis are a convenient and inexpensive solution to sanitation when camping, RVing, or boating and can provide a temporary solution at home during emergencies when the plumbing may be compromised.  They can usually be emptied into any functioning ordinary toilet or can be dumped at RV dump stations.  Always rinse the used holding tank thoroughly and add appropriate chemicals after each use.  To minimize your chances of running out of water, always refill the fresh water tank when you dump the holding tank.

Now, that’s a relief!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Find Hidden Storage in Your RV

No matter how big or luxurious your RV is, you may still need more storage.  There always seems to be more stuff than there are places to put it.   If you have large items, your only option may be to add a roof pod or hitch-mounted trunk -- or get a trailer to haul it.  You may be able to find "hidden" spaces within your RV for smaller items.  

Many RVs have small cavities under or behind existing features.  You have probably already discovered and made use of the space under the dinette cushions or under the sofa or the bed.  But sometimes there are other, less obvious places you might make use of.  I once found a large amount of wasted space under the night stand in one of my RVs.  Why they didn't put a door on it and make it into a cabinet in the first place is beyond me.  I utilized it in a rather unique way.  I wanted a place to carry an air compressor strong enough to handle the big RV tires.  The wasted space I found was big enough to accommodate a 3-gallon "pancake" compressor.  I was able to remove the counter top for the night stand and install the compressor in the space below and made the counter top easily removable so I didn't even have to do any finish carpentry to add a cabinet door.

In most of our RVs I've found it convenient to store my "inside" tool box on the floor behind one of the lounge chairs next to the entry door where it is out of the way and easy to access.  I screwed a piece or two of angel iron to the floor to keep the tool box from sliding around during travel.  I mounted one of those self-contained LED light switches on the wall above it to compensate for the shadow the chair makes from the overhead lights.  The light also provides quick and easy illumination for entering the RV after dark that is more convenient than the original 12 volt light switches.

Some out-of-the-way spots will only be good for storing items you don't need to get to often, but they can give you a way of bringing along some extra things and free up more accessible space for things you need to get to.  Look for space behind drawers that are shorter than the cabinets that house them or for places where the builders may have "squared off" an area for convenience or cosmetic purposes that might have some hidden space inside, like over fender wells.  The odd shapes created by the shape of the original van body on some Class B’s or in the fiberglass front or rear caps of Class A’s sometimes contain cavities you can re-purpose for extra storage.  Make sure your alternations don’t nullify insulating qualities, modify wiring, or interfere with ventilation or create a new path for drafts.
Sometimes the same off-the-shelf cabinets are used in multiple models in an RV line up.   That often results in some unused space around the standard components which you might be able to creatively access for additional storage.

Another way of getting extra storage is to make better use of the space you already have.  I often find the addition of an extra shelf or two inside large cabinets allows me to make much better use of the space and makes using items in those cabinets a lot easier.  Trays  or boxes are another good way to have better access to stuff in cabinets.

My wife came up with an ingenious way of carrying files and other paperwork we sometimes need access to without giving up any precious cabinet space.  She slips the file folders behind the backrests on the dinette.  That won't work if you have extremely thick files, but for mail to be sorted, bills to pay, travel/tax receipts, etc, the thin folders fit nicely.  They are safe and easy to get to when needed without sacrificing any standard storage space. Putting them in Ziploc bags also helps keep them together and protects them from spills and humidity.  

Another idea I have to credit to my wife is a handy place to store the log lighter we use to light the burners on the range in the galley.  The microwave sticks out a half an inch or so from the cabinet face.  She put the lighter on that little lip and secured it with a Velcro tab so it doesn’t fall off when traveling.  Not only does it save valuable space in the kitchen drawers, it is in a really convenient place when we need it.

While I’m crediting her for her excellent ideas. let me share one more:  store baked goods (bread, rolls, donuts etc) in the microwave or oven.  Let the oven cool after using before putting baked goods in or it will promote the bread to dry out and/or mold faster.  Storing it in the microwave makes it easily accessible when needed and the light weight isn’t harmful to the microwave.  If your RV is equipped with a gas oven it too could be used to store similar items.  I would avoid putting things like potato chips in the oven.  Many ovens have a pilot light that could ignite the packaging.

I picked up a handy tip from the “Quick Tips” feature in Motorhome Magazine for storing shoes near the entry door.  There are usually a few inches between the back of the dinette and the pit for the entry stairwell.  Using brackets for a towel rack I fastened a rod across the bottom of the dinette a few inches from the floor that lets us slide the toes of our shoes behind it.  Since the dinette is upholstered in cloth, I put a piece of FRP (fiberglass reinforced plastic) like is used for waterproof kitchen and bathroom walls to protect the fabric.  This turned otherwise unused space into convenient shoe storage and helped us avoid tracking dirt into our RV.

The pickup truck we often tow our enclosed motorcycle trailer with has a place under the hood for a second battery (usually used to supply power for a camper).   Since we don't have camper on it at this time, it makes a convenient place to carry extra bottles of oil, antifreeze, and/or windshield washer solvent.
You can hang shoe storage systems on the back of closet and bathroom doors.  The shoe-sized pockets are about the right size to corral hair brushes, bottles of shampoo and conditioner, liquid soap, toothpaste, extra toilet paper, etc.   Just make sure you can still close the doors and that the stored items don't intrude into the often limited space in RV bathrooms and closets!  Also monitor the weight as you add things to the pockets so you don't tweak the door.

Some RVs, like travel trailers, often have wide rear bumpers that can be used for storing items that don't need to be kept inside.  Rear bumpers are especially good places for carrying gas cans or camp stove fuel cans that should NOT be carried in the living space.  I've also seen this space used for toolboxes.  You will want to make sure the tool boxes are waterproof and securely locked to prevent theft.

One bit of caution:  when seeking out unused spaces in an RV NEVER attempt to alter or store things in the compartments for the furnace, water heater, refrigerator, or even the converter or inverter even there is a lot of presumably wasted space.   Doing so may create a fire hazard or, at the very least, modify the ventilation for the appliance which could affect performance and longevity as well as risking a fire. 

You will be surprised how much extra storage space you can drum up with a little creativity.

Tuck it away!