The Best Solutions: RV Surge Protector vs EMS (2024)

About the Author

Tom Davidock

Tom has been working in the outdoor recreation and environmental fields for over 25 years and writing about for the past 15. Whether it's camping, or RVing, Tom provides first-hand kneowldge of the information outdoor enthusiests need to enjoy adventures on the road. Tom has had his content featured in industry-leading news publications including RV Business, RV News, and RV.com. Tom is also the author of "Used RV: The Complete Guide for Buying a Used RV."

One of the first accessories you should consider picking up after purchasing an RV will protect your RV electronics and appliances from surges or other electrical problems. It’s not uncommon for campgrounds to have less than stellar electrical connections. This is especially true with the high demand they experience, especially on busy summer weekends when everyone is running their air conditioners. As a result, it’s possible that your RV could experience a surge in voltage or even a low voltage supply, which can damage sensitive electronics. A Surge protector or EMS (Electrical Management System), which we’ll discuss below, can be an excellent investment when these common problems arise.

Below, we’ll provide you with details on the key things to look for when shopping for an RV surge protector, highlight how they work, and provide details on why the following are our top picks on the market today:

RV Surge Protector Top Picks

What are RV Surge Protectors and EMS Devices?

An RV Surge Protector and an RV EMS are both essential devices for protecting the electrical systems of a recreational vehicle (RV), but they serve slightly different functions. An RV Surge Protector is a device that protects the electrical systems in an RV from power surges. A power surge, a sudden spike in electrical voltage, can be caused by various factors. At campgrounds, one of the most common causes is a sudden change in power drawn from the electrical grid. This can potentially damage the electrical devices and systems in an RV. An RV surge protector will detect and absorb these surges, preventing them from causing damage to the RV. This type of device is typically plugged into the power pedestal when connected to shore power.

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On the other hand, an RV EMS provides more comprehensive protection. It not only protects against power surges but also guards against other power issues such as low voltage, high voltage, reverse polarity, and open neutral conditions. These issues can arise from faulty power supplies at RV parks or campgrounds, potentially damaging your RV’s electrical systems or appliances. The EMS constantly monitors the quality of the power supply and automatically shuts off power to the RV when it detects a problem, thus preventing damage.

Both surge protectors and EMS units are available for 30 and 50-amp RV setups. A 50-amp model usually has increased protection because of the higher electrical demand. However, paying the higher price is only necessary if you have a 50-am RV. While you could use 50 Amp surge protectors with an adapter for 30-amp campers, I highly suggest matching the unit to the RV. An EMS must be installed with your specific RV electrical system in mind. 

​Why do you need a surge protector?

Electrical surges at an RV campground can stem from a variety of sources. For instance, a nearby lightning strike can send a surge of electricity down power lines and into the RV park’s electrical system. While not extremely common, when camping in areas with frequent thunderstorms, such as Florida. A more common problem is power grid fluctuations due to switching operations within the grid or abrupt changes in power demand. I’ve camped at many RV parks that had this problem, especially on busy hot summer weekends. When many RV owners simultaneously turned on their air conditioners, the sudden increase in power demand can lead to power surges. 

RV Burned plug female jpg
RV Burned plug male jpg

Also, outdated or faulty wiring in the campground can also result in surges. Many older RV parks had their original wiring installed before new RVs with higher power consumption systems existed. As a result, there may be deteriorating infrastructure and increased demand, creating repeated power surges due to wiring issues. High-power devices like air conditioners, refrigerators, or electric heaters can also cause surges when they are switched o

Moreover, when power is restored following an outage, it can often come back with a surge. This was evident at a campground I stayed at in upstate New York, where, after a widespread power outage, the restoration of electricity led to a strong power surge. 

Given these potential issues, using a surge protector or an EMS is highly recommended to safeguard your RV’s electrical systems and appliances from damage.

  1. Protection against power surges: Power surges can happen unpredictably and result from lightning strikes, power line issues, or abrupt changes in the electrical consumption of other devices connected to the same power grid. These power surges can cause severe damage to your RV’s electrical system and appliances.
  2. Cost Savings: RV electrical systems and appliances can be costly to repair or replace if damaged by a power surge. Investing in a surge protector is a preventive measure that can save you significant money in the long run.
  3. Preventive Measure: Many RV insurance policies do not cover damages caused by power surges. Using a surge protector, you can prevent potential damage and avoid disputes with your insurance company about the nature of the damage.
  4. Longevity of Appliances: Regular exposure to power surges can reduce the life expectancy of your appliances and electronic devices. A surge protector can help extend these devices’ life by protecting them from such damage.
  5. Versatility: Many surge protectors are portable and can be used wherever your RV is plugged in, such as at home, campgrounds, or RV parks. This makes them a versatile tool for protecting your RV’s electrical systems.
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Why may you need the advanced protections from an EMS?

Choosing an RV EMS over a regular surge protector can provide more comprehensive protection for your RV’s electrical systems and appliances. Here’s why:

  1. Broader Protection: While a surge protector primarily defends against power surges, an EMS offers wider coverage. It protects against various electrical issues, including low voltage, high voltage, reverse polarity, and open neutral conditions. These problems can arise from unreliable power supplies at campgrounds or RV parks and potentially damage your RV’s electrical systems or appliances.
  2. Automatic Shut-off: An EMS continually monitors the quality of the power supply to your RV. If it detects any harmful conditions, it automatically shuts off the power to your RV, which can prevent damage.
  3. Detailed Error Codes: Many EMS units provide detailed error codes that inform you of the specific electrical problem detected. This can be extremely helpful in troubleshooting and provide peace of mind by letting you know exactly what’s happening with the power supply. Some will also have a Bluetooth function, allowing you to monitor your energy use via an App. This is especially 
  4. Amps Reading: Some EMS units provide real-time amperage reading, which allows you to manage your power consumption efficiently and avoid overloading the electrical system.
  5. Preventing Low Voltage Damage: Low voltage can be as damaging as high voltage or power surges to some RV appliances, like AC Units, microwaves, and refrigerators. A surge protector alone doesn’t protect against low-voltage scenarios, but an EMS does.
  6. Time Delay for A/C Compressor: Many EMS units have a built-in time delay for the air conditioner compressor. This allows the compressor to cool down before restarting, preventing potential damage.

Advantages and Disadvantages of an RV Surge Protector

Portable RV surge protectors offer important advantages, including protection against damaging power surges, cost-effectiveness compared to an Electrical Management System (EMS), simplicity in use, and portability. Furthermore, they are a preventive measure, saving potential costs of repairing or replacing your RV’s electrical systems and appliances damaged by power surges. In addition, many units will have a weather resistant cover that provides peace of mind in inclement weather. 

However, surge protectors have certain limitations. Their protection is limited to power surges and doesn’t cover other electrical issues like low or high voltage, reverse polarity, or open neutral conditions that an EMS would handle. They typically don’t provide detailed information about the power supply or potential issues, nor do they automatically disconnect power upon detecting a potentially dangerous electrical condition. Furthermore, there’s considerable variability in the quality and protection level offered by different surge protectors, so choosing a reliable, well-reviewed product is crucial. Amazon is littered with cheap and poorly built options. Spending a little more and getting one you can trust is better.

Advantages:

  1. Protection against Power Surges: The most significant advantage is the protection surge protectors provide against power surges. They prevent potentially damaging high-voltage spikes from reaching your RV’s electrical systems and appliances.
  2. Cost-Effective: Surge protectors are generally more affordable than an EMS. Therefore, they provide a cost-effective solution to protect your RV from damaging power surges.
  3. Easy to Use: Most surge protectors are plug-and-play devices that are easy to install and use.
  4. Portability: Portable units are generally compact and lightweight, making them easy to carry around and use wherever your RV goes.
  5. Preventive Measure: They can prevent costly repairs or replacements of your RV’s electrical systems and appliances caused by power surges.

Disadvantages:

  1. Limited Protection: Unlike an EMS, surge protectors only protect against power surges. They do not offer protection against other electrical issues such as low voltage, high voltage, reverse polarity, or open neutral conditions.
  2. Lack of Information: Surge protectors typically don’t provide detailed information about the power supply or specific issues. Unlike an EMS, they won’t notify you of low or high-voltage situations.
  3. No Automatic Shut-off: Most surge protectors don’t automatically disconnect the power when a potentially damaging electrical condition is detected.
  4. Variability in Quality: The quality and level of protection offered by surge protectors can vary significantly from one product to another. It’s important to choose a reliable and well-reviewed product.

Advantages and Disadvantages of an RV EMS

An RV Electrical Management System (EMS) offers extensive protection for your RV’s electrical systems and appliances, safeguarding them from power surges, low and high voltage, reverse polarity, and open neutral conditions. In case of a harmful electrical condition, it automatically disconnects power to prevent damage. In addition, EMS units often provide detailed error codes and real-time amperage readings, aiding in troubleshooting and efficient power management. They also shield against low voltage damage, not typically covered by regular surge protectors, and have a time delay feature for A/C compressors to prevent damage.

On the downside, EMS systems are generally more expensive and complicated to install than a basic surge protector. Additionally, they tend to be bulkier and heavier, which could pose challenges if space and weight are a concern in your RV. Finally, they are typically hardwired into the RV, so installing one is usually permanent and can’t easily be swapped from RV to RV like a portable surge protector. 

Advantages:

  1. Comprehensive Protection: An EMS provides broader protection than a surge protector. It guards against power surges, low voltage, high voltage, reverse polarity, and open neutral conditions.
  2. Automatic Shut-off: If the EMS detects a harmful electrical condition, it automatically disconnects power to your RV, preventing potential damage.
  3. Detailed Information: Many EMS units provide detailed error codes that inform you of the specific electrical issue. This can help troubleshoot and give you a clear understanding of your power source.
  4. Real-Time Amperage Reading: Some EMS units provide real-time amperage reading, helping you manage your power consumption effectively and avoid overloading the electrical system.
  5. Preventing Low Voltage Damage: An EMS protects against low voltage scenarios, which can damage certain RV appliances. A regular surge protector does not provide this protection.
  6. Time Delay for A/C Compressor: This allows the compressor to cool down before restarting, preventing costly damage.

Disadvantages:

  1. Cost: EMS systems are generally more expensive than basic surge protectors. The initial investment might be significant for some RV owners.
  2. Complexity: Depending on the model, an EMS can be more complex to install and use than a simple plug-and-play surge protector, typically requiring a hardwire installation.
  3. Size and Weight: EMS units can be bulkier and heavier than surge protectors, which could be a factor if space and weight are considerations.

Should you choose an RV Surge Protector or EMS?

RV Surge Protector

An RV surge protector can be a good choice when your budget is a significant concern. Surge protectors are generally more affordable than EMS units, providing basic protection against power surges, the most common electrical issue faced. This makes them a cost-effective solution for those just starting out with RVing or primarily camping at well-maintained, modern campgrounds with reliable power supplies.

RV Surge Protector plugged into generator

For example, a surge protector might be sufficient for your needs if you’re an occasional RVer who only goes on trips a few times a year to established, reputable campgrounds. Similarly, if you’ve recently purchased an RV and are already stretched thin on your budget, opting for a surge protector can provide some level of protection until you can upgrade to an EMS.

RV EMS (Electrical Management System)

An RV EMS should be considered when comprehensive protection is the priority. An EMS not only protects against power surges but also against a broader range of electrical issues, including low voltage, high voltage, reverse polarity, and open neutral conditions. Additionally, EMS units usually have an automatic shut-off feature and provide detailed information about the electrical supply.

For instance, if you’re a full-time RVer or frequently camp at less regulated or older campgrounds, where electrical stability might be questionable, an EMS would be a better choice due to its extensive protection capabilities. Similarly, investing in an EMS would provide comprehensive protection for these expensive electrical components if you own a high-end RV equipped with sensitive electronics and appliances. This style of protection is perfect for full-time RVers who are constantly setting up and tearing down camp. In addition, a hardwired model makes it faster to get up and running when you get to the campground.

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In summary, your choice between an RV surge protector and an EMS should be based on your budget, how frequently you use your RV, where you typically camp, and the value of the electronic devices you need to protect. An occasional RVer with a limited budget might opt for a surge protector. In contrast, a full-time RVer or those with higher-end appliances might find more value in an EMS’s comprehensive protection.

Installation of RV Surge Protectors and EMS

RV Surge Protector Installation

Installing an RV surge protector is typically straightforward. A portable surge protector is a plug-and-play device. Here are the steps:

  1. Plug the surge protector into the electrical outlet on the campground’s electrical pedestal.
  2. Check the surge protector lights or display to ensure no problems with the campground’s power supply. Each surge protector model has its own indicator system, so you’ll need to familiarize yourself with the one you have.
  3. If everything checks out, plug your RV’s electrical cord into the surge protector.

RV EMS (Electrical Management System) Installation

Installing an EMS can be more complex, especially if it’s a hardwired unit. Here’s a brief outline:

  1. Disconnect your RV from the power supply to ensure safety.
  2. Next, locate the electrical compartment in your RV.
  3. The EMS needs to be installed between the power cord coming into the RV and the circuit breaker panel. This will often involve cutting the existing power cable and wiring the EMS in place.
  4. Once the EMS is wired correctly, you can reconnect the power and check the EMS display for error codes or power supply issues.

Please note: If uncomfortable working with electrical systems, consider hiring a professional to install a hardwired EMS.

RV EMS wiring

Best RV Surge Protectors

30 Amp
Power Watchdog PWD30, Bluetooth Surge Protector
$109.15

The PWD30 Power Watchdog is a portable 30A surge protector designed for RVs. It provides several useful features for protecting and monitoring your electrical system while on the road. With 3000 Joules of surge protection, it safeguards your RV against power spikes and surges that could damage sensitive electronics.


One of its standout features is Bluetooth connectivity, allowing you to connect the surge protector to your mobile phone or tablet via a free app. This enables you to remotely monitor the voltage and current of your RV's electrical system. You can receive alerts for high or low voltage and amperage, ensuring you stay informed about potential issues. This option is extremely useful when connected to a generator and where you need to monitor your power consumption more closely. 


The PWD30 also includes indicators for open neutral, ground, and reverse polarity, helping you quickly identify wiring problems and ensure a safe electrical connection. Additionally, it offers kilowatt usage monitoring, allowing you to track your power consumption and manage your energy usage more efficiently. Finally, when you reach the campground, you can ensure the shore power works as designed before plugging in your RV.


This surge protector is designed for outdoor use and has locking options for added security. It can be used at RV parks to analyze the quality of the power supply, ensuring that you connect to a reliable and safe electrical source. If the surge protection wears out due to a power surge, it can be easily replaced without purchasing an entirely new unit.


Overall, the PWD30 Power Watchdog Portable Bluetooth 30A Surge Protector offers a range of features to protect, monitor, and analyze your RV's electrical system, providing peace of mind and helping you maintain a reliable power supply while on the go.

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06/06/2024 06:16 am GMT
50 Amp
Hughes Autoformer PWD50, Spike Power Watch Dog, 50 Amp
$215.33 $169.99

The PWD50 Power Watchdog is a portable 50A surge protector designed for RVs, offering enhanced power protection and monitoring capabilities. With 6100 Joules of surge protection, it provides robust defense against power surges and high voltage spikes that could potentially damage your RV's electrical system.


Like its predecessor, the PWD50 features Bluetooth connectivity, enabling you to connect the surge protector to your mobile phone or tablet using a compatible app. This allows for convenient remote monitoring of voltage and current levels within your RV's electrical system, including running off a generator. In addition, you'll receive alerts for high or low voltage and amperage, ensuring you stay informed about any fluctuations that could impact your RV's electrical performance.


The device also includes indicators for open neutral, loose connection, open ground, and reverse polarity, facilitating quick identification of wiring issues and ensuring a safe and reliable electrical connection. Additionally, it offers kilowatt usage monitoring, allowing you to track your power consumption and optimize energy usage while on the road.


Like the 30-amp version, the PWD50 is designed for outdoor use and has locking options for added security. It can be utilized at RV parks to analyze the quality of the power supply, ensuring that you connect to a reliable and safe electrical source. If the surge protection wears out due to a power surge, it can be easily replaced without replacing the entire unit.


The PWD50 Power Watchdog Portable Bluetooth 50A Surge Protector provides enhanced surge protection, convenient monitoring features, and analysis capabilities for your RV's electrical system. Its portable design, Bluetooth connectivity, and compatibility with mobile devices make it a versatile and reliable tool for maintaining a secure and efficient power supply while on your RV adventures.

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06/06/2024 06:21 am GMT

Best RV EMS

Progressive Industries RV Surge Protector 50 Amp with Electrical Management System
$278.39 $238.62

The Progressive Industries EMS is crucial for protecting your RV from potential electrical hazards, including voltage fluctuations, power surges, and incorrectly wired shore power. These issues can cause significant damage to your RV's appliances and electronics, leading to costly repairs. However, you can feel secure knowing your electrical system is well-protected with an EMS.


The Proegressive EMS offers multi-mode protection, including surge protection, voltage monitoring, polarity detection, and detection of lost or open neutral connections. This comprehensive protection ensures that your RV is shielded from various electrical problems that may arise. In addition, the unit features an external digital display that continuously scrolls through power source information, allowing you to monitor the status of your power supply. This display can be mounted away from the unit, where it's easy to read.


Equipped with a state-of-the-art microprocessor, the EMS provides peace of mind both day and night, even when you're away from your RV. It offers a range of product features, including over/under voltage protection, open ground, open neutral, and reverse polarity detection. It also detects accidental 240V power and indicates miswired pedestals. In addition, the EMS has a surge failure indicator and an amperage meter display and shows previous error codes for easy troubleshooting.


Additional features include A/C frequency protection, a time delay of 136 seconds, adjustable time delay settings, and thermal protection to prevent overheating. The EMS also includes a remote display with a scrolling digital display, allowing you to monitor the power status from a distance conveniently. The unit is field serviceable, and its UL certification and Canadian approval ensure its quality and safety. Lastly, the EMS comes with a lifetime warranty, providing long-term assurance and support for your RV's electrical protection needs.


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06/06/2024 06:26 am GMT
Power Watchdog PWD50-EPO-H, Bluetooth Surge Protector with Auto Shutoff
$225.0615

The Power Watchdog Smart Surge Protector + EPO (Emergency Power Off) is a robust 50 amp surge protector offering advanced surge protection with a capacity of 4,800 Joules. It stands out as the world's first smart surge guard and surge protector with built-in Bluetooth connectivity, allowing real-time monitoring of park electrical power conditions on your smartphone.


With this surge protector, you can receive text alerts of potential dangers before any catastrophic events occur. The EPO feature automatically shuts down power if it detects a dangerous situation such as excessively high or low voltage, open ground, or open neutral wire. It also includes automatic power shutdown if the voltage drops below 104 V or exceeds 132 V. Once the power conditions stabilize and remain within safe limits for 90 seconds, the unit will turn back on automatically.


Like the portable surge protectors, this hardwired surge protector has Bluetooth monitoring and a replaceable surge protector. In addition, it offers a plug-n-play feature, powering on within just 4 seconds after plugging it in, while some other brands may have a delay of up to 2 minutes. The unit also includes a built-in 90-second power-on delay after a fault occurs, ensuring protection for your AC unit.


Constructed with durability in mind, this surge protector is designed to withstand everyday use at your campsite. It provides complete LED Park Power Diagnostics, allowing you to easily identify and address issues such as open ground, open neutral, reverse polarity, open circuit, and miswired connections. Additionally, it provides wireless fault alerts for added convenience and safety.


The Power Watchdog Smart Surge Protector + EPO Portable Version is a technologically advanced and highly protective surge protector designed to safeguard your RV's electrical system. Its Bluetooth connectivity, real-time monitoring capabilities, and automatic power shutdown features provide peace of mind while camping, ensuring your electrical system remains safe and secure.

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06/06/2024 06:41 am GMT

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