RV EMS vs Surge Protector: Which Is Best for Surge Protection?


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Weighing the pros of RV EMS vs surge protector for your electrical management systems is a smart plan. A surge guard can help protect your RV’s electrical systems during everyday use, AC power, and heavy storms. Read more about my recommendations for your energy management system. Not all surge protectors protect the same.

When it comes to safeguarding your RV, protecting your electrical system from costly damage should be a necessity. There are so many products on the market that it may seem overwhelming to think about which one is right for you? In this article we will have an RV surge protector vs EMS showdown. I will provide you with basic information about RV Surge Protectors and RV Electronic Management Systems (EMS), what they do, and which ones are the best.

Which RV Surge Protector Is The Best?

The Hughes Power Watchdog EPO Smart Surge Protector continues to be considered the best device on the market because of it’s comprehensive protection, easy of use, reliability, and phenomenal customer service and warranty. The Watchdog starts at $233 for a 30 AMP product and $264 for the 50 AMP product.

If the Hughes Power Watchdog is out of your price range, I recommend the EMS made by Progressive Industries. This product is still an all-around great product that is available at a lower cost. The 30 Amp Progressive Industries EMS starts at $160 and $207 for the 50 Amp product.

What Are RV Surge Protectors and EMS Devices?

RV Surge Protectors and EMS devices protect the electrical systems of your recreational vehicle from potential damage caused by power surges and other electrical issues. Most of these devices fall under the title of Surge Protector.

A Surge protector shields your RV’s electrical system from high voltage spikes and surges. Some causes of electrical surges are lightning strikes, faulty wiring, recent power restoration after an outage, and other things. A power surge frequently happens with no warning and can instantly cause irreparable damage to an electrical system.

In addition to power surges, there are also additional electrical situations that can occur and cause damage to your RV. Some of these situations are low- and high-voltage, reverse polarity, open neutral, and more. An Electrical Management System (EMS) is a surge protector that can provide advanced protection against these additional damaging conditions. EMS are also called Energy Management Systems.

Why Do You Need a Surge Protector or EMS?

There are a multitude of circumstances that can result in damage to your RV’s electrical system. These dangerous conditions include high and low voltage protection, power surges, low voltage, reverse polarity, and open ground.

Power Surges and High Voltage

When there is inclement weather, a nearby lightning strike can result in instant power surges that can cause significant damage to your electrical system. Campgrounds can also experience power surges when there is a sudden change in the power being drawn on an electrical grid or if the power is restored following a power outage.

The power going into a residential home should be stable and operate on a managed power grid. A power company usually manages a neighborhood’s electricity, whereas a campground is not. You cannot assume an RV park and the pedestals have been maintained like a residential neighborhood.

Low Voltage

High and low voltage fluctuations are more common than a sudden power surge. Many campgrounds have faulty wiring that cannot handle the electrical system’s draw, which results in faulty power and some people receiving less energy.

When the RV’s voltage is too high or low voltage, the amperage increases, which can start to generate heat. As your RV’s electrical system continues to power the items with low voltage, more heat is generated over time. Eventually, this low-voltage situation will reduce the lifespan of the appliances you are using.

Improperly Wired RV Power Pedestal (or Power Pole)

RV parks and campground pedestals are abused considerably because they are plugged and unplugged frequently. Not all parks are great at maintaining and properly repairing damaged electrical systems.

Some common problems caused by miswired pedestals are an open ground, open neutral, and reverse polarity.

  • Open Ground: A ground wire can dissipate excess voltage to the ground connection. If this connection is not present, there is nowhere for excess voltage to go. If there is no ground connection, the excess voltage could go to your RV chassis, frame, or body.
  • Open Neutral: A neutral line is a pathway for electricity to return to the service panel. If you have a 30 amp system, this will simply shut off the power. But if you have a 50 amp system (240-volt), you will get 240 volts to appliances that are meant to receive 120 volts. Exposure to this much voltage can cause extensive damage to RV appliances.
  • Reverse Polarity: When the hot wire and the neutral are wired backward, this can result in reverse polarity. Reverse polarity can cause damage to appliances or even fires. In addition to causing costly damages, reverse polarity can also result in electrocution.

Is An RV Surge Protector EMS Worth The Money?

Yes, absolutely yes. An RV surge protector protects your investment in your RV. Surge protectors can benefit the RV owner in many ways, such as cost savings.

Cost Savings

Investing in a high-quality EMS can be significantly less expensive than paying for the electrical damage that can occur without one. Investing in a surge protector or EMS is a preventive measure that can save you significant money in the long run.

Preventative Measure

An EMS surge protector can protect your RV and appliances from damage. Many RV insurance companies will not cover electrical damages that could have been avoided by using a surge protector. Choosing to use a surge protector is the easiest way to avoid electrical damage disputes with insurance companies.

Longevity of Appliances

Regular exposure to power surges and other electrical issues can negatively impact the longevity of your RV’s appliances and electronic devices within. Investing in an RV EMS can help extend the life of appliances and devices by protecting them from avoidable damage.


A Portable surge protector and/or EMS device will offer versatility, allowing you to use them wherever your RV is plugged in. This allows you to protect your investment everywhere you go.

Why You May Need Advanced Protection from an EMS?

A basic surge protector should be the absolute minimum protection you provide your RV. A basic surge protector will not protect your RV from the other damaging electrical effects. An EMS is the most comprehensive protection and is strongly advised.

Broader Protection

A typical surge protector can focus on power surges, but an EMS can provide broader protection. A regular surge protector will not protect your RV from low/high voltage, reverse polarity, open neutral, open ground, and more.

Automatic Shut Off

Most EMS devices have an automatic shut off feature. This shut off feature immediately disconnects the the power source when it detects harmful electrical conditions that can cause damage.

Detailed Error Codes

Most EMS devices show detailed error codes that can inform you which specific electrical problem you are facing. This information can be very helpful in understanding your power supply and troubleshooting issues.

Amp Readings

Some EMS units have real-time amperage readings. Being able to monitor your usage allows you to manage your power consumption. Many RVers rely on amp readings to minimize their utility bill and avoid overloading the system.

Low Voltage Issues

EMS devices can detect when voltage drops into a range that can cause damage to certain RV appliances.

Time Delay for AC Compressor

If the power is interrupted or the EMS detects a fault condition, some EMS devices have a built in time delay. A built in time delay allows your AC unit to properly cool down before restarting. An RV AC compressor may become damaged without properly cooling down.

What Are Some Features to Look for In an RV Surge Protector EMS?

When selecting a surge protector for your RV, consider factors such as joule rating, compatibility with your RV’s power system (30 Amp or 50 Amp), ease of use, and any additional features such as indicator lights for wiring issues.

Basic RV Surge Protector Pros and Cons


  • ✅Power Surge Protection: Significant defense against potentially damaging high-voltage spikes.
  • ✅Cost-Effective: Generally more affordable than EMS devices.
  • ✅Easy to Use: Plug-and-play devices that are simple to install and operate.
  • ✅Portability: Easy to travel with.
  • ✅Preventive Measure: Prevents costly repairs or replacements caused by power surges.


  • ❌Limited Protection: Only guards against power surges.
  • ❌Lack of Information: Basic surge protectors don’t provide specific information about the issue at hand.
  • ❌No Automatic Shut-off: Most surge protectors do not automatically disconnect power in case of a dangerous electrical condition.
  • ❌Variability in Quality: Quality and protection levels ca

RV EMS Pros and Cons


  • Comprehensive Protection: Offers broader protection against various electrical issues.
  • Automatic Shut-off: Automatically disconnects power upon detecting harmful electrical conditions.
  • Detailed Information: Provides detailed error codes for troubleshooting and understanding power supply.
  • Real-Time Amperage Reading: Some units offer real-time amperage readings for efficient power management.
  • Preventing Low Voltage Damage: Protects against damaging low voltage scenarios.
  • Time Delay for A/C Compressor: Built-in time delay prevents potential damage to the air conditioner compressor.


  • Cost: Generally more expensive than surge protectors.
  • Complexity: Some units are plug and play, while others require installation so they can be hardwired.
  • Size and Weight: EMS units can be bulkier and heavier, which may be a concern for space and weight considerations.

Should You Choose an RV Surge Protector or an EMS?

RV Surge Protector

An RV surge protector can be a suitable choice for those on a budget or occasional RVers who primarily visit well-maintained campgrounds. It provides essential protection against power surges and is a cost-effective solution for beginners.

RV EMS (Electrical Management System)

An RV EMS is recommended for those prioritizing comprehensive protection. If you are a full-time RVer or frequently use your RV, this is probably the level of protection you want. The upfront cost is higher, but the long-term protection is worth the investment.

50 Amp vs 30 Amp

Both RV Surge Protectors and EMS devices are available in 30 Amp and 50 Amp varieties, matching your RV’s electrical setup. While a 50 Amp model generally provides increased protection due to higher electrical demand, matching the unit to your RV’s specifications is essential.

Most 50-amp RVs have two air conditioners. These RVs require 50 amps to power two AC units at the same time, but they can function with 30 amp power if they only run one AC unit at a time.

Electrical adapters, such as a Dogbone, allow an RVer to plug into different power sources. However, caution should always be taken to ensure you do not attempt to overload the system you are plugged into. If you use a dogbone to hook your 50 Amp model into a 30 Amp pedestal, you cannot function as a 50 amp model.

Which Is The Best RV Surge Protector EMS?

The Best RV EMS Surge Protector: Hughes Power Watchdog PWD50EPO

Hughes Power Watchdog EPO

The Hughes Power Watchdog is widely known as the best EMS protector for RVers. This product is reliable, easy to use, and comes with the best customer service on the market. Hughes will replace the surge modules if your unit has suffered a power surge. Most devices require you to replace the entire unit if a surge has happened. Hughes will even send you one free module if it has become damaged in the first 2 years of use.

The Hughes Power Watchdog effectively monitors the electrical system and has an auto shutoff that powers everything down if damaging conditions are present. This model has an easy to use app which allows you to monitor your usage and any error codes in real time.

Hughes Power Watchdog App

I personally experienced a close lightning strike in my RV but did not have any error codes show up on my remote display. I called Hughes and spoke with someone about this and asked if I should be concerned that I did not get any error codes. Hughes immediately sent me a brand new unit and requested that I return the old one so that they could test it to see if there were any issues.

Hughes is a company that stands behind their product and their reputation in the RV community reflects this. I will only protect my RV using a Hughes Power Watchdog.

  • ✅30 and 50 Amp options
  • ✅6100 or 3000 Joules Surge Protection
  • ✅Bluetooth
  • ✅Open neutral and ground indicators and shut offs
  • ✅Reverse polarity indicator and shut off
  • ✅Kilowatt usage monitor
  • ✅Replaceable Surge/Spike Module
  • ✅Smartphone App for wirelessly monitoring
  • ✅4 second power analysis
  • ✅90 second power-on delay after a fault is detected and resolved
  • ✅Plug-in and hardwire options available
  • ✅LED wireless fault alerts
  • ✅Customizable alert thresholds
  • ✅Heavy Duty Construction

The Best Affordable RV EMS Surge Protector: Progressive Industries RV Surge Protector EMS

Progressive Industries EMS

The progressive EMS is a great option for a little more affordable EMS protection. This EMS device can protect from surges, high/low voltage, open ground/neutral, reverse polarity, miswired pedestal, accidental 240V, and surge failure.

This is a great device and can provide adequate electrical protection for your RV. This product is a reliable EMS without the extras that the Hughes Power Watchdog includes. If you want an electrical management system that provides reliable protection without all the bells and whistles, this is a great option.

  • ✅30 and 50 Amp options
  • ✅1790 or 3580 Joules surge protection
  • ✅High/Low voltage shutoff
  • ✅Reverse Polarity shutoff
  • ✅Open neutral/ground shutoff
  • ✅Display on the unit that shows voltage, current, frequency, and errors

The Best Basic Portable RV Surge Protector: Hughes Spike Power Watch Dog

Hughes Spike Power Watchdog

The best basic Surge Protector is still in the Hughes Watch Dog family. This unit is more affordable than its EMS counterpart, but comes without the extra protection. In addition to surge protection, this unit allows for wirelessly monitoring usage on the smartphone app.

This unit is more than a basic surge protector because it can monitor for other damaging electrical conditions. The biggest difference between this product and the EMS is that this surge protector does not have an auto shutoff function when a fault is detected. This device will alert the RV owner to the problematic electrical condition, but requires manual shut off.

  • ✅30 and 50 Amp options
  • ✅6100 or 3000 Joules Surge Protection
  • ✅Bluetooth connectivity
  • ✅Portable
  • ✅Open neutral, ground, and reverse polarity indicator
  • ✅Real time monitoring
  • ✅High/low voltage/amperage alert
  • ✅Kilowatt usage monitor

Affordable Basic Surge Protector: Progressive Industries RV Surge Protector

Progressive Industries Surge Protector

The Progressive Industries Surge Protectors can protect from surges and monitor for other fault conditions. This surge protector does not automatically shut off and does not offer any over/under voltage protection. This item can be purchased with or without a weather resistant cover.

This portable unit can be purchased as both a 30 or 50 amp surge protector, and provides a very basic level of protection with a handy portable design.

  • ✅30 and 50 amp options
  • ✅1650 and 825 Joules Surge Protection
  • ✅Detects over/under voltage, open ground/neutral, reverse polarity, and surge failure
  • ✅LED indicator easy to see in low visibility conditions
  • ✅Optional All Weather Shield

How Do You Install an RV Surge Protector?

RV Surge Protector Installation

  1. Ensure all AC units and appliances are switched off.
  2. Plug the surge protector into the electrical outlet on the campground’s pedestal.
  3. Check the surge protector lights or display to ensure no problems with the power supply.
  4. If everything checks out, plug your RV’s electrical cord into the surge protector.

Portable RV EMS Installation

  1. Ensure all AC units and appliances are switched off.
  2. Plug the portable EMS into the campground’s pedestal.
  3. Ensure the EMS lights up and the display shows no problems.
  4. Connect your RV’s power cord to the EMS. Follow any additional setup steps provided by the EMS manufacturer.

RV EMS Installation- Hardwired Unit

1. Choose a suitable location for the EMS inside your RV. This is often near the power distribution panel.

2. Disconnect the RV from shore power.

3. Install the EMS according to the manufacturer’s instructions, usually connecting it between the shore power cord and the power distribution panel.

4. Securely mount the EMS in place.

5. Reconnect the RV to shore power.

RV Inspection For Electrical Issues

Purchasing an RV can be an exciting process, but how can you ensure you are not buying a lemon? A used RV can be an excellent opportunity, but how can you be sure that there aren’t any electrical or other problems lurking behind the access panels? An in-depth RV inspection is the best way to proceed.

RV Maintenance To Avoid Costly Electrical Problems

Purchasing an RV EMS unit is an excellent way to protect your investment from avoidable damage. But, there are electrical issues that can arise over the life of your RV. These problems can be costly to repair and dangerous. The best way to avoid these problems is to perform preventative maintenance on your RV and review this RV maintenance checklist

Related Articles to Protect Your RV

Protecting your RV from moisture damage is another important thing to consider. There are a ton of products on the market, so how do you know which RV dehumidifier is right for you? 

For more RV life tips and detailed maintenance systems overviews (like this one on RV systems monitor panel), follow Dusty Trail RV and subscribe for updates.

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