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Philip Brown
  Jun 6, 2023 12:42 PM

Portable generators have become a favorite for off-grid campers, used to power refrigerators, TVs, stoves, and lights when far from onshore power sources. They help bring all the comforts of the house to the open space of nature. But even in these rustic settings, users of portable generators still need to be aware of basic safety. 

The Portable Generator Manufacturers Association (PGMA) warns that misuse of portable generators can lead to exposure to dangerous carbon monoxide (CO) gas, and even death.

Help notify campers you encounter. The safety rules are simple, but they can save a life.

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1. How To Safely Operate A Portable Generator When Camping

Honda Camping Generators

Honda Camping Generators

Source: Pinterest

Understanding Camping Generator Safety Risks 

All in all, a portable generator for camping is a safe tool when used appropriately. But they still pose potential safety risks: fire, electric shock, and carbon monoxide poisoning are three of the most important risks to avoid when you operate a generator.

Fire Risks

Portable generators are based on internal combustion technology, so they are flammable if used improperly.

When you operate the camping generator, be aware of how you prepare to avoid starting a forest fire. Here are three general safety rules that can reduce the possibility of a fire.

  1. Always cool the portable generator/portable power station before handling

  2. Store fuel and other fire hazards in a safe and suitable place

  3. Use personal protective equipment (PPE) when necessary

  4. Always operate the generator in a well-ventilated area and stay at least 5 feet away from flammable materials on all sides.

Fire vigilance can keep you, other campers, your equipment, and the environment safe from fire damage.

Improper Use Generator Can Lead to Fire

Improper Use Generator Can Lead to Fire

Source: Pinterest

Risk of Electric Shock

Portable generators use an internal combustion engine to generate an electric current to power your appliances and tools. Since they generate electricity, users must be aware of the potential risk of electric shock.

Three general rules can prevent electric shock and other electrical-related accidents:

  1. Always use the right equipment that is in good working order

  2. Pay attention to external factors that can lead to electric shock, such as a humid environment

  3. Prevent electrostatic shock and electrostatic ignition

  4. Never use damaged or exposed electrical cords or equipment.

Risk of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Proper ventilation is key to avoiding carbon monoxide poisoning and carbon monoxide-related fires, both of which can cause death or serious respiratory injury:

  • CO is a toxic gas that can cause fatigue, decreased brain function, and suffocation.

  • Carbon monoxide is highly flammable and can ignite with only a small amount of heat exposure, such as the flame left over from a cigarette butt or a lighter.

Since portable generators can release carbon monoxide as a byproduct of internal combustion, preventing exposure to carbon monoxide is important for safe generator operation. Carbon Monoxide is a tasteless, odorless, highly toxic gas, so you should invest in a carbon monoxide alarm.

2. How to Prevent CO When Using Generators Portable For Home Use

  • Generators, ovens, camp stoves, other gas, propane, natural gas, or coal-fired appliances should not be used in homes, garages, basements, or any other enclosed space.

  • Leave these devices outdoors, away from doors, windows, and vents that can let carbon monoxide into your home.

  • Open doors and windows or use a fan to blow CO out of the house. Although CO can't be seen or smelled, it can quickly affect the airways, even causing death. Even if you can't smell CO, you can still be exposed to CO. If you start to feel nauseous or dizzy while using the generator, get to a place where you can get some fresh air IMMEDIATELY.

  • Install CO alarms on every floor of your home and sleeping areas to give an early warning of a carbon monoxide presence.

Check batteries regularly and replace them as necessary.

  • If the CO alarm sounds, move quickly to fresh air outdoors or near an open window or door.

  • Call for help from medical personnel to assist you quickly.

3. Safety Tips for Generators Portable Users

Following these tips will help keep you and other campers safe when operating a portable generator while camping.

Using the Transfer Switch

A transfer switch is an important tool in generator operation for two reasons:

  • It allows you to power appliances that don't use standard plugs (such as HVAC systems, electric water heaters, and washing machines) with your portable generator without using a long power cord.

  • It controls the flow of current between the generator and the RV circuit breaker, disconnecting if you start to overload the generator, this can prevent a fire hazard.

Using a transfer switch is significantly safer and simpler than using multiple extension cords to connect the generator to the RV equipment.

Small Generators for Camping

Small Generators for Camping

Source: Pinterest

Keep Your Generator/Portable Power Station for Camping Dry

While the GFCI can protect you, your equipment, and your generator from unexpected water exposure (like rainy conditions), it's important to keep your generator dry and only Operate the generator in dry conditions.

Do not touch your generator, refuel, or turn it on if you are wet or standing in water. If it shows signs of rain while your generator running, protect it with a roof.

Never Use The Generator Indoors or In An Enclosed Space

Always operate generators outdoors to prevent accidents involving carbon monoxide. Some important ventilation considerations when choosing where to run your generator:

  • Running a generator indoors can trap CO inside, which can cause poisoning or accidental ignition.

  • Even with doors or windows open, do not run a generator inside your RV, home, or garage. These poorly ventilated environments are prone to a build-up of carbon monoxide.

  • CO can move into nearby enclosed spaces and accumulate there, putting you and other campers at risk of suffocation or fire.

Use Approved Fuel Tanks

Most recently, federal law has changed regarding safe fuel tank design. When storing or transporting fuel for generators, you should always use a fuel tank:

  • Equipped with the flame retardant device to extinguish the fire if the fuel inside the tank can catch fire

  • Labeled to match fuel type

  • Made from corrosion-resistant metal or high-density polyethylene, a plastic material that can withstand degradation longer than conventional plastic.

 Approved Fuel Tank for Generator

 Approved Fuel Tank for Generator

Source: Pinterest

Using Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

When operating and running your generator, use personal protective equipment (PPE) when appropriate to avoid injury.

Depending on your campground layout and available space, consider using the following:

  • Ear protection such as earmuffs or foam earmuffs if you will be standing near a running generator for a long time

  • Eye protection, such as safety glasses, prescription glasses, or sunglasses when you operate the generator, can protect your eyes in case of fire or ignition

  • Heat-resistant gloves protect your skin

Gloves serve a dual purpose: They protect your skin from spills and fuel splashes and prevent burns if you need to operate a generator in the cold.

Follow The Portable Generator Maintenance Checklist

You should prioritize generator maintenance like regular car maintenance, such as oil and filter changes.

Write down a portable generator maintenance checklist that includes tasks like:

  • Check the level of oil and other liquids

  • Clean the generator and surrounding area

  • Check the ignition and cooling process, if you rarely use the generator when camping


No matter what type of generator you use: a home generator or a portable generator, no matter what type of energy: electric or quite camping generator, you need to know how to use it safely. The correct use of the generator is very important for an enjoyable camping trip, avoiding unnecessary risks.

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