When we lived in our old sticks and bricks home, water management wasn't even a thing. Other than making sure the sprinklers ran on legal days and paying the monthly water bill, water never crossed our mind.

That all changes when living in an RV. Water management and understanding the water lifecycle for an RV is very important! This topic was particularly confusing for us when we were looking at large toy haulers because most have complex systems with multiple tanks and more than one sewer connection. What's going on with all these dump handles and sewer connections?!?

Camping Styles

How one manages water in an RV really depends on the type of camping.

Full Hookups!

At one end of the scale is a Full Hookup site at an RV park which would include 50Amp power, water, and sewer. Sewer is the key ingredient to full hookups and is the closest we come to unfettered house-like water use. It means we can leave Grey tank 1 open and shower, do laundry, etc with no worries about filling up the tank. It also means we can dump our other tanks whenever we need to. While it does still require paying attention to tank levels and more work is involved, it's a no worries water situation.

Honey Wagon

Some locations we visited in the Northeast claimed to be full hookup, but when we arrived we found out they had a different idea of what that meant. They considered a honey wagon service to be just as good apparently. Not in our book. A honey wagon is simply a tank truck that comes to your camp site and pumps out your tanks. Depending on how often and how much it costs per service, this can be quite different than the freedom of full hookups! See our video about this topic here!

Partial Hookups

Next down the line is partial hookups. While this can vary from location to location, partial hookups usually include power (30A or 50A) and water, but no sewer. This type of RV camping is very common in state parks. With this setup, water source is still no problem, but you have to make your tanks last the duration of your stay. Our configuration give us the ability to combine or grey tanks for a total of about 115 gallons, so it's not a huge deal, but we won't be doing laundry or taking super long hot showers like we would on full hookups.

One way to extend one's ability to camp without completely unhooking and driving to the dump is to use a portable waste tank. You can empty your tank into this portable tank and drag it to the dump station by itself. This is likely a great option for those with smaller waste tanks. Luckily, we've never needed such a thing as we definitely don't need one more bulky thing to cary around with us!


At the other end of the camping style spectrum is boondocking! This is completely self-contained and self-sufficient camping. You need to supply your own power and water, and store every drop. This adds fresh water source to the list of things to manage. So, even though we have 104 gallons of grey capacity and 104 gallons of black capacity, we are limited by our fresh water capacity. Luckily we have 150 gallons of fresh water capacity, which is quite a bit!

Fresh Water

There are only two sources of fresh water in our RV. The one we use the most is “shore water”. (I assume that name derives from boating), which just means we have a hose hooked to a fresh water source and it's an unlimited supply. Unless boondocking, there is usually a fresh water source.

The second source of fresh water is our fresh water tank(s). Obviously, these tanks need to be filled while we have a shore water connection. That fresh water connection is usually our last camp site, but many dump stations at campgrounds, loves, etc also have a fresh water source. We use fresh water from our tanks whenever boondocking and on travel days at rest areas and the like. A flip of a knob in the nautilus system (dry camping mode), turn on the water pump and we're in business with up to 150 gallons on board.

Waste Water

This is where things got confusing for us when RV shopping. Turns out at 44′ toy hauler with two showers, two toilets, two bathroom sinks, kitchen sink, and a washer / dryer require a fairly complex set of tanks to handle all of that water!

Our system has two 52 gallon grey tanks (sinks, showers, washer water), and two 52 gallon black tanks (toilets water ?). With that, we have FOUR dump valves and TWO dump hose connections! That was the confusing part (to us) as RV newbies. When you include the two fresh water dump handles, we have a total of SIX! Everything we had read about rv tanks said we should have TWO!

Turns out, it's really not that complicated once you know what goes where. We have three dump handles in our wet bay, and those control Black 1, Grey 1, and Grey 2, which all dump from the forward sewer connection. Black 2 is all by itself with one handle and one sewer connection.

Connecting these to sewer is a little more complex than a single host, but not by much. A wye connection at the camping site's sewer connection allows us to connect the front and rear sewer at the same time. Most of the time, we only connect the front and limit our use of the rear bathroom.

Water Tips!

We've found the following tips to be very useful for water management when boondocking.

Sewer Connection Valve

One issue faced by almost every RVer when connecting the sewer hose is the stinky surprise of dirty water when removing the sewer connection cap from the RV! No matter how well you let the pipes drain before putting the cap on, driving to your next camping spot tends to shake any remaining water in the dump pipes down to the bottom. This nasty water just dumps on the ground as soon as you take off the cap! Put an extra valve at the connection to completely solve this problem. Hook the sewer hoses up all the way, THEN open that valve and the stinky water that settled while driving goes where it should!

Dish Water (boondocking or partial hookups)

Wash dishes in a portable tub that fits in the kitchen sink. When done washing, that water can sometimes be dumped outside depending on your location and how dirty the water is. Another option is to dump the water into the black tank (via the toilet). For us, this option works out great because we have two bathrooms and can dedicate the rear black tank to this when boondocking.

Grey Tanks Merge (boondocking or partial hookups)

If you have a system with two grey tanks, and both of those tanks dump via the same sewer connection. And, if you took the advice of tip one (above), and have a valve at the sewer connection of your RV, this tip should work for you! For us, the Grey 1 tank is the first to fill up since it's the tank for our master bathroom's shower and sink. Grey 2 barely gets used since we're dumping our dish water in Black 2.

To get the most use of our Grey tanks, we combine them! To do this, we simply close the valve at the sewer connection (it's likely already closed since we're talking no sewer hookups here). Then, with the extra valve closed, we open both grey tanks. This causes them to fill the dump pipes down to the extra valve and gravity forces them to balance, giving us the full 104 gallons (plus a few gallons in the pipes) to use as one virtual large grey tank!


While this topic was very confusing when we had never RV'd before, it's not bad at all once you get in there and start using it.

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