How Do You Set Up a Caravan on Site? – Complete Guide and Quick Tips

Hi, I’m Chris, I run Horton Common along with my father Robert.

If you have never owned a caravan before and you are planning your first outing, learning how to set up a caravan on site is important. At Horton Common, due to our hard standing fully serviced pitches we often attract first-time caravanners. While I will discuss below how to set up a caravan to take full advantage of a fully serviced pitch most of the information is applicable to setting up on any pitch.

When it comes to setting up a caravan there are a few variables that will dictate how long set up takes before you can sit down with a cup of tea. For instance, is highly unlikely the pitch is level North to South and East to West. Therefore, of the main jobs involved in setting up a caravan is to get it level. However, there is a range of other tasks you will need to complete.

Fully Serviced Caravan Pitch - How to set up a caravan
Our Fully Serviced Pitches here at Horton Common

This post will go into quite a bit of detail on how to set up a caravan on site. However, first below let’s look at the Quick Tips:

How to Set Up a Caravan on Site – Quick Tips

  1. Positioning the Caravan on the Pitch

    If its a hardstanding pitch make sure both wheels of the axel are supported. For a fully serviced pitch make sure you are close enough to use the mains water and wastewater connections.

  2. Levelling and Uncoupling the Caravan

    First, make sure the axel is level, you may need to drive one side up on levelling ramps. Release the stabiliser, apply the handbrake and then lower the jockey wheel and lock into position. Then pull the hitch head leaver while using the jockey while to raise the caravan from the tow ball. Disconnect the electrics and breakaway cable before moving your vehicle. Then use the jockey wheel to level the caravan front to back.

  3. Lowering the Corner Steadies

    Now the caravan is level you want to lower the corner steadies to fix the caravan into position. If the surface is soft you may wish to put pieces of wood under the corners steadies. You can now enter the caravan.

  4. Setting up and Turning On your Facilities

    Connect up the mains power cable, checking the RCD switch is working correctly. Turn on the fridge, selecting the mains power option. You then want to sort out the freshwater connection and pump. Then get the toilet cassette ready with the chemical additive. You then want to turn on the gas. Once the water system is working you want to use either the mains electricity or gas for the hot water heater. Then you’re done!

Now we have covered the highlights of how to set up a caravan on-site let’s go into a bit more detail on the points above. You can also use the Table of Content below if you want to skip to any particular section of this post.

1. Positioning the Caravan on the Pitch

So depending on the caravan site, you may have an assigned pitch number or you may be able to position the caravan where you see fit. At Horton Common, each of our pitches is numbered, and I assign each guest a pitch number. You want to make sure that the position of the caravan is going to be suitable so you can level the van. Also if its a fully serviced pitch you want to make sure you are close enough to the facilities to properly use them. Hence, your freshwater pipe can reach your Aquaroll and the tap.

Fully Serviced Pitch
Getting your caravan in the best position is the first important step before you set up your caravan.

Reversing the Caravan or Using a Motor Mover to Set Up?

Now, for those who are not familiar with caravanning (and even for some of those that are), reversing a caravan can be challenging. If that’s the case you may wish to consider getting a caravan mover kit fitted. Small electric motors with drive cylinders are put in contact with the caravan towing wheels. Using a remote control a motor mover can position the caravan for you.

After you have lowered the caravan jockey wheel and engaged the kit using the remote control you can move the caravan. You have precise control of the caravan, and it makes positioning a lot easier than with the car or trying to push the caravan. I would estimate that around 50% of our visitors to Horton Common have motor movers fitted to their caravans.

Caravan Motormover
A Powertouch Motormover, a common motor mover used by many of our guests to set up their caravan on their pitch.

Quick Note: When using your motormover it provides you with another opportunity to check out the condition of your caravan tyres. If you notice any cracks in the tyre sidewall or bulges you should look to get the tyres changed.

2. Levelling and Uncoupling the Caravan

So once you have chosen the best position for your caravan, you need to start thinking about how to level the caravan. The process for levelling a motorhome is slightly different. There is a couple of reasons its important to level a caravan on site. First for your caravan fridge to work effectively it needs to be level. Secondly, it’s important for your shower to drain properly, and not to leak onto the floor. Don’t just try to level the caravan by eye, purchase a spirit level, even a cheap one will do. However, there are more advanced levels that can show both levelling directions at the same time. You can even use a Smartphone with a suitable App.

Caravan Jockey Wheel
Caravan Hitch and Jockey Wheel

Levelling the Caravan Axel

First, you want to make sure the axel of the caravan is level, therefore this may involve driving the caravan up on rams on one side. There are various levelling ramps you can purchase with small steps.

Caravan Levelling Ramps
Caravan Levelling Ramps

Getting the axel level is one of the most important parts of how to set up caravan on site. Once it’s done you may also want to consider fitting a caravan wheel clamp for security.

IMPORTANT: Don’t ever be tempted to try and lift the caravan with the corner steadies. They are not designed for jacking purposes and doing so will create flex in the caravan chassis that could lead to some serious damage and even future leaks. Its also important to annually service corner steadies.

Uncoupling the Caravan from the Car

Once the axel is level you can now focus on uncoupling the caravan from the car. You then want to release the caravan stabiliser (if you have one), apply the handbrake, lower the jockey wheel and lock into position. You can then disconnect the electrics from the car and breakaway cable. Then lift the hitch lever while simultaneously raising the caravan with the jockey wheel. Once free from the vehicle you can then drive your car away from the caravan and park up.

Caravan Uncoupling
Uncoupling the Caravan

Levelling the Caravan Front to Back

So we now have a caravan level in one direction (along with the axel) and we are free from the car. We can now use the jockey wheel to level the caravan front to back. Once that’s done you may want to fit a caravan hitch lock, for some insurance companies its a mandatory requirement.

Quick Tip: A spirit level placed on a flat surface or the window sill which can be seen through the front window can be useful when trying to level the caravan front to back with the jockey wheel. Alternatively, some Smartphone levelling Apps can give audible instructions for levelling.

Self-Levelling Systems for Caravans

If levelling a caravan sounds like a tricky task, or you just don’t want to be down on your hands and knees with corner steadies, then you could consider a self-levelling system. These use a hydraulic system along with a gyroscope to level your caravan with literally the push of one button. It’s quite a fancy piece of kit (and not cheap). But if you’re not as mobile as you once were, self-levelling kits could be a good idea for you. There are also caravan self-levelling kits which use electric corner steadies in combination with a motor mover.

Caravan levelling kits
Caravan Self Levelling Kit

3. Lowering the Corner Steadies

Now that the caravan is properly level you want to lower the corner steadies to the ground to fix the caravan into position. Remember, do not enter the caravan until the corner steadies are down or you will be entering a seesaw! Your caravan should be equipped with a corner steady winder tool. However quite a few of our guests to Horton Common use a battery drill to do the job. If the surface underneath the corner steadies is soft ground its a good idea to place some pads first. Otherwise, after some rain, you may find the caravan is not as stable as it was when you first set it up.

Caravan Corner Steadies
Caravan Corner Steadies

When it comes to getting in and out your caravan or motorhome, a good safe and stable step is essential. I personally prefer a double instead of a single caravan step.

4. Setting up and Turning On your Facilities

We now have a level caravan firmly fixed into a stable position. The final part of how to set up a caravan on-site is to connect up to the onsite facilities and turn on the facilities within the caravan.

Caravan Electrical Connection

First, connect the mains power cable to your caravan, the connection point is normally in the 12V battery compartment. Then connect up the power cable to the pitch hook up point. Once the cable is connected at both ends you can turn on the RCD switch and the power isolation switch on your caravan. You may also have a control panel within the caravan where you need to select mains power over the 12V battery so your no running on your leisure battery.

Caravan Mains Hookup Cable
Caravan Mains Hookup Cable

Setting Up the Gas

So, even with a mains hook up you will still probably want to set up your gas bottles. To use your cooker and hob you will need gas. You can use both Butane (blue bottles) and Propane (red bottles). Butane is cheaper but produces less energy/heat, particularly at lower temperatures. It’s always a good idea to check if you have sufficient gas before you set off on your trip. It’s also worth considering refillable LPG bottles. The video below provides some good tips on how to check how much gas is still in the bottle:

Caravan Gas Bottles
Caravan Gas Bottles
You don’t want to set up your caravan on-site and find out you’re low on gas. Therefore, checking gas levels before you set off on your trip is a good idea.

Setting Up Your Aquaroll and Fresh Water Supply

You will need to go and fill up your Aquaroll from the mains water supply on-site. Or, if you are on a fully serviced pitch setting up your mains water adapter kit from the tap to your Aquaroll. You will then need to connect up the pump and pipe from the Aquaroll to your caravan. If your tap is not working you will want to check the pump pipe to the caravan isn’t bent.

Aquaroll with Mains Water Kit

Quick Tip: If you have not used the water container and the caravans water system for quite some time, it should be sterilised. This can be done with a product such as Puriclean. It’s important to know how to sterilise the caravans water system properly.

Setting Up the Hot Water System

Once the water system is primed and sterilised you can now set up the hot water system. It’s VERY important that the hot water system is full of water before you turn it on. Otherwise, this could damage the hot water system, potentially irreparably. The hot water system can normally run off either gas or mains electrical power. If your going to run it off the gas make sure the outside cover is removed from the heater exhaust.

Caravan hot water system
Caravan Hot Water System

Positioning Your Waster Water Collector

Now before you use the water system within the caravan for the first time you need to set up the wastewater collector. Another name for a wastewater collector is a Wastemaster which is a product brand. You will need to fit the Y drain piece and pipes into the Wastemaster. Make sure it’s lying flat and stable under the caravan.

Wastemaster
Typical Wastemaster

Quick Tip: Ask the site owner where they would like you to empty the wastewater. It will often be at the side of a hedge etc. Don’t presume to empty it into the Chemical Disposal Point (CDP).

Fully Serviced Pitch Waste Water
Our wastewater solution at Horton Common

If you’re visiting a fully serviced pitch such as those here at Horton Common, we provide wastewater removal for you. So you can leave the wastewater collector at home. It also saves space in the caravan. You simply position the wastewater collection trough under the caravan waste outlets and that it! It has a large diameter hose which connects the trough the land drain on the caravan site.

Setting Up Your Toilet Cassette

You’re nearly set up and you can start to enjoy your holiday! So finally you need to set up your toilet cassette. Before you set off on your trip you need to have purchased some blue and some pink toilet chemicals. The blue chemical goes into the toilet cassette and the pink chemical goes into the flush tank. I’m not going to go into more detail here on how much to use, its best to read the instructions on the back of the bottle. You should also check out the instructions on how to properly operate your toilet cassette from the manufacturer. Most toilet cassettes are made by Thetford.

Toilet Cassette
Thetford Toilet Cassette

There are many different brands of toilet chemicals, and some do a better job than others. As with most things, you frequently won’t get adequate solutions buying the cheapest products so bear that in mind. Best to do a bit of research and read some reviews before making your choice on which products to use.

Toilet Chemicals
Toilet Chemicals

Using the Chemical Disposal Point (CDP)

If it’s not obvious, ask the site owner when you arrive where the CDP is located. Another quick tip is to take your time when emptying the toilet cassette to avoid any nasty surprises. There should be a water supply next to the CDP so you can rinse out the cassette once empty. Before you put in the blue chemical again the instructions normally state to put in a small amount of water into the cassette.

Our CDP at Horton Common

Pitching up your Awning

Depending on your length of stay you may have an awning to pitch up. Some of our guests bring full-sized awnings, while others choose to bring just small porch awnings. What I have seen over the last couple of years is a significant increase in the number of inflatable air awnings. Something I would also note. At Horton Common, while we have amazing views of the Staffordshire Moorlands and Peak District National Park, we do also have higher than average wind speeds. Therefore if you do wish to pitch an awning I would recommend decent awning storm straps and pegs.

This video from Practical Caravan provides a good quick guide on how to pitch a caravan awning.

Conclusions on How to Set Up a Caravan on Site

After all that hard work setting up your caravan, you’ll probably be wanting a nice cup of tea. I would also encourage you to read my post on caravan kettles to avoid tripping the electrical supply to your caravan. I hope the above provided you with some useful information on how to set up your caravan. You may also be interested in my post on how to get an Internet connection in your caravan or motorhome. When you leave site its also important to load a caravan correctly. At Horton Common, with our fully serviced pitches, we try to make the set up of the caravan as easy and quick as possible. Thanks for reading! 🙂

Chris - Site Manager

Hi, I’m Chris, I along with my father Robert we operate and maintain Horton Common.

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