How to Power a CPAP Device in an RV or Boat – On & Off Grid!

Using a CPAP device in an RV is a common concern amongst sleep apnea sufferers who want to RV or camp off grid. But, there are power issues CPAP wearers must contend with when it comes to managing their medical device electrical requirements on and off grid.

Until as of the past few years, RVs are lacking the necessary accommodations and electrical adaptations for CPAP device placement. Even so, RV manufacturers could do better in recognizing this important necessity that affects an RV’s electrical system.

People who are dependent upon medical devices like a CPAP should never have to suffer, let alone be left out of outdoor activities they enjoy. Medical conditions that require a CPAP device or other electronic medical equipment shouldn’t preclude you from RVing or camping out in the wild.

So, we’ve put together a great guide on how to power your CPAP device in your RV or boat. We’ll help you decide which power option is best for your sleep apnea therapy while enjoying the RV lifestyle.

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It’s unknown what exact percentage of people use CPAP devices in RVs. Yet, speaking with several CPAP wearers who RV, I can tell you that that the numbers are staggeringly high, especially amongst the older generations. 

And though millions like myself, despise wearing these ugly and cumbersome breathing apparatus, they are necessary for our health, safety and even help how we function throughout the day.

So, we’ll show different ways you can still enjoy RV living and have your own CPAP machine in your motorhome, towable RV, truck camper or even van.

How to Power a CPAP Device in an RV or Boat

What is a CPAP Device

Sleep Apnea - How to RV with a CPAP - Always On Liberty

First, let’s discuss exactly what a CPAP device is and why it’s so critical for some to survive.

CPAP, short for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, is sleep apnea therapy.

Via the CPAP device, constant air pressure is delivered through a mask and hose attachment as the CPAP wearer breathes during sleep.

Sleep apnea sufferers can literally die in their sleep if they don’t use their CPAP device as instructed or haven’t been diagnosed. If a sleep apnea sufferer does live through another night, there’s still serious health consequences.

High blood pressure, type-2 diabetes, and heart failure may lead to serious health complications and even death due to untreated sleep apnea.

As well, untreated sleep apnea can affect a person’s focus and daily function. Lack of proper sleep has been the blame for many vehicle accidents. That’s why it’s important to have a sleep study and be properly diagnosed. 

Only a Physician can prescribe a CPAP device, but only after a sleep study. Once prescribed, the CPAP machine is ‘patient specific’; meaning the air pressure is preset to that patient’s need.

Then, the sleep therapy must be monitored and regulated under proper medical protocol through the patient’s Physician.

Can You Use a CPAP Device in an RV or Boat?

RV Bed showing CPAP Shelf in RV Bedroom - Always On Liberty

In most motorhomes, towable campers and even boats, beds are nestled snuggly with no nightstand or even such a place to set a CPAP device. Even if there is a bonafide CPAP shelf, they are oftentimes way too small, too narrow or placement isn’t conducive to comfort or proper usage.

Also, RVs have different electrical systems that can affect a CPAP device such as power interruptions and off-grid power limitations.

So, most CPAP users have to reconfigure their RV sleeping quarters to accommodate their CPAP device.

Obviously, being plugged into an electrical pedestal will provide all of the necessary power to operate your CPAP device. It literally is a plug-n-play medical device that requires no guesswork.

However, if you’re going to be boondocking or camping off grid, powering your CPAP device will require using energy from your RV batteries or an alternate power source. You’ll need to calculate your CPAP device’s daily usage based on the label on your device.

Don’t forget to add in humidification if required. Anytime heat or dispersal of moisture is used in any appliance requires more energy.

How to power a CPAP Device in your RV while hooked up to an electric source?

CPAP Device with Hose and Mask - Always On Liberty

The most common way to power your CPAP device is by using alternating current (AC) also known as 120-volt service.

Simply plug the machine in and let it do its thing. You also can power your machine on 120-volt service when unplugged.

However, you will need an inverter to energize the wall outlet that your machine is plugged into. The inverter will require large enough wattage to provide the proper amount of electricity to operate the device.

Check the label on your CPAP machine to determine the appropriate size inverter needed to operate the device. The inverter will change power from your RV’s 12-volt battery to 120 volts to power the device.

That said, the inverter is not the most efficient method to power your machine but is the most common.

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“How can you run your CPAP device with limited power availability or when electricity isn’t available when living in an RV or camper?”

How to power your CPAP Device through your RV’s Direct Current (DC)?

Using your RV’s direct current (DC) is less complex but requires wiring a 12-volt outlet to allow use of a DC cable to power the CPAP device.

The installation of the outlet needs to be done in accordance with electrical specs for your specific RV. You will need to have the correct size wire and fuse for the safe operation of your medical equipment. DC outlets are similar to cigarette lighter receptacles.

Be aware though, DC adapter cables are brand and machine specific so you will need to purchase the right cable. In our opinion, this method is the most efficient use of your RV’s batteries.

Most popular CPAP machines and DC adapters that work with them:

How to power a CPAP using a generator

If you’re not going to be tethered to an electrical pedestal at a campground or RV park, you’ll need to power your CPAP through another means of getting power.

You can use your RV’s onboard generator or portable inverter generator to power your CPAP device instead. That said, the generator method has zero drain on your batteries, and it assists in recharging your battery bank.

Factory installed generators are easy to use just by flipping the switch to start your onboard generator. Just make sure you have enough fuel and you maintain your generator’s monthly maintenance.

Our small Class C diesel generator fuel source comes from our same diesel tank that feeds our motorhome.

However, a lot of RVs may have propane generators instead, which require you to replenish at a propane filling station.

Like our former fifth wheels, if you don’t have an onboard generator, you’ll want to look into getting a portable inverter generator (or two?).

Inverter generators are claimed to be quieter but nonetheless, can still be a nuisance to those camping around you. That said, portable generators require you to carry fuel in an approved external container, can or bottle.

They also take a small amount of time to set up for use. A portable generator may require adapters to allow your 30 or 50-amp power cord to connect to the generator. 

For short stays in more secluded areas where noise won’t bother your neighbors, a generator may be your best option.

Just be mindful of where you park your RV if you’re going to use your generator to power your CPAP device. Be mindful of how close you park to other RVs (or buildings) as well as quiet hours. Though we understand the reason for wee hour generator use, not everyone else is equally understanding.

Oh, and don’t forget, even portable generators require monthly service and maintenance.

“How can you power your CPAP device if you don’t have generator but want to camp off grid?”

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How to power your CPAP device in your RV while boondocking or camping off grid?

Face it, all RV batteries are not created equal. Unless you’ve already upgraded, your motorhome or towable RV is most likely equipped with basic lead acid batteries.

Most CPAP machines run anywhere from 30-60 watts.

Watts is a unit of power and a function of current (amps) and volts (Watts= amps x volts). If you’re running your CPAP off your RV batteries, you need to know the power demand in amp hours and if your RV batteries can handle the discharge rate.

Honestly though, you’ll be lucky if your CPAP device will even acquire enough power to run from almost every type of RV battery. It depends on what other appliances are drawing from the same battery source. Even more so if you’re CPAP therapy requires humidification which requires a higher wattage.

Your biggest concern is not allowing your RV house lead-acid batteries to discharge below a 50% state of charge. Lead acid batteries will develop a lower voltage as they discharge which means CPAP devices may be affected by the lower voltage and not function properly.

Speaking from experience, when we originally had lead-acid batteries in our fifth wheels, my CPAP device experienced interruptions due to low voltage. This is actually what led us to switching out our lead-acid batteries for lithium batteries

In our revised energy management system in our Winnebago View, our lithium batteries could be discharged down to a 10% state of charge, while maintaining a consistent 13 volts. This provides the perfect voltage for continued use of my CPAP device. Since installing lithium batteries in our RV, there are no more power interruptions.

While we understand lithium batteries are on the pricey side, lithium is a viable option that will relieve you of excessive draw you get from lead-acid batteries.

Lithium batteries require no monthly maintenance and you can take them down to 0% state of charge. Whereas, lead acid, AGM, Gel Cell and 6 volt golf cart batteries can’t be taken them past 50% state of charge.

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“What if you don’t have the cashflow to replace your lead acid batteries but still need ample electricity to power your CPAP?”

Can you power your CPAP Device using a battery bank power supply?

You could power your CPAP device using a CPAP battery power bank. However, CPAP battery power banks limit use to one or two nights (depending on pressure and humidification requirements) before it would need recharging. By having two or three on hand, you can extend the time you’re away from home.

So, given that, having multiple CPAP battery backups may not be the most viable option. While expensive, they’re still a more portable option that is a good solution for tent campers or RV’s such as pop-ups or hybrid campers.

Portable battery backup options for CPAP devices:

Final thoughts on RVing with a CPAP

CPAP Device with Hose and Mask

Requiring a CPAP device or medical equipment should not deter or prevent you from camping at campgrounds, RV parks or marinas with electric hookups. But also, knowing how to power your CPAP with off grid capabilities (RV, tent, boat, etc.), you’ll wake up refreshed to take on the new day’s adventure.

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