After many years of talking about it, I recently joined the world of RV owners. While my wife was busy planning what household items we would need to buy to stock it, I looked at it from a risk-assessment point of view. Now that our maiden voyage is complete, here are my thoughts and lessons learned.
RVs combine the best and worst features of a vehicle and a building. They are mobile, but they are not nimble by any means. Turning one takes as much planning as turning an aircraft carrier. They have a high center of gravity and can tip easily. You need to plan your turns well in advance. I have been through a couple of tactical evasive driving courses — the kind where you take armored SUVs backward through S-turns at 40 mph. You are not going to do anything like that in an RV. Evading threats in an RV is going to depend on very early detection and avoidance.
Get Where You’re Going Securely
Your situational awareness needs to be on maximum. Take advantage of all available information sources. The GPS that came with my RV is at least 10 years old. So while it is useful for directions, it isn’t capable of giving real-time traffic information. Upgrading to one that will is on my to-do list. In addition to warnings on speed traps and accidents, it would be incredibly helpful to have advance warning before accidentally driving into a protest.
One piece of equipment that came with my RV that can help give you advance warning of a threat is a CB radio. I honestly thought CB radios had disappeared with the advent of cellphones. But the RV community is one area where CB use is still common. The unofficial RV channel is 13, and if you have a CB it is a good idea to monitor it. If your CB has a “scan” feature, you should also listen in on Channel 19, which is the truckers’ channel. If there are emergency conditions up ahead, you need to find out as soon as you can. During the Oregon fires of 2020, cell towers were down in many areas. RVers who had to evacuate relied on CB radios for real-time route updates.
Say It With Me: ‘Lock The Door’
If you’ve been to military basic training, you should be familiar with the concept that people who leave wall lockers unlocked are the reason there are thieves in the world. In the same vein, RVers who leave their cargo compartments unlocked are the reason people steal from RVs. Don’t get complacent and think no one is going to steal from you when you are driving. Thieves are opportunistic. An unlocked cargo compartment on an RV is an inviting target. They know the odds of you catching them are slim. And they know they can open a compartment door, grab something and be gone before you can stop them.
When you stop for the night, you also need to keep all doors locked. By definition, you are in unknown territory and don’t know what the local situation is. We pulled into one RV park in Denver late one evening, and in the morning we discovered there was a huge homeless camp a literal stone’s throw away. There was nothing preventing any of them from wandering through the RV park looking for things that weren’t nailed down. Don’t make yourself an easy target. The only time a compartment should be unlocked is when you are actually putting something in or taking something out. There is no such thing as leaving it unlocked “for only a minute.”
An RV is an odd creature since most of the rules for both home defense and vehicle defense apply to it.
I shouldn’t have to mention keeping your entrance door locked, but complacency needs to have a wooden stake driven through its heart, so: Keep your entrance door locked. Your best defense when in an RV — while parked or while driving — is to keep threats from getting inside. Have you ever had to deal with an aggressive panhandler? You know, the kind who will follow you, get in between you and your car until you give him or her money or, if you are in your car, will stick his or her face in your window or try to open your door so he or she can have a face-to-face conversation with you?
Now imagine you are in an RV and such a person opens your door, steps inside and asks if you have any spare change. How do you handle it? Yell at him or her to get out? Shove him or her out? Pull a weapon? No matter how you decide to handle it, it would have been much easier if your door had been locked and he or she couldn’t get in, wouldn’t it? Now imagine instead of one panhandler it’s a horde of protesters.
Upgrading RV Locks for Security
Now let’s talk door locks. Most RV door locks can be defeated with a small prybar, and some can be defeated with just bare hands and brute force. The reason for this is that the latching mechanism on a typical RV door is short and a thief only has to deform the door or frame a little bit — approximately a quarter-inch — to gain entry. What’s worse is that most RV door and compartment locks use a master key, so anyone with the key can unlock your vehicle. Some RV guides actually list this as a positive feature, as you can just ask any other RVer to unlock your rig if you accidently lock the keys in it. To me, that’s like giving all of your neighbors a key to your house.
For any real security, you need to change your door lock. I recommend getting one with a deadbolt that extends deep into the door frame and is of allsteel construction. There are several aftermarket locks available; some have an electronic keypad to unlock the door in case you lose your keys. No lock will absolutely prevent an intruder from getting in, whether we’re talking about an RV or your house. All a lock can do is make whatever it’s securing too inconvenient for a criminal to bother with and to give you time to respond.
Make it a Hard Target
I’ve briefly mentioned getting stuck in a protest. To me this is one of the biggest threats you can face in an RV: immobile and surrounded by an excited, emotionally charged crowd of unknown intent. In the summer of 2020, video was released of a group of protesters climbing on top of an RV and dancing on the roof. In 2019, a group of street racers in San Diego beat a 64-year-old man after he confronted them when they climbed on top of his RV. Just as the best solution for dealing with a protest is to avoid it, the best solution for dealing with people trying to climb on top of your RV is to deny them access.
If your RV has an attached ladder that goes from near the street to the roof, consider replacing it with a completely removable ladder or one where the bottom half is removable and stored when not in use. You may not be able to stop someone from getting on your roof, but you don’t need to make it easy for him or her.
If someone does get on your roof, your last option is to get out of the RV to confront the individual. Call 911 and let the police do their job. Your insurance company can take care of any damage. There is absolutely nothing someone can damage outside your RV that is worth you getting killed or maimed over.
Firearms in RVs
Now for the fun part: staging firearms. This is the one area where RVs beat all other vehicles hands-down. The first thing I did was install a pistol safe in the bedroom closet. Now a pistol is good, but a long gun would be better, and both would be best. I plan on installing a shotgun closet mount next since a shotgun makes sense for the close distance from the back bedroom to the front door in my specific RV. That closet is in a pullout, which means it wouldn’t be accessible while I’m driving, which means the pistol and shotgun wouldn’t be either. The only solution is to stage another long gun and pistol near the driver’s seat. I’m thinking a floor mount for an AR-15 to the left of and a bit behind the driver’s seat — the kind used in police cruisers — should do it.
Any firearms in your RV that are not under your physical control need to be locked up to prevent unauthorized access. You wouldn’t leave a rifle unattended on the back seat of your car, and a gun in an RV is no different.
Home Away From Home
An RV is an odd creature since most of the rules for both home defense and vehicle defense apply to it. Know the limitations and strengths of what you are driving, and keep in mind the old saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” It’s easier to avoid trouble than to get yourself out of it once trouble is upon you. But just like at home, have a plan ahead of time if trouble comes knocking uninvited.