Now you are saying to yourself, hey I'm camping, why would I want to take my dish along? If I were tent camping, sleeping under the stars, bringing a dish along would probably not be very practical, but when you are pulling a camper and spending a lot of time in it, then a satellite system isn’t out of the question. There aren’t many locations, especially in the United States where you can not pick up either a Dish Network or Direct TV satellite signal. Now there are many different ways to set up a satellite system in your camper. Some are inexpensive but others can get very expensive. It’s all up to you on what you choose. I’m on the cheap side, so I’ll discuss the inexpensive first and discuss the more expensive later. Please add comments if you agree disagree or have information that I haven’t covered, including experiences with your satellite systems or equipment.
Step 1: Decide what system to use. My decision is based on what I use at home. When we first started camping, we used Direct TV, so that is what I set up in the camper. Since then we have changed to Dish Network, so I currently have Dish Network set up in our camper. I do believe Direct TV was easier to set up, as you didn’t have to worry about splitting 2 satellite signals, as you do with Dish Network When I ordered my home Dish Network receivers, I purchased an extra receiver that I leave in the camper. The price adds $6 to your monthly bill, which isn’t bad.
Most campers that have been built in the last several years have an outside satellite hookup. If you are using one of these connections, ensure that the cable connection you are using does not have an amp booster on it, as it may damage your satellite receiver. If your camper doesn’t have an outside connection and you don’t want to re-wire your camper, then you may just use the good old, open window method and route the satellite dish coax directly to your dish receiver.
Ok, so now we have a dish, receiver, coax (and hopefully a TV). Don’t forget to bring the satellite receiver remote, as you will need this. Without it, you may have a hard time finding your settings that will be discussed later in this article.
You will also need a spare dish. If you don’t have a spare, you can purchase them from EBay, Camping World or even flea markets. I was lucky enough to get one from my sister, as they went from Dish Network to Cable and didn’t have a need in their old dish. I have mine mounted on a Portable tripod. These can also be purchased from EBay, Camper sales, etc. It just makes it easy to set up and they are portable, folding up for easy storage. Note: before you purchase a dish, make sure that it supports the type satellite system you are going to use. There are generic dish systems that will work with both Dish Network and Direct TV, so you will need to research before you buy.
Step 2: This is where the some expense may come in. There are several ways to attack this step. The cheapest way is to input your campground zip code into the menu setup on you satellite receiver. Once you input the zip code, the receiver will give you 2 setting, Azimuth and Elevation. Azimuth is the angle relating to the horizontal positioning of the dish. The angle is expressed in terms of degrees, with North = 0 degrees, South = 180 degrees. Elevation is the angle above the horizon and is also expressed in terms of degrees. This is the angle by which the dish must be “tilted Up or Down” in relation to the theoretical horizon, in order to position it precisely for the desired satellite. Once you have this information, then go to your dish and position it using a good compass and the elevation settings on the actual dish. It takes some practice, but once you do it a couple times, you will get the hang of it. It’s best to take a look at the “lay of the land” before you begin, as you don’t want the less amount of obstructions possible. With either Dish Network or Direct TV, the dish will be pointed towards the Southern skies.
For most, this is a good setup, but does require practice and patience. You can also purchase a Sat Finder. You can find them anywhere that sells satellite systems. Camping World also stocks them. They sell for about $20-$50. They eliminate the need in getting the Azimuth and Elevation. They work like an SWR meter that is used to tune a CB radio. The stronger the signal, the closer to the satellite. Again takes some practice, but isn’t hard to figure out once you do it a few times.
Camping World also stocks an item called, Align-A-Site Satellite Finder. This lets you see what you dish sees to avoid obstacles before you set up. I have had a couple fellow campers swear by this item, but I have not ever used one. They also cost about $170.00, so not expensive, it does add some cost to you setup.
Now if you want ease, then you may go with the more expensive dishes. They mount on your camper/unit and find the satellites for you automatically. There are basically 2 type units. One unit only works in a stationary position; the other is constantly correcting and keeps the satellites locked in. These systems begin around $600.00 up to around $2000.00, with the later being fully automatic.
So as you can see, Satellite viewing is possible and the sky is the limit when choosing a set up.