Camper Water Heater Pilot Won’t Light or Stay Lit: How To Fix

When you can’t get your pilot light to stay lit or even light up, those cold showers are in your near future. These are not a lot of fun but they are great motivators to get that water heater fixed and ready to do its duty. Sometimes it is only a simple problem that needs adjusting

The thermocouple is one of the main suspects when you are experiencing this problem. That part could be dirty, bent, or broken and it could be all three at the same time. Cleaning, re-bending or replacing will be your only options here.

To learn more about fixing this problem, just continue to read our article. It has the information you want to know about so you do not have to face the prospect of taking a cold shower at any time.

How do You Light a Pilot Light On a Camper?

The one good thing about water heaters is that they usually come with lighting instructions. These instructions are found in a very easy-to-read location so there should be no problem when you need to light your model.

In general, the instructions go like this:

  • Turn the gas on at the tank and heater
  • Light your match or you can use a lighter
  • Turn the water heater’s knob to pilot or light
  • Put the flame from the match to the rod where the gas will come out. This helps the gas to flow
  • Once lit, turn the knob from pilot to heat

That is all there is to it when you need to light your water heater. Some brands’ instruction may vary a little bit but water heaters are simple devices and there are few differences between models.

How To Light The Pilot On Atwood RV Water Heater


We did leave a couple of key points in the last set of instructions. When you go to light your water heater, it is imperative that the tank is full of water first. Then, after checking the tank, make sure the freshwater valve is open so the heater will get a continuous supply of water.

For both the water and gas lines, you will have to make sure to bleed any air out of the systems. If you don’t, it may be difficult to light the pilot light. Once you have done all of that, just follow the simple steps listed above.

Turn the knob to pilot or light, strike the match and hold it to the gas opening and once lit, turn the knob to heat or on. It is that simple and if you have trouble you may still need to bleed more air out of the line or you may have a problem somewhere else.

Camper Water Heater Pilot Won't Light

The first thing to check is the gas line. You want to make sure you bled all the air out of the line. If you didn’t then those air pockets will blow the flame out as they come through the opening.

Sometimes there is an obstruction in the way of the gas line and you need to clear that obstruction before the gas can flow continuously and steady. This only takes a little cleaning to get rid of the problem.

The bigger issue will be the thermocouple. If it is dirty, you will need some sandpaper to clean it up. If it is bent, you will need to straighten it and if it is broken, you will have to replace it.

Also, you may have to hold the pilot light knob down for 20 to 30 seconds while holding a flame to the rod. This will bleed the air out. Then you can also try to light your stove first to help bleed the lines.

RV Water Heater Pilot Won't Stay lit


The biggest issue you have with this situation will be the thermocouple. If it is damaged, bent, or broken, then you have to repair, clean, or replace this part. When you see your thermocouple bent, you have to bend it back to its original position.

That position is as close to the pilot light as possible but only so close that the flame lightly touches that part. Another source for this problem is your propane tank. Double-check to make sure it has propane inside.

If your water heater has an automatic ignition system, then you could have a bad control board or it is simply not sensing the flame. Also, you could have a corroded igniter that interferes with lighting the pilot light.

When you go and try to solve these issues, sometimes, you may need to call in a professional technician to handle the repair. It will depend on what is wrong and the design of your water heater lighting system.

Why Won't My Pilot Light Relight?

One easy-to-spot source that would cause this is if your propane tank was empty or very low on fuel. Low propane pressure will cause the pilot light to fail when you try to light it. As would an empty propane tank.

Or you simply forgot to open the gas valve. Plus, you may have an obstruction in the line somewhere. A good cleaning will let you know if that was the source or not. Another source could be the wiring.

If the wires are loose or corroded, you may have trouble keeping the water heater light lit. Tighten or clean those wires up to make sure they won’t be the cause later on down the line.

Don’t forget to check the thermocouple and see it if is in the correct position and still in top working order.

What Do I Do If My Pilot Light Won't Light?


The first thing you need to do is check your gas lines and source. get the easy to solve possible sources out of the way first. Make sure you have propane in the tank, there are no obstructions and the valves are open.

Then check your thermocouple to see if it is in the right position, clean, and not broken. If those are not the problem, then you may have to bleed the air out of the gas line. When you change tanks, air does get inside the line and it needs to be let out before the pilot light will light.

Sometimes to facilitate this procedure, you have to light your gas stove at the same time. During this time, you may have to hold your pilot light knob down for 20 to 30 seconds before the light will light up.

Can You Manually Light An RV Water Heater?

This will depend on the design of your water heater. When the design is non-electric, then manually lighting the device is about your only option. But this design is more for the older models of the water heater.

The newer models have an electronic ignition design to them and it is not the wisest move to manually try to light the heater. The automatic or electronic lighting systems no longer use a traditional pilot light so manually lighting your model would invite trouble.

If you are having trouble lighting a water heater with this newer design, it would be best to call a technician and get their help. They will have some good tips for you to follow.

How do I Manually Light My RV Hot Water Heater?

How-do I-Manually-Light-My-RV-Hot-Water-Heater

The instructions are no different here than the ones we gave you a few sections back. Make sure the tank is full of water, then double-check to make sure all gas valves are open. Once that is done, turn the knob to pilot or light and light your match or lighter.

Wait a few seconds until you know the pilot light has caught, then release the knob and turn it on or heat. That is the only way to manually light a water heater. You cannot do this if your model comes with electronic ignition or an automatic lighting system.

In that case, you may need to call a technician for help to get the pilot light system up and running. Sometimes the control board has gone bad on you and it would need to be replaced. That takes someone who is trained to handle that type of replacement repair.

Some Final Words

The water heater in RVs is a very simple device to operate. Its systems are usually very basic and you do not need a lot of training to get them lit. Unless you have a newer model that does away with the traditional pilot light and ignition system.

If you are not sure which system you have, call the dealer and give them the serial or model number. They should be able to tell you what kind of system you have and what to do to get it lit again.

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