You might have to shut off your generator at night while boondocking, depending on what government agency is in charge of the land you’re on, and if there are any other people nearby. Otherwise, shutting off your generator at night is more an act of kindness than a steadfast rule.
Do I Have to Shut Off My Generator at Night?
- None of the jurisdictions below state that generators must be shut off at night, they only state that you must not make unreasonable noise.
- It’s more of a judgement call of a ranger or law enforcement officer to determine if your generator is making unreasonable noise.
- It’s entirely plausible that a generator could be quiet enough to not be a nuisance, yet you will still encounter a camper who has to complain.
BLM, Dispersed Camping
The BLM does not define quiet hours for dispersed camping (boondocking) in most of its lands. The BLM does not make any specific mention of generators either
However, the BLM does have a general rule on excessive noise:
(a) No person shall cause a public disturbance or create a risk to other persons on public lands by engaging in activities which include, but are not limited to, the following: (1) Making unreasonable noise; (2) Creating a hazard or nuisance;§ 8365.1-4 Public health, safety and comfort
The BLM does not define what “unreasonable noise” means.
BLM, Developed Campgrounds & Long Term Visitor Areas
Each developed campground and Long Term Visitor Area establishes its own rules on quiet hours. You must inquire at each specific campground or LTVA to determine what those hours are, and what other restrictions on generators they may have.
- Most campgrounds and LTVAs tend to adopt the period of 10:00 PM to 6:00 AM as “quiet hours”.
- Camp hosts at each campground or LTVA are much more diligent about enforcing quiet hours.
US Forest Service, Dispersed Camping
The USFS does not specifically define “quiet hours” on a nationwide basis for national forests and grasslands. However, each forest and grassland is responsible for defining what these hours are, or if quiet hours should be defined and enforced at all. You will need to inquire at a ranger station or visitor center at the specific forest or grassland.
The USFS does have a more broad, general rule on excessive noise that applies across all forests and grasslands…
The following are prohibited: (i) Operating or using in or near a campsite, developed recreation site, or over an adjacent body of water without a permit, any device which produces noise, such as a radio, television, musical instrument, motor or engine in such a manner and at such a time so as to unreasonably disturb any person.§ 261.10 Occupancy and use
The rule does not define, “unreasonably”. It’s understood that you can still make noise, as long as it’s not unreasonable enough that it disturbs other people.
US Forest Service, Developed Campgrounds
The USFS does not define quiet hours on a nationwide basis for its developed campgrounds. Instead, each forest, grassland, and campground is free to define their own quiet hours…
- Most campgrounds tend to adopt 10:00pm to 6:00am as “quiet hours”.
National Park Service
The National Park Service (NPS) has defined “quiet hours” as between 10:00pm to 6:00am for all national parks. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that all generators must be shut off between those hours. The NPS has targeted only those generators that exceed 60 decibels “measured on the A-weighted scale at 50 feet”, must be shut off. However, it’s noted that some national parks and some campgrounds have extended those rules more aggressively.
- Most inverter generators, such as those built by Honda and Champion will produce noise between 45 to 60 decibels, measured directly at the generator itself.
The above paragraph stems from two NPS regulations on the books with respect to noise that apply to all national parks…
(a) The following are prohibited: (1) Operating motorized equipment or machinery such as an electric generating plant, motor vehicle, motorized toy, or an audio device, such as a radio, television set, tape deck or musical instrument, in a manner: (i) That exceeds a noise level of 60 decibels measured on the A-weighted scale at 50 feet; or, if below that level, nevertheless; (ii) makes noise which is unreasonable, considering the nature and purpose of the actor’s conduct, location, time of day or night, purpose for which the area was established, impact on park users, and other factors that would govern the conduct of a reasonably prudent person under the circumstances.§ 2.12 Audio disturbances
(b) The following are prohibited: (4) Creating or sustaining unreasonable noise between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m., considering the nature and purpose of the actor’s conduct, impact on park users, location, and other factors which would govern the conduct of a reasonably prudent person under the circumstances.§ 2.10 Camping and food storage
Quiet Hours & Use of Generators – Each national park is free to extend the above rules as they see fit. You will have to inquire at each national park visitor center or campground host to determine what additional rules apply to generator use…
- Some national parks will ban all generator use during quiet hours, regardless of how quiet your generator is.
- Some campgrounds ban generator use completely, throughout the entire day.
- Park rangers generally take the side of the party filing the complaint.
Bureau of Reclamation
The Bureau of Reclamation does not specify “quiet hours” nor specifically limit the use of generators on a nationwide level. They do have a more broad, general rule on excessive noise…
(e) The following acts constitute disorderly conduct and are prohibited: (3) Unreasonable noise, considering the nature and purpose of the person’s conduct, location, time of day or night, and other factors that would govern the conduct of a reasonably prudent person under the circumstances; (5) Any other act or activity that may cause or create public alarm, nuisance, or bodily harm.§ 423.22 Interference with agency functions and disorderly conduct
Most campgrounds located on Bureau of Reclamation lands are actually administered by other federal, state, and local agencies. Quiet hours and use of generators are enforced by these other agencies. There are, however, some recreation areas managed directly by the Bureau, and thus the above quoted rules apply.
Army Corps of Engineers
The Army Corps of Engineers defines quiet hours as between 10:00pm and 6:00am. Moreover, they also restrict the use of generators that make enough noise to “unreasonably annoy” other campers. These are published in the following regulations…
(b) Quiet shall be maintained in all public use areas between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., or those hours designated by the District Commander. Excessive noise during such times which unreasonably disturbs persons is prohibited. (c) Any act or conduct by any person which interferes with, impedes or disrupts the use of the project or impairs the safety of any person is prohibited. Individuals who are boisterous, rowdy, disorderly, or otherwise disturb the peace on project lands or waters may be requested to leave the project. (d) The operation or use of any sound producing or motorized equipment, including but not limited to generators, vessels or vehicles, in such a manner as to unreasonably annoy or endanger persons at any time or exceed state or local laws governing noise levels from motorized equipment is prohibited.§ 327.12 Restrictions
The Army Corps of Engineers does not go on to define what “unreasonably annoy” means.
Developed Campgrounds – The Army Corps of Engineers does operate several developed campgrounds in which entrance fees must be paid, and where campers pull into defined spaces. In these campgrounds, there may be more specific rules on the use of generators. You will have to inquire with campground personnel.
Dispersed Camping – Outside of developed campgrounds, the above regulations on quiet hours and generators still apply.
- Most campers generally find that they are able to run their generators during the day, no matter how loud, on dispersed camping areas. Even during quiet hours, it’s rare for a camp host to knock on someone’s door and tell them to shut off their generators (unless it’s extremely loud).