Water is the source of all life. For any sailor considering extended cruising or an ocean crossing, the ability to carry or produce sufficient fresh water to live off is a top priority.
But how do you decide how much water to ship or how best to generate your own? Our survey of the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) fleet last year focused on water. We asked the skippers how much water they carried, in what form, how it was used and, for the majority with watermakers, detailed questions about the generation of water and how the equipment performed at sea.
Since we last ran a survey on this topic in 2014 our collective attitude towards waste has arguably changed for the better. That fleet of 193 yachts carried over 28 tonnes of bottled water with them across to the Caribbean. All sailors today should consider how every consumable item they carry aboard will be disposed of when they reach their destination.
The main decision ocean sailors face with water stowage is whether to fit a watermaker, which is both a practical and a financial decision. Generating your own water is one of the best investments cruising sailors can make towards comfort and true independence.
ARC skippers over the past two decades have consistently described watermakers as one of their most vital pieces of equipment. “To us, a watermaker is the single best thing you can have for cruising by a fair margin and fully changes the game,” thinks Rush’s Ian Baylis – see full details of his set-up overleaf.
Three-quarters of the skippers who replied to our survey had watermakers aboard. The seven yachts listed as not carrying one were all smaller entries between 35ft and 45ft and typically over 20-year-old models. They carried extra water in bottles and jerrycans and used it sparingly.
WATER CONSERVATION TIPS
Use salt water when possible, for washing clothes, dishes or taking showers (right). If wanting a post-shower freshwater rinse, ration the water. Fitting saltwater taps in the galley and heads can really help.
Turn the pressure down on freshwater pumps – or only switch them on when necessary. Only carry bottled water for emergency use and keep some in a tank in reserve.
Rationing water from a day tank to reusable bottles is prudent and a good way to measure your fluid intake.
If running hot water, collect the cold while waiting for it to heat up.
WATER USAGE AND CONSERVATION
Being frugal with water becomes second nature to most cruisers. The majority of respondents said their crew only showered every three days, 12 every two days and 13 daily.
One of the most common pieces of advice from skippers concerning water conservation is to fit a saltwater tap and to use seawater whenever you can. “Cook with salt water when possible,” advises the crew of Montana, a Swan 48 S&S from 1973. Yet over half of the respondents did not have a saltwater tap fitted in their galley, nor even a manual freshwater pump in the galley or the heads.
“The saltwater tap in the galley is essential,” thinks Tobias Gröpper on his Sunbeam 44 Pivot. “We still have 50% of our tank capacity on arrival although we took showers etc.” Jorn Aalefjær, the Norwegian skipper of Ticora III, and Dane Martin Nielsen aboard his Jeanneau 53 also both stressed the benefit of fitting a saltwater tap.
Suffisant, one of the smallest entrants, a Beneteau Oceanis Clipper 331 from 1990, has only small tanks, but uses a Katadyn Power Survivor 40E watermaker. They used salt water to wash with and had manual taps fitted in the galley and heads. Swiss skipper Marina Passet says: “Salt water is no use for washing clothes, but can be used for brushing teeth, washing dishes and vegetables.”
Seasoned cruising sailors the Blacks aboard Bowman 57 Emily Morgan, say they have used their set-up for 8,500 miles and would not do anything differently. They relied on their Spectra Ventura watermaker, but advise closely monitoring the tanks: “We graph tank levels daily,” says Anna Black. “If the level is below the line then no more fresh water showers until it returns. Allow 20% extra in case of problems.”
Many other crews, including on the Sunbeam 42.1 Ibex, were happy relying on desalinated water without needing large back-up quotas of water. The Chung family aboard Kaizen use a four-filter system to purify their water and drink everything from the tank. They have an instant hotwater tap, and “we make our own sparkling water and have reuse cannisters for emergency”, says Kean Chung. Their Oyster 49 has 1,000lt tanks and a Sea Fresh watermaker, so the crew were able to shower daily and there was no need for any bottled water.
There should be no need to rely on single-use plastic water bottles when cruising. Reusable bottles, flexible or collapsible bladders and jerrycans are a perfectly adequate solution for storing reserve water, particularly if you have a good filtration system (see panel, page 31).
Recycling plastic is not possible on many islands. While in recent years IGY Rodney Bay Marina has provided a plastic recycling service for visiting yachts, run in cooperation with a local community group, due to COVID restrictions the service was suspended in 2020. So it was disheartening to find that nearly half the fleet still shipped over 100lt of bottled water each, while seven yachts carried over 250lt of bottled water, despite five of these having a watermaker.
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