W is for Water

This week I had lunch with a good friend and she asked a critical question: “When you go sailing, will you have a way to make fresh water out of sea water?”. She was, of course, referring to a water maker. The answer to that is probably not. But it’s not because we don’t want to have one. When I think about the possibility that we would be in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and run out of fresh water, I can feel the wheels in my head start turning. I cannot let that happen.

Running out of fresh water? OH NOOOO!

Galapagos carries 300 gallons of water in two tanks. Allegedly, according to Mike, you can isolate one tank from the other, but as far as I can remember, we haven’t ever done that.  300 gallons is a lot of water.  We cruised for 5 weeks this summer and never even came close to running out. In fact, it’s possible we are still using the remains of that water as we sit at the dock. We have no way to measure how much we are actually using.

So how can we really know how much water to plan for when cruising in a hot climate? Our water usage will go up when we are in Mexico. When cruising in Canada, we can go a week or more without showering. We just don’t get very dirty and we don’t sweat much. But in Mexico? Pretty sure that we’re going to want to shower more often than that! Plus, I’m probably going to be almost neurotic about keeping salt and sand out out of the boat interior. That means we need to be able to rinse off with fresh water while on the aft deck. So how can we know how much water we need?

From back in the days of my Koi pond. I miss them sometimes. But I don’t miss taking care of the pond.

To answer that question, I cast my net to the Women Who Sail FB page and asked about water usage. What I got from the many answers to my question came down to this:

  1. Water usage is so individual it’s hard to know. Water conservation is important if you don’t have a water maker.
  2. Most people would kill to be able to carry 300 gallons of water. We agree that’s a lot of water.
  3. Many people who have water makers would never be without one, and many people who don’t have them wish they did. It seems to depend somewhat on your cruising grounds. Lots of people cruising in Mexico have them because it’s sometimes hard to find potable water. The single reason people given for loving them is the freedom of self-sufficiency. If you have one and it’s working, then you never have to worry about finding a good water source. You can stay in that isolated anchorage as long as you want. Come to think of it, that’s why we put in solar panels and are going to be getting more. Freedom.

All of that was helpful. I was relieved that it looks like we could probably be fine for anywhere from 6 weeks to two months and not even worry overly much about water conservation.  I was starting to  decide we didn’t need one,  but then  Amy G. Dala got her knickers in a little bit of a twist. She has some thoughts about carrying water and cruising in a desert environment such as the Sea of Cortez.

Here is what she thinks:

  1.  What if the first tank springs some kind of leak you can’t fix and you lose your water? The water in the second tank goes into the first tank. All the water could be lost into the bilge. If you are far away from fresh water, you could die.
  2. What if the water somehow gets fouled? You could die.
  3. What if you run out and you aren’t close to anywhere you can get water? It’s a hostile desert out there! You might die.
  4. What if the water available to you isn’t very clean? You could get a tropical disease and die!
  5. What if your water pump breaks, and then your spare water pump breaks, and then the spare spare water pump breaks? You might die!
  6. If you drink sea water, you’ll die.

    One word for this desert: Hostile.

    One word for this desert: Hostile. He’s just waiting for pale skinned people who don’t know nothin’ about needing more water in the desert.

Well, Fran ‘the frontal’ Cortex may scoff at these whinings, she may think they are slightly crazy. None of these things is very likely to happen. She may speak sternly to Amy G. Dala and tell her to go to her room and stay until she calms down. But what if? We all know that Amy G. Dala’s job is to mitigate possible death scenarios, not play the odds.

It’s not as though we don’t know how to cruise with a small water tank. On Moonrise, our Cal 34, we carried 40 gallons of water for three people. I learned how to conserve water really well on that boat. I could take a shower with less than a tea kettle of water. I washed dishes and clothes in salt water and rinsed them in fresh. We never left the tap running. Mike chose to conserve water by forgoing showers and shaves. We all make sacrifices, and this was mine.  Oh, we know about water conservation. Another thing I know is that Galapagos is going to be our home. I’m willing to conserve to the same extent that we already do (except I’ll be taking normal showers on that boat, thank you.) . But I’m not going to be camping out. I’m okay with having a little luxury on board our boat.

One of the complaints people have about water makers is that historically they have not been reliable, tending to break down often and needing proprietary parts in order to get them going again. They are also downright pricey to buy new. This one, however, is supposed to be both reliable and easy to repair with no proprietary parts. It gets good reviews, and several of the women in the WWS group have one and love it. I think the technology has probably come a long way since watermakers were first introduced to the non-commercial market.

One thing I was charmed by in Mexico was the shrines built by the road. I might need a shrine if we run out of water.

One thing I was charmed by in Mexico was the shrines built by the road. I might need a shrine if we run out of water.

In the end, it’s going to come down to money for us. We will not let the lack of a water maker keep us at the dock one minute longer than necessary, especially when we already carry 300 gallons. If we can afford to get one after we’ve addressed our list of actual ‘needs’, then that would be great. If not, the plan is to go sailing, then see how it goes. If we decide we want one, then we’ll find a way to get one.

Meanwhile, to get Amy G. Dala to shut up, I plan to carry water in large sealed jugs, just like I did on Moonrise, in case of emergency. I’ll just stow them away somewhere and if we get into the middle of the Pacific and all of our water somehow gets polluted or whatever, then we will have enough drinking water for the passage.

Now, shut up, Amy. We’re done here.

Want to read from the letter A? We’re almost finished with the A to Z Challenge!

28 thoughts on “W is for Water

  1. I was going to add (What if the watermaker breaks down? You could die!”, but you beat me to it. With Sionna, we went from a 9 gallon water tank to two tanks totalling 100 gallons and redundant pumping systems. We feel positively water rich!
    I’m curious, though – did nobody on Women Who Sail mention collecting rain? Granted in desert areas rain is rarer that the PNW or the East and Caribbean, but even there it does rain. For much of the world it would seem to be a logical supplement. No?

    • I almost included that in the post, but collecting rain, while really really easy up here in the rainy pacific northwest, is not something you can do in Mexico for the most part. One woman who has cruised down there for the last 5 years made that explicit point. She said that first of all, you don’t want to be there during the rainy season. Second, in the baja, where we will be, there isn’t enough rain to count on ever. We certainly can capture rain other places. We have no idea how long we will cruise in the sea of cortez. Many people get stuck there for years. I’m not thinking that will be us, though.

  2. Wow – 300 gallons of water!! I’d kill for that. We only carry 50 gallons – two separate 25 gallon tanks which can be isolated from each other. A watermaker is on our list of nice to have, but don’t want to shell out the money for it just yet list. It’s a very long list. We’ll probably have to get one one of these days. I’m hoping the longer we wait the more the cost goes down and the technology improves.

    • It is a lot of water isn’t it? And of course, this boat has been sailed all over the world without a water make. It’s definitely a ‘want’, not a need. But that list is, unfortunately, also long. I understand you can buy very nice rebuilt katadyn water makers on Ebay for a much lower cost than new. They are highly rated.

  3. Glad your Amy G. Dala has calmed down. And I love that you are keeping your options open to purchase one if the need becomes apparent. I’m happy to learn that you have a relatively huge amount of water stored! My Amy. G. Dala needs another cup of tea! It was wonderful fun getting together with you. I’m excited for your adventure, and all that happens along the way. I’m relying on the Universe and synchronicity to handle the details more. Hugs! xo

  4. Wow, 300 gallons! We actually did spring a leak once and lost a lot of water. We have since learned to turn the water pressure off at the breaker box. We have the ability for 160 gallons, but are buying a water maker (today!) in order to carry less water as weight really affects our catamaran’s speed / performance. We’re getting a rainman – it’s “portable” so will be stored in the lazarette and then used once a week. We like that we won’t have to drill more holes in the boat – nightmares about thru hulls can really keep Amy awake!

    • We turn the pressure off when we are under way, but when we are anchored it stays on. I’ve heard of the Rainman. Some young cruisers over at Sundowner Sails Again bought one and they liked it. Hope it serves you well! I agree that water weighs a ton. Our boat already ways 23 tons, so who’s counting?

  5. 300 gallons? Yeah, I’m jealous (we carry about half that). We have a water-maker aboard but the original owner who commissioned the boat opted for an engine driven one. To run it, we have to keep our RPM around 1400 which means doing it at anchor or motoring at about 4 knots, so we do our best to conserve and get by on topping the tanks up whenever we go in for provisions. We didn’t have a problem last season when we were in Alaska. But had we been cruising further south, finding water could have been a problem because of the drought.

    • You know, I’m starting to wonder if that number is accurate. We’ve never measured the water tanks, it’s what we were told, though. But so many people are surprised at that amount, that it makes me wonder if it’s right. I may investigate that further. I’m surprised that David cannot somehow magically change that water maker you have into one that is not engine driven? I tell you what. I will trade you my 300 gallon tanks for your aft cabin. Deal?

      • Melissa,

        RE: Water tankage on your Olympic 47: Sailboatdata.com lists it at 400 gallons water; 200 of fuel.

        See: http://sailboatdata.com/viewrecord.asp?class_id=3626

        That amount of tankage was not all that unusual [especially for foreign laid hulls] in the days before water makers were rare, and before they became [gulp] more cost effective and efficient.

        Assuming you were correctly informed and have 300 gallons [vs. 400] then you are carrying 1 1/4 tons of water in tanks holding 44 cubic feet of liquid. Envision one equivalent tank 11 feet x 4 feet by 1 foot high…

        Sounds like showers are the norm to me!

        • Ha! You checked it out, too! i checked our survey on the boat. Says 400 gallons. I think we have the original tanks, so sounds like 400 it is. Yep, more showers for everyone! Yay!

  6. With a little attention, we can make our 120 gallons last about a month, so I’m sure that your 300 gallons will feel like luxury. Keeping a few emergency jugs stored sounds like a great way to soothe Amy G’s stress, too!

    Several years ago I posted about average water use in the US — 100 gallons per person, per day! That means your water tank would last just a couple of days, if you lived the way people do on land. Seems incomprehensible, doesn’t it? Granted that includes lawn-watering and toilet flushing to make it a big number compared to what we cruisers use; we have no lawns to water, and flush with salt water instead of fresh. If you want links to the data they’re in this very old blog post of mine: http://lifeafloatarchives.blogspot.com/2009/05/water-water-everywhere.html

    • Thanks! I’ll give that a read. I think with the emergency jugs all will be well. We have salt water heads on Galapagos, and no lawns that I’m aware of! 🙂

  7. Melissa,

    You make a great point: Amy has a right to be concerned about potable water availability.

    I also agree you are [much] better off than most cruising boats your size for tankage.

    Expanding upon your thoughts about [potable] water, I will add some additional considerations perhaps outside the scope of your post- [please feel free to edit…] but still somewhat related [and not all of which Amy could get too worked up about.]

    One of our goals as cruisers is to be prepared to remain independent for the longest [comfortable] periods we can between transits for services. [Potable water, groceries, fuel, etc.]

    On our boat, we try to balance the service intervals for potable water, waste management (refuse and human effluvia…), fuel, and food.

    It would be great if all of the above categories needed ‘servicing’ about the same time, but typically one or two require a greater frequency.

    The balancing act is to determine how long we wish to remain independent without having to commute to a ‘service’ area [Waste disposal, shopping, watering, fueling, etc.] and when we must, to hit venues that can service all of our needs [when possible….]

    We all strive to increase the service intervals of our ‘neediest’ categories to maximize our periods of independence. [We dislike having to commute because something is full (holding tanks, refuse bins, etc.) or empty (larder, water tanks, etc.) earlier than planned.]

    Just for reference and comparing notes, we have optimized our independence time to a comfortable 30+ days minimum, and easily extended to 90 days using the following approaches: [This is all assuming nothing irregular occurs e.g., health related issues, breakdowns, etc.]

    1) Water: we have a water maker [but it doesn’t make food or fuel…]
    We carry 220 gallons in 2 tanks and can comfortably stretch that for 30+ days; double that if needed.

    Our water independence period is indefinite as long as the water maker is functioning and we are in reasonably clean raw water… Otherwise, it is reduced to 30-60 days if we are limited to [full] tanks only.

    Consumption: From many years of cruising I can share that 1.5 gallon/day/adult with a [Sun] shower every other day is easy in cooler climates; bump to 2.5 gallon/day in the tropics.

    For comparison, our house is in an area where water wells are not always feasible, and existing wells are sometimes not potable [arsenic anyone?] Therefore we have 2k gallon water tank. I tracked our consumption over the last 14 years. Taking no special precautions, and with all the typical appliances, we averaged 32 gallons/day/adult.

    2) Food [2 refrigerators, 1 freezer, lots of non-perishables, plus fresh seafood…]
    We can easily carry 90 days of complete meals; more if necessary or if rationed. This is extended every time we harvest something edible…

    3) Waste:
    Refuse: This is the tricky one… Organics can be buried or tossed overboard in appropriate areas, paper burned in beach fires, but trash still accumulates… A trash compactor would double or triple our 3+ week average storage capability.
    Human effluvia: [Assuming in a no discharge zone- worse case scenario] One of our heads has a composting toilet, so this offers the possibility of an indefinite independence period dependent upon consumables. [18 months worth of compressed coconut coir occupies 1 cubic foot of storage…]

    4) Fuel: We can motor 1200-1500 miles, but also have a generator and heater drawing from the same 2 fuel tanks. Therefore consumption is a moving target. Typically we top-up twice each year.

    This all demonstrates that right now, garbage, then food are our primary limiting factors. [30-90 days give or take…] The good news is, within reason, we get to choose… [e.g., In our case, is a trash compactor worth tripling our independence to a solid 90 days?… In your case, the same question with regard to a water maker… and these other considerations…]

    Our cruising strategy is to not allow lack of any convenience to hold us back; but also to maintain the level of conveniences to accommodate the [boating] lifestyle we prefer to lead… It sounds like you guys are of similar thought…

    Great series. Kudos for your blogging energy…

    • Yes, we are on the same page about being self sufficient. I like being able to go and go without stopping for supplies, which is always a bit of a pain. Interesting you mentioned trash compactors. I have beenlooking at those but seriously don’t know where i’d put one. We started talking about them after our last cruise where we focused quite a bit on keeping the trash down to a minimum just to challenge ourselves a bit. We didn’t bring anything in bottles, bought beer in cans which we then crushed to save space, and left all packaging in the garbage on land. That cut down on a lot, but it still felt like we could have done better. In terms of the water, it’s possible we have even larger tanks. I checked the survery while i was down at the boat and it says 400 gallons. Wow! Pretty sure that should do!

  8. First off, you’ll never be more than a day away from a source of water in the Sea. Small villages may not be able to fully fill your tanks, but they’ll give you enough to get to a bigger town.

    Second, there will probably be a boat nearby that has a watermaker and will give you some to get to a bigger town.

    Third, even with a watermaker, we averaged 7 gallons a day in the Sea of Cortez (6+ summers; all summer long) for two people and a small dog.

    Fourth, get a 1 or 2 gallon tank sprayer (like you use for spraying stuff in the yard/garden) — makes a great way to rinse off without using much water. Also good for rinsing off snorkel gear and so on.

    • Thanks for the feedback, Carolyn. I don’t know how long we’ll be in the Sea of Cortez, we plan to keep moving south and cross to Galapagos at some point. 7 gallons a day sounds like a pretty reasonable and generous amount of water. WE do have one of those 1 gallon sprayers that we used on board Moonrise. I’m sure it will come with us!

  9. Really no problem filling up with water while in the Sea of Cortez. It does mean, however, the occasional visit to a marina (or mooring buoy in Puerto Escondido). As I mentioned before, just have a method to treat chemically (we used Soriana’s eqivalent to Microdyn), and filter the water (preferably as you fill tank). As mentioned before, the Waterfixer Filter/UV treatment system is a great way to quickly treat water as you fill tanks.

    Pretty well everyone we met with a watermaker had it breakdown at least once. (Friends who just arrived 1-2 days ago in the Marquesas had their watermaker die a few weeks before leaving Mexico. They opted to go without; they were able to catch lots of rainwater during their crossing – – and still are in the Marquesas now as it is rainy.) And, as mentioned before – repeated for other readers – – there are many places in Mexico you can’t use a watermaker due to pollution and cloudy water: harbours (including La Paz), marinas, lagoons, etc.

    300 gallons? You’re laughing!


    • Actually I think I’m laughing even harder. I checked our survey. it’s 400 gallons, not 300. Pretty sure we can get by on that! But I’m still going to put sealed jugs of fresh water on board. It’s kind of like buying insurance. You hope you won’t need it.

  10. Wow lots of info and questions. funny thing we are preparing a move to Africa. We have spent the past 2 years researching and trying homeopathic drugs, reading up on survival, water purification and have had many similar questions.
    I will weigh in on the water thing. I have lived on a boat and lived in 3rd world countries so I understand the water dilemma. I learned at an island camp that you could get away with salt water showers. When I lived on a boat, I got clean in the ocean. If you want to wash your hair lather up and finish up with clean water you have saved gallons of drinking water. One other trick is using babywipes to wipe down your body. I got through an entire summer using babywipes and one shower per week.
    The things we will face in Africa will be similar but also much different – cheers.

    Im blogging from Fill the cracks and Moondustwriter’s Blog. Happy last week of A to Zing!

    • Those are good tips! I look forward to being where the water is warm enough to swim. We have a salt water pump on the aft deck, as well as a fresh water pump. I think it will be easy to rinse off with salt water, then do a fresh water final rinse. Wow! Africa! I look forward to visiting your blogs. Thanks for stopping by ours.

  11. Melissa, the cheapest insurance you can get is to simply go ahead and isolate the tanks. It isn’t really that much trouble to live with that. And BTW, the same argument applies to your fuel tanks…

    s/v Eolian

    • Michael Here.

      It is true that the valve to isolate tanks is reasonably convenient. Just one floor board and then a gate valve down in the bilge a foot or so. One issue with our set up is that the two tanks are pretty far out on either side. Assuming that the pickup is from just one tank (I need to confirm that bit), you would need to re-balance the tanks periodically to keep the weight from causing the boat to list. We have noticed a slight list to port anyway and I suspect that is due to the diesel fuel tank arrangement.

      • Correct Michael. You can do that by using from port and stbd tanks on alternate days, if you are an organized person. If your fuel and water usage are similar, you could use from port water and stbd fuel tanks, which would cut down on the need for alternating some.

        Or, if you are like me, then you would just switch tanks when the list becomes noticeable.


      • Oh wait – I just noticed something that you said… Boy, I would be surprised if the water feed was from just one tank. In fact, if I found that was the case, I’d change it.

        Same for fuel.

        I’m a “not all my eggs in one basket” kind of guy.


  12. Pingback: 220. 221. Whatever It Takes. | Little Cunning Plan

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.