When we left to go cruising one of the things that we didn’t have was a watermaker. A watermaker is a shorthand description for a reverse osmosis system. Basically it takes sea water, brackish water, or river water and turns it into drinking water.
We had put a deposit down on one at the Annapolis boat show the fall before we left, then Jeff was diagnosed with his CHF so we got our deposit returned because we thought we’d be postponing our departure. When we realized we could leave as planned, we decided to hold off on the purchase and see how cruising was without it. After all, you can buy a heck of a lot of water for the price of a watermaker.
Pegu Club’s water tanks hold 63 gallons, plus we have two jerry jugs giving us a total of 73 gallons of water capacity. We discovered that by being extremely careful with our usage, we could make 73 gallons last for around around 4-5 weeks if we weren’t swimming regularly, 3-4 weeks if we were. Government statistics state that the average person in the U.S. uses 80-100 gallons of water per day for indoor home use, a shocking amount when you think about it.
How were we able to stretch our water capacity? We have foot pumps for the sinks which use substantially less water compared to a traditional pressure water system. When we wash dishes we rinse them with an Aquabot, which is a high pressure spray bottle.
For cooking, we’ve learned that we can make pasta using half of the recommended water by boiling it for three minutes and then letting it sit, covered, for ten additional minutes (which has the added bonus of saving on denatured alcohol for the stove); dried beans get easily cooked in a thermos, again saving water and stove fuel.
The composting toilet doesn’t require any water for flushing, and we can each get a shower (which doesn’t happen every day) out of a 2 gallon pump sprayer bottle with a simple kitchen sink sprayer on the end to control the water flow. All our clothes are tech-gear which are easily cleaned with less water.
So bottom line, we were doing just fine without a watermaker. We filled up our water tanks when we bought fuel and there were places we could buy reverse osmosis water in the Bahamas for 35 cents to 50 cents a gallon (and it was free in George Town, but you had to dinghy to the water dock with your jerry jugs). So why then did we decide to spend $6,000 on a watermaker?
We started to waver when we spent a month in George Town and Red Shanks. It was a 20+ minute wet dinghy ride to get to the water dock (plus a one mile walk each way when we were anchored in Red Shanks) and we could only carry 10 gallons at a time due to the load capacity of our Walker Bay dinghy. Suddenly we became even MORE conscious of every drop of water that we were using.
Wanting to avoid the expense of purchasing a watermaker simply because (when you get right down to it) we were inconvenienced, we talked about getting a bigger dinghy and larger outboard instead. It would be half of the cost of a watermaker, the trip would be faster, and we could carry more jerry jugs each time (for those keeping count, that would be dinghy number six). But this was literally the only time in 19 months that we had wished for a bigger dinghy and engine, and we liked being able to easily pick up the dinghy and outboard without needing a crane.
If we bought a watermaker we would have the freedom to travel literally anywhere we wanted without worrying about running out of water, or whether it would agree with my sensitive stomach if we couldn’t find reverse osmosis water. The more we kicked it around the more we liked the flexibility it would give us, so after a lot of thought we decided to buy a watermaker in the fall before we went to the Bahamas again.
Then Covid-19 hit. The Bahamas were in lockdown, marinas in the U.S. were closing to transients, and some towns were prohibiting non-residents. Suddenly not having a watermaker made us feel a bit vulnerable. With a watermaker we could be self-sufficient for months if we had to. We could also replace the two water jerry jugs with diesel (or one diesel and one gasoline), expanding our motoring range. So we decided to bite the bullet and buy one when we returned to the States instead of waiting until the fall.
Fortunately we had already done a ton of research before we left to go cruising, so we already knew which one we wanted: a Rainman. It’s a basic system so it has a great reputation for reliability, it doesn’t use proprietary parts, we wouldn’t have to spend hours installing it, and perhaps most importantly we can easily sell it separately when we decide to stop cruising.
It’s a simple fact that there is no upgrade that we can do to Pegu Club at this point that will raise her value – even adding a watermaker. Used Rainman water makers sell for around 2/3 of their purchase price, and they sell quickly. Buying it for $6,000 and selling it down the road for $3,500 – $4,000? Well that made the cost much easier to swallow.
So we placed our order and eight days later we had a watermaker. You can choose from a model that is powered by a separate Honda Generator or you can buy a model that is basically a single-purpose Honda Generator (there’s also a 12 volt unit but it’s not nearly as efficient). If you don’t already own a Honda Generator then the cost is virtually the same to buy the Honda plus the AC unit vs. simply the gasoline powered unit. We went with the latter because we just don’t have the room for a Honda plus an AC unit.
You can purchase a single membrane unit or a double membrane (which filters the water twice instead of once), and for the double membranes there is a compact size which makes 13-18 gallons per hour or a larger high output size that makes 26-37 gallons per hour. We went with the compact double membrane. We wanted it to be filtered twice, and at 46″ long we didn’t have the space for the larger size membranes. We also knew based on our water usage that we didn’t need the larger capacity.
Set up takes us about 5 minutes, the best tasting water we’ve ever had starts coming out 90 seconds after we turn the engine on, and we can run the unit for 70 minutes on 1/3 of a gallon of gas. It’s truly lived up to its advertising.
I posted on Facebook about how I was cringing over the cost, and several of our cruising friends told me it would change our cruising life. They were right. We didn’t realize how much we thought about every drop of water we used until we didn’t have to think about it anymore.
Water had been an ever-present thought in the back of our minds since cutting the dock lines 22 months ago. There’s a sense of comfort in knowing that, for example, we can shower every day if we want to and it doesn’t mean we’ll have to go get more that much sooner. We’ll just make more. We can spend all winter hanging out in isolated anchorages in the Bahamas and not have to plan around being somewhere that we can refill the tanks. We can go to other countries and not have to worry whether the water will agree with us. Sure, we’ll have to buy gasoline, but any place with a car is going to have gasoline. R/O water isn’t quite as ubiquitous.
So is it required? Of course not. Do we think it’s worth it? Absolutely. For us it’s been a game-changer, and worth every dollar.