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Life On A Boat – How We Get Water

How do we get water on a boat?  You see us turn on a faucet and water comes flowing out, but where does it come from?  That is a good question.

We’re completely off the grid, meaning we are our own water, waste management and electric provider.  Which makes us hyper aware of all our resources.  We’ve shared how we harness our electricity from the sun and store the power in our lithium batteries.  Now we’re sharing how we get our most important resource, water!

Water is essential and arguably the most important resource to any human.  We literally can’t survive without it.  But getting, storing and using water on a sailboat can be a total pain in the aft!  (sorry, I couldn’t help myself)

On average, we humans need about a 1/2 gallon of water per day.  Exert yourself (as in move from one end of the boat to the other on a summer day in the tropics) and that amount goes up.  Fun Fact: the human body can sweat up to a whopping 1 liter of water an hour.  So, just to be on the safe side, we always have at least a two-week supply of drinking water (that’s fourteen gallons for the two of us).

We’ve been traveling and living off the grid for 9 years now (insert getting old joke here).  In all that time we’ve never had to buy bottled water for our traveling home.  Click the play button and join us aboard Curiosity for a chat about all things H20.  We’ll show you the full scoop on how and where we get water while living on a boat.

 

 

How To Get Water

Finding water can be tricky, especially in the more remote parts of the world. But where there are any signs of life, there is water to be found.  This applies to anyone living off the grid…where ever your boat, RV, van, mog or tiny house may be. There are a few different methods for getting water.

 

Rain Collection

rain storm at sea while sailing the pacific ocean

Collecting rain can be great for general cleaning and if you are in a particularly drench worthy part of the globe, it can be your constant source.  We use buckets all the time to collect rain water and if we put tarps or got serious and put together a legit collection system, we could collect far more.  Of course, along with catching water, we also catch microscopic creatures, bacteria, dirt, leaves, deck grime, fiberglass, get coat and who knows what else!  Which is why…

 

Don’t Drink Rain Water Without Purifying it first!

We will talk about water filtration and purification in our next post/video, but I thought this was an important item not to gloss over.

Rain water is good water and can be great for drinking.  It’s just not as pure as one might think.

I have seen lots of sailors, RV’ers, van lifers or off grid cabin owners simply collect water on tarps and dump it directly into their reservoir.  While they might not get sick…they are putting themselves at serious risk.  Add traveling to the mix and it’s a risk we don’t think is worth taking.  Here is why.

Some rain is perfectly safe to drink…if it fell directly from the sky and touched nothing else on its way into your reservoir.  But even then, rain water is only as clean as the atmosphere if fell through and the container its kept in.

The quality of rainwater will vary because air quality varies from place to place.  Rainwater can carry bacteria, parasites, viruses, and chemicals that could make you sick.  What is in the area?  Airports, smoke stacks, big factories…so many variables to consider.

Which is why we highly recommended filtering and purifying rainwater before drinking it.

If you want more reading material on the subject, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has an article and sources here:  https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/drinking/private/rainwater-collection.html

 

Public Water Source

dinghy dock for cruisers and free water

Marina, fuel station, or a public water filling station is most common…but sooo much to discuss here!  Is it potable (safe to drink) or not potable?  Is it free or for a fee?

If it is potable what are the conditions of the tap and/or hose?  How sanitary is it?  Who used it last and for what?  How will you get it back to the boat?  How do you feel about adding this water (and whatever is in it) into your water storage tank?

Many travelers don’t trust the public water sources or the person who used it before them (with fair reason) and don’t feel comfortable drinking it.  So, they will use it for cleaning but buy purified water for drinking.

 

Buying Water

the downsides of buy plastic water bottles

Buying bottled water is a serious environmental issue, it’s expensive, a pain to lug back to the boat, and it takes up valuable storage space.  In all seriousness, we see a disturbing amount of plastic floating past us every day.

Just how much plastic is in our ocean?
In 2012 5Gyres gathered a group of scientists to find out. They determined that there were 269,000 metric tons and 5.25 trillion particles—enough to stretch to the moon and back, twice.

We really love the work and education that 5Gyres.org is doing.  We love it so much we signed on as 5Gyres Ambassadors!  If you want to learn more about the problems our ocean face and what you can do about it, please check them out. #plasticfree

 

The Cost Of Bottled Water

Aside from the environmental impact, it’s expensive too.  As you noticed, the price of a 5 liter jug is 330CFP Franc.  The average person should consume around ½ a gallon per day (2 liters).

  • 2 liters a day per person x 365 days in a year = 730 liters
  • That means we would need 146 of those 5 liter jugs.
  • 146  5-liter jugs x 330 CFP Franc = 48,180
  • 1 CFP Franc = 0.0095 USD
  • 48,180 CFP = $457.72 USD

$457.72 A Year Per Person x two of us = $915.44

Not only is that $915.44 per year just in drinking, that is 3,102.5 pounds that have to be lugged to the boat.  No thank you!

 

Watermaker – Taking The Salt Out of Sea Water

Jason wynn using our RO watermaker

Watermakers are a sailor’s best friend.  Using the fabulous technology of reverse osmosis, we can turn almost any water source (including salt water) into squeaky clean drinking water.

Our specific watermaker, Cruise RO, had been installed by the previous owner years ago.  Which saved us from having to make the big decision of which watermaker to purchase.  It has all been for the best, because we were looking at completely different (much more expensive) options because we were intimidated by the whole setup.  Turns out, it’s far more simple to operate than we expected (thankfully).  In other words if you are a newbie like us, don’t let it intimidate you.

Fun Fact: Big reverse osmosis systems are how many islands around the world get water.

  • Watermaker Upsides
    • Makes excellent tasting, high quality H20
    • Most convenient
    • Depending on your unit, they can be incredibly efficient.
      • We have to run our generator but we can pump out 40 gallons an hour. That’s a weeks’ worth of cooking, cleaning, drinking, and a load of laundry in an hour!  (we are pretty water efficient people…we’ll share those tips another day)
    • Watermaker Downsides
      • Hefty upfront investment
      • Sizable installation space
      • Uses a lot of power
      • Requires an educated human to operate (AKA, read the manual).
      • Some claim that because RO water removes everything, including any essential minerals the water may contain, it is not good. Which isn’t true.  Essential minerals for our body should come from the food we eat and not from the water we drink.  We’ve been drinking RO water for almost nine years now and haven’t had any concerns at all.  (But there is a filter you can use to remineralizer the water if you are concerned.)

Are they worth it?  Yes, worth every freaking penny and hour spent maintaining/repairing!  The convenience and quality can’t be beat.

You can learn more about our RO Watermaker here: gonewiththewynns.com/product/watermaker

Freebies!

Cruise RO has offered a special bonus just for you. Use the order code WYNNS and he’ll send a free Cruising Kit that’s worth about $200! Watermakers don’t go on sale and “Boat Show Specials” are as good as it gets…and that’s what he is offering.  Just give him a call or shoot him an email.  Plus, we get a little token of thanks too!  More here:  gonewiththewynns.com/product/watermaker

 

And that is how we get water while living on a boat.  Rain, land and sea!

Fellow boaters, is your set up different?  Do you have a sweet tip to share?

For our non boating friends out there, is it about what you expected?  Better or worse?

If we missed anything let us know.  If you have questions, ask away!

 

Ready For Part Two?

HOW WE MAKE SQUEAKY CLEAN WATER:  gonewiththewynns.com/boat-life-squeaky-clean-water

See All Our Living Off The Grid Info Here: gonewiththewynns.com/living-off-grid-rv-sailboat

 

🙏Gratitude!

Thank you so much for joining us!

Sharing this unsedentary lifestyle and what we learn along the way is possible because of viewers like you.  If you like what you see, there are lots of FREE ways you can show your support.  Thank you for being a part of the journey.

 

DON’T LISTEN TO PEOPLE ON THE INTERNET!

We always say, do your own research.  So don’t just take our word for it (or anyone else’s).  We’re always in a state of learning and new information comes out all the time.  The more we all fact check and share information, the more informed we all are.

Here are some of the resources we use when learning about water:

  • Wikipedia (loosely as it is crowd-sourced)
  • Environmental Working Group (ewg.org)
  • Environmental Protection Agency (epa.org)
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc.gov)

Hello there! I honestly don’t know what to say, so I am going to tell you a bunch of random facts instead. I'm a fish eating vegetarian who hates spiders and loves snakes. I almost never took vacations growing up. I wanted to be Pippi Longstocking (still do). I misspell about every other word I write and still struggle with grammar. I love splurging on a good high tea (which is really hard to find these days). And whatever you do, don’t tell me I can’t do something, because then I'll HAVE to do it!

Comments (48)

  • Claudia

    quick question, how are you off the grid if you are able to post these articles and the videos?

    reply
  • Norman Frenk

    THANK YOU for denouncing plastics! I’m glad I didn’t see you lugging 30 plastic bottles back home! Isn’t it amazing that there is virtually nothing that you can buy that doesn’t have plastic packaging! That Cruise RO system definitely is a “must have”. Pricey – but worth it. What would you have done without it on the long crossing?! Thanks for sharing!! #plasticfree !

    reply
  • Kirk

    Have you used a Berkey water purifier? They require no electricity but are not designed for salt water.

    reply
    • Bruce

      Nikki and Jason, Hi Guys, was wondering why you don’t have a purifier between your water tank and your water outlets, this would allow you to purify all the rain water as well as the iffy water you may come across on land, and would also save you time purifying water before you add it to you boats tanks, just a thought you might want to look into, love your videos thanks for sharing you life on board.

      reply
  • JR Thornton

    Wonder if you regularly clean your boat water tanks? Many RV publications recommend cleaning RV water tanks once or twice a year, Wouldn’t be good putting good RO water back into a bacteria contaminated tank.

    reply
    • Curious Minion

      All about purification & water treatment in the next video/post. Stay tuned!
      Curious Minion

      reply
  • Kimberly A. Selleck

    Hi, guys…not water related but have you ever addressed the topic of sunscreen? Maybe you have and I just haven’t seen it yet. Being exposed to the sun and salt water all the time must be hard on your skin!! Can you share what you use with us?
    Thanks, Kim

    reply
    • Curious Minion

      Nikki and Jason are sailing and won’t have internet access for a few days so I’ll jump in here. Nikki uses Mineralogie Makeup for her face and it’s SPF26. https://www.gonewiththewynns.com/product/nikkis-makeup Other than that, they rely on a combo of sunscreen, staying in the shade of the cockpit as much as they can while onboard, and things like swim shirts and leggings for a lot of their snorkeling and diving. They are always asked if they have a favorite sunscreen, but as they move around the globe they can’t find the same brand in all places so they use whatever appears to be high quality and is high SPF. Hope that helps.
      Curious Minion

      reply
      • Tony C

        Curious Minion – Please ask the Wynns to look into the ‘reef safe’ sunscreens. Hawaii has banned sunscreens that contain certain chemicals (oxybenzone and octinoxate) that have been shown to harm the critters on the reefs. Key West is also following in the ban. Have them check out a recent article in Consumer Reports (Feb 2019) http://www.consumerreports.org that discusses this topic.

        reply
        • Curious Minion

          I’ve flagged the message for them, but I’m 100% positive that they’re already aware of this. They did a lot of research into sunscreens before they left the U.S. and stocked up on brands that they liked, and I’m sure that when they find a good brand now they will stock up on it as well. That being said, sometimes their shopping options are severely limited. But Nikki and Jason always strive to leave the lightest footprint they can on Mama Earth.
          Curious Minion

          reply
  • Qin

    https://geocenter.info/en/monitoring/earthquake
    so this has got nothing to do with making water but it is a niffy website to track seismic activity, happens everyday about 20 or more go off to varying degrees. No, they do not make it to the main stream news. thankfully there are good folks that monitor and summarized the info.
    so, do you know what to do in a tsunami? go where it is deepest away from the edge of shelf where shallow meets the deep.
    Thank you for your generosity of sharing and the work you put into the videos. Kate is right on the money on you guys. The BEST!
    Cheers,
    Qin

    reply
  • Bethany Cox

    Unrelated but… can you give me the details on your sunglasses? Brand? Where you got them? I’m obsessed!!!!

    reply
  • misha

    Can I also mention when buying the plastic water bottles priced in the supermarkets quite highly, what it says on the label might not be quite true, Here in the UK there has been many case s in court under trade discription that some of them were simply local tap water , So I am to presume in third world countrys this is a rife little money earner So buyers beware . all is not what it seems hence eating washed salad when eating out can in some respects give you just as bad a stomach as eating undercooked chicken ect. Like any place you eat out allways look at how clean it looks around the back of an eatery , bad practices throwing there rubbish out means the sames handling of the food you eat inside, Oops sorry wandered of the water making a bit.

    reply
  • Leon Sebek

    Love the new intro! noting else to add ,except the tI look forward to your next video on how to filter/treat water to make its potable.

    reply
  • Jean Lapointe

    Thanks always fun listening and watching you both. Stay safe..

    reply
  • Roger B

    We have an infrared filter bottle for emergencies. Are infrared systems available for your catamaran?

    reply
    • Roger B

      Oops. Ultraviolet. not infrared.

      reply
    • DRot

      Given the amount of UV in the tropics, leaving a clear water bottle of fresh water on deck for an hour probably kills any bacteria. There’s guides available. From there, it’s just a matter of filtration of particulate and anything the UV didn’t kill.

      reply
      • Curious Minion

        But then you need a clear plastic bottle and Nikki mentions that they do not want to add to the plastic waste/pollution issue.
        Curious Minion

        reply
    • Curious Minion

      All about purification and treatment in the next post, so stay tuned.
      Curious Minion

      reply
  • Richard Savage

    Jason,

    With lithium batteries and your inverter, why can’t you run the RO system off your battery bank?

    reply
    • Curious Minion

      The watermaker is a huge power consumer (so they’d likely have to run the genie to recharge the batteries anyway depending on how much water they make) and it has a huge surge – too large for the inverter to handle, even with the SoftStart system. Nikki mentions in the blog post that they will most likely switch to a 12v watermaker if their current one ever dies.
      Curious Minion

      reply
  • Robert Keys

    Hello
    As an ex Ships Captain in the Merchant Marine I have drunk ships made water 30 odd years and it did me no harm.
    In fact the ships water was soooo soft a bar of Lux soap would only last 4 days (two showers a day)!
    On steam tankers we never took on board shore water because the Engineers preferred ships water for the boilers.
    Take care & safe sailing,
    Robert

    reply
      • Bruce McCaskey

        My guess is that since Robert mentions boilers, they used a steam based evaporative/distilling system to make fresh water since steam was available to power it.

        Such systems heat sea water to boil it and the resulting steam is then condensed into pure water and collected. The quality of the water produced is much better than the water available from city water systems.

        The nuclear submarines I was on in the 1970’s and 1980’s had steam heated flash evaporative systems that made eight to ten thousand gallons of fresh water a day for both steam plant crew use, with a smaller sixteen hundred to two thousand gallon a day all-electric (electric heater) distilling unit available as a back up system.

        I’ve operated those submarine based units, as well as the large four-stage fifty thousand gallon a day steam-heated flash evaporators on conventional steam-propulsion submarine tenders. The large output of the latter was needed to support the needs of the ships propulsion boilers as well as suppling water (when needed) to submarines being serviced, plus the several hundred crew aboard the tender.

        To be clear, the fresh water making systems were not operated continuously, rather started as needed to replenish the fresh water tanks.

        The steam-heated flash evaporators were pretty easy to operate but the smaller electric distilling systems required a bit of ongoing tinkering with heat exchanger flow rates to keep the proper heat balance. Of course the downside of such systems is that they require a lot of energy to operate.

        Admittedly my experience with this approach to fresh water production at sea is a few decades old, so I can’t say there aren’t RO units being used these days at least for crew and passenger needs on large ships. Still, considering steam propulsion plant needs, I expect that steam based evaporative and distilling systems are still in use on most larger steam ships. I suspect the larger diesel engine powered ships use waste heat off the engines to distill water too but have no personal experience in that area.

        reply
  • Jeff

    You two are probably the most smartest sailors I’ve ever seen. You are very well informed. You cover all the angles. I throughly enjoy your your posts.

    reply
  • Sandra & the 2 Spaniels

    Great informative video! I am so happy that somebody is finally talking water consumption with common sense! Everyone seems to think that water comes out of the tap, straight from the unpolluted mountain stream. Lots of good info in this video. I love how the cats elegantly put themselves into the camera shot. Singa should be named Ham Bone. 😊

    reply
  • Caroline, Jonathan, and crazy kids

    Another wonderful and informative and highly entertaining, video from you both!
    Our family looks forward to Sunday’s and we all assemble on the couch together, with our morning hot drinks, swaddled in blankets (it is very cold here in Canada!), and watch your new uploaded video.

    -Questions from our kids:
    Do you test the water with a portable testing kit, once in awhile, from the tap, just to be sure all the bad microbes etc, are killed?
    Also, what back-ups do you have in case your water-maker fails?
    How will you know if it stops filtering your water?
    Is there an alarm on the system to notify you it is failing?

    Thanks again for your wonderful video’s and website. We truly adore you all.

    reply
  • Jan

    Good post!! Applies to rv’ers also except that unlimited sea water. Hurry up with second part! Looking forward to linked gadgets too.
    As a traveler, a tiNY rv’er, and a dreamer, I sure enjoy your sunday day videos.

    reply
  • Yvan

    Very interesting information for us as we travel quite a bit with our fifth-wheel – thanks for sharing. We use a portable (1 liter) UV kit in the trailer. It does not filter the water (it has to be clear water to start with) but it is supposed to kill the “bugs” (microbes, viruses, etc.) in it. Results? So far, so good…
    Looking forward to your next video on this topic (well, all of your next videos !)

    reply
  • Randy

    Love watching your videos and sharing in your experiences ….. been following your adventures ever since I saw you on TV shopping for your first motor home! We are still in our RV, and will never be sailors, but I find your stories very interesting and informative …. keep up the good work!

    Travel Safe!

    reply
  • Bill

    Great information. I need to step back into your RV. Did you have such a system for the RV or were you dependent on places in your travels?

    reply
  • Dan

    A separate question, you don’t seem to use the Sony ARii anymore. Mostly I’ve seen you use the Sony RX100. Just better for boat life?

    reply
  • Lisa Bee

    Hi Guys! Can you post a link for that nice water carafe Jason was guzzling water from?

    reply
  • Tom Fitch

    Why can’t you drink the rain water? Could you just pour it through a Britta (or similar) pitcher filter to get good drinking water?

    reply
    • Dan

      Actually, if you have a clean catch bucket there would be no better potable water. RO water has lost most of it’s minerals, and is in an imbalanced chemical state, and therefore can be very aggressive to any containers and even people. Public RO systems take this into account and reintroduce some minerals before it goes to people. Having some dissolved solids in the water is a good thing.

      reply
    • Curious Minion

      You can drink rain water but it should be filtered first.
      Curious Minion

      reply
  • Jim Ege

    Here In West Michigan the Maple syrup producers sometimes use Reverse Osmosis to draw down the sap. It saves lots of wood in the process. Problem is the water removed from the sap using RO leaves no nutrients/ minerals in the water. They do not recommend drinking the RO H20 and use it daily to was he equipment down. What say you to that??

    reply
    • Curious Minion

      Not sure about the specific syrup making process, but Nikki covers that in the blog post and says not true because you get micronutrients/minerals from food. Also, most people drink water from multiple sources in the course of a week. If they have a glass of water at a local restuarant or drink from a waterfountain, those sources are likely mineralized. And minerals are needed in your body in pretty tiny quantities. You’d have to work pretty hard to develop health issues from drinking primarily RO water.
      Curious Minion

      reply
  • Laura K.

    Thanks for sharing this. And, I can’t wait to see the next installment. This has always been my biggest logistical question about cruising. Thanks for sharing all of the options. You guys are great, and I just love how Singa always, always has to be part of the action.

    reply
  • JOHN SCHRETLEN

    Guess one good thing about RO on a boat is that you don’t have to fret about using 3 or 4 gallons of seawater to make one gallon of drinking water.

    Looking forward to part two. I already noticed that you have the same under kitchen sink system as the RVgeeks (and I) have.

    reply
  • Ann

    Thanks, this was interesting. I find myself wondering about cleaning products in your environment: what do you use for showering, dishes, laundry and general cleaning? Does your grey water go right back out into the sea? Does that affect your choice of products for cleaning? All the questions!

    reply
    • Curious Minion

      I’ve known the Wynns for years and they are 2 of the “greenest” people you’ll ever meet. They’ve used eco-friendly/biodegradable everythings as long as I’ve known them and avoid plastics and excess packaging whenever possible. We should look into getting them a LEEDs certification haha. Oh, and yes, gray water does end up back in the sea (unless you’re in a marina and can have the tanks pumped out).
      Curious Minion

      reply

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