Water for sailing: We survey the ARC fleet to find popular options

How to stow, conserve or generate drinking water for sailing is key for any offshore sailor. Toby Hodges surveyed the 81 skippers of the ARC 2020 fleet for tips

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 for sailing 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 for sailing, 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.

Pogo 12.50 Rush. Photo: James Mitchell

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.

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.

Usage and conservation of water for sailing

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.”

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