Wa­ter­mak­ers keep pas­sage­mak­ing folks hy­drated, but what about the rest of us? Here are a few rea­sons to love a water­maker.

Power & Motor Yacht - - IN THIS ISSUE - By Mike Smith

While most boaters don’t need a water­maker, clean H20 will al­low you to kiss the dock good­bye in pur­suit of ad­ven­ture.

Wa­ter­mak­ers get a lot of ink in boat­ing mag­a­zines, in­clud­ing this one. But lots of boaters don’t re­ally need a water­maker, or the has­sle of main­tain­ing one, be­cause there’s clean drink­ing wa­ter as close as the dock­side fresh­wa­ter spigot. So why do we write about these things, and why do you, our read­ers, keep read­ing about them? Be­cause wa­ter­mak­ers say cruis­ing and trop­ics and liv­ing off the grid, things that the ma­jor­ity of boaters, this writer in­cluded, dream about do­ing some­day. Un­de­ni­ably, how­ever, there is a mi­nor­ity of boaters out there for whom wa­ter­mak­ers make a lot of sense—the folks who visit the Ba­hamas pe­ri­od­i­cally, for ex­am­ple. Or the shores of Old Mex­ico.

Not so long ago, in the days be­fore the ad­vent of small, af­ford­able wa­ter­mak­ers, off­shore voy­agers aboard small or mid-size boats didn’t have a choice. They started with a lim­ited num­ber of gal­lons of fresh wa­ter, used mostly for drink­ing and cook­ing, and made it last un­til reach­ing port. For a sail­boat, that could mean weeks, but even for power­boats, cross­ing oceans is a slow process, so fresh wa­ter was treated as a pre­cious com­mod­ity. (Dis­place­ment-hulled power cruis­ers are most ef­fi­cient at a speed roughly equal to the square root of their wa­ter­line length; a 36-foot LWL pas­sage­maker cruises most ef­fi­ciently at about 6 knots, for ex­am­ple, or 13 days from Ber­muda to the Azores, if all goes well.)

But that was then. To­day, few peo­ple would set out to cross an

ocean with­out a water­maker, an on­board Gunga Din keep­ing ev­ery­body well-hy­drated, and sup­ply­ing enough clean H₂O for the oc­ca­sional shower, too. Use it ev­ery cou­ple of days to top-up the tanks, clean it now and then, re­place fil­ters once in a while, and your water­maker will be an ideal ship­mate. So, in­stalling one is a no-brainer for se­ri­ous cruis­ing folks.

What About You and Me?

There’s a rub when cruis­ing in the trop­ics, how­ever, or most ex­otic lo­cales: Dock­side fresh wa­ter is of­ten ter­ri­ble tast­ing, you usu­ally have to pay for it and some­times what­ever crawlies live in it give you a bad case of gas­troin­testi­nal dis­tress. Now, I’ll grant you that pay­ing for wa­ter isn’t so bad; you can buy a lot of it for the price of a water­maker, and a good fil­ter sys­tem can help with the taste (read on). But who wants to get sick on board? And who wants to al­ter course to search for fresh wa­ter when the fuel tanks are still half-full? Not me—I’ll take a water­maker ev­ery time. But I don’t need one that de­sali­nates the equiv­a­lent of the Cen­tral Park Reser­voir ev­ery day ei­ther, and I don’t want one that re­quires 120volt juice to do it.

Why 12-Volt?

There’s no ques­tion that folks who live with the genset run­ning 24/7, and/or who need lots of H₂O, will want a 120-volt, high­out­put water­maker that can de­sali­nate hun­dreds of gal­lons per day. But most folks can get by with a lot less. Since the en­gine’s run­ning all the time while cruis­ing, the al­ter­na­tor will eas­ily re­place the bat­tery drain of a 12-volt water­maker, even a big one that draws 15 or 20 amps while mak­ing 15 gph or more. Fir­ing up the genset just to power a water­maker uses fuel un­nec­es­sar­ily though, a fac­tor to con­sider when stretch­ing the boat’s legs to reach a far­away port. In my opin­ion, a genset isn’t nec­es­sary for long-range voy­ag­ing—I spent four years cruis­ing on both sides of the At­lantic aboard a 12-volt boat, and never felt de­prived—and a water­maker will fit nicely into the space made avail­able by not hav­ing a genny.

Also, at an­chor in clean wa­ter, a 12-volt water­maker can fill the tanks with­out ev­ery­one hav­ing to lis­ten to the genset’s roar, the bat­tery drain re­plen­ished by so­lar pan­els. I’d want high-ca­pac­ity bat­tery banks for this, but any se­ri­ous cruis­ing boat will have them, along with an in­verter for oc­ca­sional 120-volt needs. Note I said, “clean wa­ter.” Wa­ter­mak­ers are de­signed for de­sali­nat­ing clean ocean wa­ter; avoid op­er­at­ing them in dirty, pol­luted har­bors, or where there’s a lot of silt in the wa­ter, or any­where you’d think twice about jump­ing overboard for a swim. At best you’ll be clean­ing the fil­ters of­ten un­der such cir­cum­stances, at worst

the mem­branes will get scuzzy with stuff you don’t want in your wa­ter. If pos­si­ble, de­sali­nate while un­der way be­tween har­bors.

Spec­tra’s Ven­tura 150c is an ideal water­maker for small or mid­sized ves­sels with av­er­age needs. The unit can op­er­ate in tem­per­a­tures up to 110 degress—so maybe mount­ing it in the en­gine room won’t work for trop­i­cal cruis­ing. But the Ven­tura 150c is mod­u­lar, and the pieces can be stashed in lock­ers or un­der set­tees, etc. It pro­duces 6 gph, draw­ing about 9 amps of 12-volt juice in the process. Use it when the en­gine’s run­ning, and amp draw doesn’t mat­ter, but a healthy bat­tery bank can han­dle the load, too.

Wa­ter­mak­ers should be op­er­ated ev­ery few days, at least, to keep their in­nards clean, which of­ten doesn’t hap­pen if you don’t live on the boat. Oth­er­wise you should flush them out and “pickle” them with preser­va­tive, another an­noy­ing main­te­nance chore. The Ven­tura 150c can be con­trolled re­motely from your phone, so you can run your water­maker when you’re not aboard the boat. If you don‘t need yet another thing con­trolled by your phone, the Ven­tura 150 (no “c”) is the same water­maker with­out con­nec­tiv­ity.

If you don’t like the Spec­tra, try Sea Re­cov­ery’s Aqua Whis­per Mini. It comes as both a com­pact self-con­tained unit or in mod­u­lar con­fig­u­ra­tion, and pro­duces 7 gph, but draws 27 amps at 12 volts. Gen­er­a­tor-minded skip­pers can buy the AC model. The Aqua Whis­per Mini can op­er­ate at am­bi­ent tem­per­a­tures up to 122 de­grees. If 7 gph isn’t enough for you, Sea Re­cov­ery’s Ul­tra Whis­per 400 de­sali­nates 16.5 gph, and draws only 21 amps at 12 volts. It’s quite a bit big­ger than the Mini, though. Hori­zon Re­verse Os­mo­sis, Vil­lage Marine and sev­eral other com­pa­nies also build a full line of wa­ter­mak­ers (both AC and DC) for large and small yachts. One minute with Google will un­cover them.

So here’s the bot­tom line—there’s a water­maker for al­most

any boat. Shop around and find one that meets your needs. But water­maker or no, be­fore cast­ing off on a blue­wa­ter pas­sage, have enough wa­ter on board to get you to your des­ti­na­tion with min­i­mal us­age. Don’t rely on the water­maker to make up for in­ad­e­quate fresh­wa­ter tank­age. Use it for more free­dom of wa­ter use, like re­quir­ing crew to shower ev­ery cou­ple of days whether they need it or not, while keep­ing the tanks topped-up. If/when the water­maker packs it in, you want to have suf­fi­cient fresh­wa­ter to get you to the next port, even if ev­ery­one’s in need of a wash when you fi­nally ar­rive.

Water­maker main­te­nance chores in­clude reg­u­lar oil changes, fil­ter re­place­ments and salin­ity probe checks.

Op­er­ate your water­maker at least ev­ery few days to keep its mem­branes wet.

Sea Re­cov­ery’s Ul­tra Whis­per 400 de­sali­nates wa­ter at 16.5 gph.

Sea Re­cov­ery man­u­fac­tures some of the most com­pact wa­ter­mak­ers avail­able, in­clud­ing the Aqua Whis­per Mini.

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