Q&A: Should I Get a Watermaker?

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Member Andreas asks:

This is a great article that highlights some of the decisions I need to make in preparation for casting off on an extended trip this summer. My challenge is balancing cost with usability. The sailboat (SY Baluba) will be used for a 3-year circumnavigation now, but afterwards she will go back to being a weekend warrior as well as seeing plenty of usage in holidays, here in Northern Europe.

A new Spectra Ventura costs a solid chunk of change in Europe. When I spent 2-1/2 years sailing from Norway to Australia seven years ago, I managed fine without a watermaker, but it was a bit of a hassle to always be careful with water usage and never take a fresh water shower (while onboard).

Now I’m planning to sail all the way around, with forays both to the Arctic and Antarctic, so I’m wondering if the watermaker will be a necessary expenditure or if it will be something I’ll get used to being without again? Can I justify spending the money for a unit I’ll need and use a lot for the next three years, knowing that there won’t be much (if any) use for it when I get back to Norway?

What are your thoughts?

John answers:

Hi Andreas,

An interesting question. First off, as I stated in the simplicity post you mention, we don’t have a watermaker, but then we have huge tanks (1000 litres) and generally cruise where water is available reasonably easily and for free.

I think that if your voyage will include the typical tradewind routes I would lean toward installing a watermaker. In many tropical places water is both hard to get and expensive, as you probably already know from your last voyage.

There is another benefit with installing a watermaker and that’s that making your own water substantially reduces the chances of getting a water-borne parasite. And I can tell you, having contracted one from water (ironically in Norway), the resulting illness is no fun at all.

Having said all that, there is one other factor that should go into the decision, and that is your own what I call “optimal simplicity level“: If you are the kind of person who can get by with less in the way of comforts and who also hates mechanical complication, you could certainly get away without a watermaker, particularly if you set up some kind of rain catch system—AAC correspondents Christopher and Molly have managed just fine without a watermaker.

And finally, I would ask yourself “Is a watermaker going to be worth its entire price to me for this voyage only?”.  Watermakers don’t do well on boats that are used intermittently and therefore it will, I suspect, have little value to you once you return to weekend sailing.

In summary, I think that, as so often with boats (life too), there is no right answer, only the answer that is right for you in light of your own complexity- and screwup-tolerance.

If you do go without a watermaker, I strongly suggest a good filtration system.

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Does anyone else have any thoughts for Andreas?

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John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

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