Saving Water On A Sailboat

saving water on a sailboat

Saving water on a sailboat is not something I ever really thought about until I started to live on one. I am ashamed to admit that I have never been the worlds biggest eco-warrior. Sure, I dutifully did my recycling, I took my canvas bags to the supermarket and drove my small car only when I had to (ok, ok, the last one is simply because I couldn’t afford a bigger car and I hate driving). But the need to save water isn’t something I had ever really considered.

A Reality Check On Water Shortage

Sea water that is crystal clear
Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink

When the UN climate change report was released in 2018 Adam and I treated it as we do with any news these days – caution. We read around the subject widely and from as many different credible sources as possible and were pretty terrified to realise that if anything, the newspapers were playing it down. I’m very, very happy for someone to prove me wrong here, as the thought of having 12 years left to save the world keeps me awake at night. What I find especially scary is how difficult it is to reduce my carbon footprint without completely putting life as I know it on hold.

The release of the report coincided with mine and Adam’s decision about what on Earth we were going to do now that we had given up work. All we knew is that we wanted to see the world, but here we were being told that we had run out of time for taking flights, especially long international flights. How could we justify seeing the world now? Sailing the world moved higher up the list, and we started to research whether sailing the world would actually be better for the environment or not.

Deep blue water from a sailboat
So inviting

We didn’t find any solid answers, but could deduce (from some dodgy calculations) that we certainly wouldn’t be increasing our carbon footprint by living this lifestyle. It has its pros and cons, but even living on a sailboat hasn’t bought us any closer to answering whether it is actually an eco-friendly way to live!

A Big Adjustment

One of the major differences between life on land and on a sailboat is how I treat water. Saving water on a sailboat is standard practice. Suddenly, water went from being something I was entitled to, to something extremely precious and important.

Adam’s work for a company called Hero Labs, that is producing leak detecting services, has caused us both to read up a lot on water shortage. A subject that I’ll be honest, I knew absolutely nothing about until recently. I mean, it rains every day in England so surely we’re fine right?! Of course I obeyed hosepipe bans, I hate breaking the rules, but I always thought it was a bit over the top. How naive I have been.

Some Figures (skip if this bores you!)

Rain water on a green leaf
In Greece it has rained once in three months

Water covers 70% of our planet, and we are incredibly lucky in Europe to have water available ‘on tap’. Running water is a luxury that I know not everyone has, but when I’m pouring myself a glass I don’t think about that. Freshwater is incredibly rare. In fact, only 3% of the water on our planet is freshwater and two-thirds of that is locked up on glaciers (that we really don’t want to melt away!)

I won’t go into all the figures, but let’s just say that an alarming amount of people in the world we all live in lack access to fresh water, and an alarming amount of people each year die from it. It is predicted that by 2025 (that’s 6 years away for those of you that are as bad at maths as I am), two-thirds of the world’s population will face water shortages if we carry on as we are.

Again, PLEASE prove me wrong here. I’m no scientist, I’m just reading scientific papers, so I could well be getting it all wrong.

We live in England, so there is always water (there has to be some pay off for living in a country that is always wet). Even if you can turn a blind eye to the rest of the world running out of water, research shows that in 25 years England will not have enough water to meet demands. If we continue to use water in the way that we do, we won’t have enough to keep us alive in 25 years.

Why Bother Saving Water On A Sailboat?

Using a hosepipe to wash the sailboat down
Washing the boat

The average person uses 150 litres of water every day. I actually don’t have a clue how much water I used to use, it came out of a tap, I didn’t need to know.

I now know because I have to. Water on a boat is incredibly precious. We are lucky to have big water tanks on Hot Chocolate, she can carry 550 litres of water. This means that if we’re smart with water we can last a lot longer than most boats without having to find a water source.

Finding water here is a real pain, especially for new sailors like us. We hate Med mooring, where you have to reverse into your parking space. It is stressful and one false move could damage your boat or even worse, someone elses. We try to come alongside on town quays where ever possible (and it isn’t usually possible). Which means lots of sailing around trying to find somewhere, when you could be swimming in the sea. If you manage to find a space somewhere on a town quay then you have to hope they have a working water supply. If they do, they might well charge you to use it (though we have been lucky so far and haven’t had to pay).

When finding water is difficult you learn really quickly to make it last.

How Do We Save Water On A Sailboat?

A boat tied up to a mooring
Struggling to find a pontoon

Some things on a boat make saving water easier, and we couldn’t do the same back at home-the toilets are pumped with sea water and we wash ourselves as much as possible with sea water. But there are ways we have cut down on water usage that I would continue to do if I go back to living in a house.

Scrub A Dub Dub!

I used to love standing under the shower for ages. I would set it to the right temperature, enjoy it for a bit, leave it running while I washed and then probably stand under it a little more for good measure. Now, I use a saucepans worth of water to wash in, and I don’t really miss those long showers. If I want a warm shower I heat a little water and literally use the saucepans worth of water to wash with, if I’m happy with a cold shower I just use the tiniest amount and switch the shower off continuously. I keep a bucket in the shower to collect the stuff that has missed me, and use this to rinse my hair at the end.

A picture of rain water on a boat
Showering in the rain

Saving Water On A Sailboat When Washing Up

From my (limited) research, I have read that dishwashers on eco mode actually use less water than washing by hand. Good news for all of you out there that hate washing up as much as I do! I am proud, however, that my new washing up tactics mean I use just over half a litre to wash up after a meal, including saucepans and cooking dishes. Adam and I are careful to re-use cups (we often share a glass). We eat from the pan where possible and we don’t use more than we need to when we cook.

Getting Smelly

Ok, I’ll admit it, come the end of the month we both smell a little. Living this lifestyle has forced us to make some compromises and this is one of them. But I have found it takes a lot for clothes to start to smell (depending on what you do in them!?) Dresses I wear into town can be worn numerous times before they need a wash. The clothes we do boat work in don’t need to be washed-they will just get filthy again withing 5 minutes anyway!

Stopping Leaks

A close up of a tap I fixed on our sailboat
Learning how to fix leaking taps on the sailboat

We had several of them, and on a boat you can’t afford to! I’m trying to make myself useful by learning plumbing and I’m enjoying learning about how impossible it is to create a water tight seal and lying upside down in a small, smelly space while dropping spanners on my head and having water dripping into my eyes.

How Much Water Do We Use On A Sailboat?

Adam and I drink about 4 litres of water between us every day and we average 20 litres a day for everything else. So between us we use about 24 litres a day. When we find water we use another half a tank to give the boat a quick scrub down (it has rained only once since we’ve been here so we haven’t been able to wash the boat that way!) and we also do an epic clothes wash.

That brings our daily average up to 30 litres a day between us.

Some people will probably think this sounds horrendous and others might well wonder why we use so much. Me though? I’m pretty proud of this huge lifestyle change, and it’s one of the boat related challenges that I have actually really enjoyed. So next time you pass someone smelly in the street, rather than turn your nose up, think what an amazing job they are doing saving water and saving the world!

(I’m sure that after reading this you are all desperate to come and visit us, so that you too can not wash for days on end and drink out of the same glass as me. There is a waiting list, so be patient.)

2 thoughts on “Saving Water On A Sailboat”

  1. Hey guys, that was a good read!

    It’s interesting to hear about life on a sailboat, and how you deal with water. My wife and I live in a van full-time, with our 90 liter tank we manage to make it about 7 days.

    We’re working on a little project that makes water saving alot easier, maybe in the future we can work together to spread the word.

    Cheers guys,

    Mike and Emy

    1. Sounds awesome! I think changing the way we use water has been one of the biggest challenges for us living aboard. Creating a way to save water easier would be really useful. You’ll have to keep us updated. Emily

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