Electricity & Water

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Cruising Priorities

If you've read the page on Provisioning, it might seem strange that water was hardly mentioned. That is because we consider both water and electricity to be consumable but renewable resources. While both our battery banks and water tanks have limited capacity, we can refill them ourselves. This greatly increases our independence and simplifies reprovisioning. (In St. Martin, we didn't have the watermaker and needed water from a dock or boat every two weeks.)

One of the ideals of cruising is to be self sufficient. Electricity is a very important resource on the boat; everything from our radios and telephone to the vital navigation lights and instruments to our propane stove's gas valve all draw from our 'house' battery bank. We have a capacity of about 3 x 225 = 675 amp-hours, or 675 x 12 / 1000 = 8.1 kWh. This is enough to run the boat for several days, but we never allow our batteries to run down all the way. Doing so is dangerous and also reduces the total capacity.

Many boats have generators, which provide a measure of self-sufficiency. However, they are expensive, heavy, loud, and need both maintenance and fuel. Alternators on engines can also be used to charge batteries, but they have the same disadvantages. We do not carry much fuel, and prefer to run our engines as little as possible.

Most cruising boats also have some alternative energy source, usually either photovoltaic (solar panels) or a generator that can be powered by wind or water (towing). We elected to use solar panels, since it is easy to mount many on a catamaran, they are silent, and need no maintenance. Except on a series of cloudy days or during passage, the panels produce all of the electricity the boat needs.

Water is an even more vital resource. Thirst will kill long before hunger, and drinking seawater will actually kill even faster. (Osmosis causes water to actually move out of your cells to dilute the salt.) Without electricity, life becomes uncomfortable and dangerous, but sailors got by with no power for centuries. Without water, everybody onboard would be dead in a few days.

Cruisers are very careful about water usage. This means no leaving the faucet running, even for a few moments to grab something. It also means minimal showers and dishwater. Any recyclable water is reused, such as rinse water becoming the next wash. On passage, we don't even use our electric water pumps (we have a foot pump) because a leak could waste all of our water. Unlike some boats, however, we do not have to limit ourselves to drinking water and do everything else with salt.

Water is renewable thanks to our watermaker. The watermaker uses electricity from our solar panels to convert seawater into very good fresh water. It must be run about 1.5 hours each day (on average) and since it consumes a lot of power, we usually run it during the middle of the day. Not all boats have watermakers; they can be large and expensive. However, I've found that most boats, especially large ones, have some form of watermaker on board. The important thing to us is that our watermaker is efficient enough to be run from our solar panels. During sunny periods, we can often top up our tanks every day.

For more on our boat equipment, energy budget or electrical explanations click here.

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