Storing, rationing and making fresh water on board is a key concern when you're making an Atlantic crossing. Toby Hodges asks 193 skippers on the ARC for their tips

Water is fundamental to every sailor’s survival at sea and one of our first priorities. To spend extended periods afloat, sailors need large water tanks, cratefuls of bottled water on board, or a watermaker – or preferably all three.

So how do you decide how much water to ship for an ocean crossing?

Our survey of the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) 2014 fleet centred around water, its stowage and use, and its production via watermakers. We asked all the skippers taking part in the ARC and ARC+ (via the Cape Verde Islands) detailed questions about how much water they carried, in what form, how they used it and their tips for water management. We also asked those with watermakers – almost 60 per cent of the fleet – how their equipment was powered and how it performed.

The overriding advice from the 193 respondents to our survey is to fit a watermaker. Although most skippers today are still very disciplined in their water rationing, the advent of reliable watermakers makes life aboard much more comfortable – and hygienic.

You can’t be complacent, however. A watermaker needs to be installed well in advance of an ocean crossing and maintained routinely. Even then they are not foolproof.

The stats


Yachts with watermakers on the 2014 ARC exceeded those without by some margin – 134 versus 88. The majority of those without watermakers were yachts in the 40-45ft bracket, which generally had 300-500lt tanks and more than 200lt of bottled water aboard.

The average LOA of yachts that carried a watermaker was 48ft (14.68m), but the range was great – the second smallest yacht in the fleet, the Allegro 33 Efwa, had a watermaker plus 150-200lt of bottled water to supplement their sub-300lt tanks. And the majority of those with watermakers still took 200lt plus of bottled water (the maximum amount they could indicate in our survey).

As well as for drinking, showering and cooking, water was used mostly for washing dishes, decks and clothes, and general cleaning. “Diluting whisky,” was a necessary requirement reported by Oyster 575 Helen.

But the Lagoon 450 Ripples would get my vote for the yacht to be aboard, as water was needed for the “washing machine, ice-maker and foot spa”.

Bottled water

The 193 yachts surveyed on the 2014 Atlantic crossing between them carried more than 27,720lt of bottled water, or an average of 144lt per boat. And as the maximum amount they could enter was ‘200lt plus’, in reality the average was probably a fair bit higher.

Bottled carried

What really strikes us here is the amount of plastic carried across the Atlantic. Yet there was only one comment on a viable alternative, from Nicola Henderson on the First 40.7 Hot Stuff: “Use collapsible water containers (available from eBay) – no rubbish and can be reused.” It is likely that many crews shipped water in large jerrycans too.

Managing water – the skippers’ tips

Use salt water

Other than installing a watermaker, the biggest piece of advice from the ARC skippers is to use salt water wherever possible. Whether washing dishes, clothes, taking seawater showers (finished with a fresh water rinse) or boiling carbs, the use of the abundant resource you are sailing on makes good sense. After all, the world’s best shower is a mid-Atlantic swim – or a bucket over the head on the aft deck.

The top tip from many skippers was to install a saltwater pump in the galley and heads. “Seawater can be used in all sinks on board,” declared the crew of XC42 Euphoria. “Shut down the pumps and only use seawater for washing hands. Shower from buckets on the aft deck.”

Salt manual pumps

Florent Duperron says they used salt water for dishes, laundry and showering (from buckets) aboard the Hallberg-Rassy 352 Millicent. For freshwater rinses, water was measured out in one-litre bottles to keep a tab on how much was used.

By using predominantly sea water, the ten crewmembers aboard the 59ft Peter von Seestermuhe used just 500lt of fresh water over 15 days.

Be disciplined with rationing

“Do not give the crew unlimited access to the bottled water,” was the advice from Hanse 445 Fortune Cookie skipper Wilhelm Bögershausen. Ayama’s Stefan Berg was also adamant: “Don’t use bottled water; use tank and watermaker; carry 20lt bottled for emergency.”

Scarlet Oyster’s skipper Ross Applebey concurred, recommending his method of “emergency water bottled in the bilge and using a day tank filled by the watermaker”. His top tips were also to “turn off the electric pump and wash dishes in salt water”.

The crew of Swan 80 Berenice admitted they should have carried more water (this despite having 1,000lt+ tanks, 200lt+ bottled and a watermaker) to cater for 12 on board. Interestingly, they had no saltwater or manual pump.

Limit running water

  • “When you open the tap, immediately half close it,” Jeanneau SO49DS Soulmate recommended.
  • “Wash dishes in salt water and turn off water pressure switch on panel,” Hunter 410, Morning Haze.
  • “Turn the pump pressure down so all taps run slower,” Humphreys 77 Aglaia.
  • “Keep water pressure pump off at all times,” said Swan 46 Aphrodite.
  • “Switch off electric pumps and dispense water to crew in bottles so you know the intake,” Jeanneau Trinidad 48 Aislig Bheag.
  • “Transfer out of tanks to bottles for a daily amount for cooking and 1-1.5/2lt bottle in heads for usage, in case the gauges are not accurate,” First 40 Southern Child.
  • “Fit an adaptor to the mixer tap that allows you to stop the flow without wasting water temp,” Hallberg-Rassy 39 Anika.
  • “Collect cold water from the shower when waiting for hot,” Outremer 51 Intrepid Elk.

Keep some in reserve

Both the 100ft Leopard by Finland and the Jeanneau SO54DS Theta recommended keeping one tank full and isolated for emergency use only.

Meanwhile, crew on Swan 65 King’s Legend said they “only drink watermaker water. Bottles are for emergency.”

“Keep one tank full and untouched. Send made water to the other. When watermaker fails the other tank is full in reserve,” declared the crew of Reservoir Dogs.


“Refill empty plastic bottles with watermaker water,” said Paul Frew on Oyster 575 Juno. This advice was echoed by Oyster 46 Cloud 9 of Kingswear, which “arrived with same amount of drinking water that we left Canaries with”.

“We carefully regulate bottles available in one locker so we can easily see what is being used,” First 40.7 Lancelot II.

Be creative with your drinking water

  • “We use exclusively water coming from the watermaker. For cooking and drinking, water from the watertank is filtered through a Seagull filter. We fill our bottles from this and carbonate them with a Sodastream system to have perfect sparkling fresh drinking water,” Amel 54 A Plus 2.
  • “Add minerals to tap water,” Sly 47 Neveralon.
  • “Alternate tanks to be used to ensure fresh water,” Leopard 44 Libeccio.
  • “Collect rainwater from the hardtop,” [catamaran] Privilege 37 Tanoa.

  1. 1. The stats
  2. 2. How a watermaker works
  3. 3. Watermakers – skippers’ views
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