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Dear Santa, Bring Me a Watermaker!

Unlike most teens today, who dream only about fast cars, lots of money and no homework, I dream of owning a water maker. Over six years of living aboard a boat, not a single year has passed without me writing, “Dear Santa, bring me a water maker!”

The decision of how to get fresh water is a fairly major one in a boater’s life. You can choose to buy your water from a local dock, along with bottled drinking water, or you can buy a reverse osmosis (R.O.) water maker. There are three main factors to consider and calculate when making your decision: costs, health and environmental impacts, and convenience associated with each of the two methods.

Wait a minute—what about electricity production? During the course of my interviews, I discovered that through various methods of power production, most boaters already had ample power to run a water maker. The only additional cost was the extra fuel for the generator.

Boater type

Dock water Gal/ week

Bottled water gal./ week

Buying water*

Watermaker GPH

Watermaker+

Savings~

Cruiser

85

5

$ 6,793

8 (WSH)

$ 4,798

$ 1,994

Cruiser

140

10

$ 11,050

24 (AM)

$ 6,588

$ 4,462

Cruiser

155

15

$ 13,715

12 (AM)

$ 5,333

$ 8,382

Cruiser

210

14

$ 16,575

24 (AM)

$ 6,588

$ 9,987

Cruiser

280

19

$ 22,100

24 (AM)

$ 6,887

$ 15,212

Week charter, 10 people

400

50

$ 39,000

12 (AM)

$ 11,054

$ 27,946

figure 1      *Based on current BVI dock purchase at $0.25/gallon, and bottled water price of $1/gallon
+Based on purchase, installation, generator fuel costs and maintenance of an appropriately sized systems from Aquamarine, and the Water Supply House
~net savings over a 5 year period
Per this data, all of these users in the BVI would benefit from an individual RO plant, both in the wallet and the back (hauling water).

The first, and probably most important, step in selecting whether or not to buy one is calculating the costs and savings. Determine your average weekly water consumption, multiply by the rate you pay, then add in all additional drinking water costs. Multiply this figure by the number of weeks you spend on your boat each year and then multiply it again by five to get your water costs over a five year period, the average life span of a water maker.

Search for water makers which would provide you with the same amount of water per week that you currently require. You should consider how many hours you currently operate a power-supplying device when deciding the size of water maker to purchase. To this cost you must add in upkeep and additional fuel cost, if any. Count on buying eight pre-filters each year and a new membrane every two years; in addition you will need to buy pickling solution for each time you leave your boat for over two weeks.

You can now compare the two prices over the five year period. Below is a quick reference guide to water usage and savings based on interviews with boaters in the BVI. Per this data, all of these users in the BVI would benefit from an individual RO plant, both in the wallet and the back (by not hauling water).

The second factor is to consider the health and environmental effects of bottled and R.O water. Most studies show that all water MAY be harmful to your health, depending on the water source. For example, according to the US National Resource Defence Council, 22% of bottled water contains above limit amounts of toxins and chemicals. In addition, there are growing concerns over chlorination of regional water supplies, as well as possible contamination of water from the plastic containers themselves.

R.O. produced water eliminates any possible biological hazard, leaving only the possibility of metal contamination from a poor water source. In addition, the environmental toll of manufacturing, transporting, and disposing of water bottles through incineration or landfills is high. The NRDC says that together these two factors cause thousands of tons of global warming pollution to be released into the atmosphere. The environmental and health concerns are quite clearly in favour of individual RO systems replacing the purchase of bottled water.

The third and final factor to consider is the convenience provided by each method. This is a no-brainer. Really, who enjoys leaving a beautiful anchorage in order to haul jugs of water in the dinghy or make a side trip to a marina or fuel dock in search of water?

Once you have weighed each of these three factors, you will be able to make a reasonable decision on which method is best for you, your environment, and your wallet.   As for me? I’m still waiting on Santa.

Christopher Fletcher is a 10th grade student at Cedar International School, Tortola, BVI who lives aboard a boat.

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