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Water Maker on a Small Boat: It Can’t be Modular Enough!

Leeloo is supervising the project. Photo by Birgit Hackl

When you look at the glossy pictures in brochures, the displayed watermaker units are usually mounted on a wall, all parts easily accessible and elegantly connected with short tubes. Watermaker producers seem to assume that all their customers own super-yachts where their product will have its own little cabin, or why else would they screw comparatively small bits like pumps, membranes and even the instruments on top of big, bulky plates? Cruisers on smaller boats, who also want to enjoy the comfort and freedom a watermaker adds to cruising, have to be creative when it comes to fitting all the bits and pieces into the available, limited space on board.

We installed the main unit of our Spectra in the hanging locker and are fitting new shelves on top. Photo by Birgit Hackl
We installed the main unit of our Spectra in the hanging locker and are fitting new shelves on top. Photo by Birgit Hackl

When our new Spectra watermaker (Cape Horn Xtreme) arrived, the size of its crate was already intimidating—it hardly fit into our dinghy. After unpacking, the search for available space began. Initially, we planned to use the provisioning locker in the saloon for the main pump but with two short membranes attached it was one inch too short. Next, we thought about cutting open one of our aluminum water tanks, but one compartment was just a little bit too narrow and the other one a tad too low. We had ordered pressure hoses in the event we would need to separate the pump and the membranes (worst case scenario) and we were about to unscrew the parts when we thought of the hanging locker in our cabin. What’s the wellbeing of fancy cocktail dresses and elegant three-piece suits in comparison to the luxury of home-made drinking water? We sacrificed half the hanging space and mounted the main unit on its plate low down on one side of the locker. My partner Christian instantly turned into a carpenter and transformed the upper half of the locker, fitting shelves and even gaining more space for clothes.

The brine outlet of our old watermaker shared a thru-hull with the galley sink and we experienced a few nasty galley floods over time, so we decided to drill a dedicated thru-hull at the stern for the new one. The next step was to search for space in the bilge to house the two feed pumps. Eventually we had to ‘modularize’ the supposedly modular system by cutting the mounting plates into less bulky pieces.

While we were at it we decided to change most of the old hoses in Pitufa’s plumbing and optimized the wiring. With all these little extra projects and various hitch-hiking tours to hardware stores for yet another fitting, valve, and differently sized hose clamps, the installation of the watermaker took over a week, but now we’re happy with the quality, quantity and energy consumption.

The only remaining issue is a beating oscillation between the two feed pumps that causes annoying noise and vibrations. We’re tackling this problem by adding rubber mounts to the pumps and rubber mats underneath resonating floorboards.

Finding space for the 2nd feed pump in the bilge. Changing the pre-filter would be impossible this way. Photo by Birgit Hackl
Finding space for the 2nd feed pump in the bilge. Changing the pre-filter would be impossible this way. Photo by Birgit Hackl

 

PLANNING, ORDERING, & INSTALLATION TIPS:
If a long membrane does not fit anywhere then ask the manufacturer for short (but more expensive) ones instead.

In case you need to split up components, order a few extra feet of pressure hoses and normal hoses. 

Anchor in areas with good access to hardware stores during the installation process as most likely you’ll need some fittings and other bits and pieces as you go along.

Keep the hoses as short as possible, extra-long connections (particularly on the suction side) put unnecessary strain on the pump.

For 12 volt systems, use large-size wires to avoid voltage drop.

The way the pre- filter and 2nd feed pump were pre-mounted wasted a lot of space. Photo by Birgit Hackl
The way the pre-
filter and 2nd feed pump were pre-mounted wasted a lot of space. Photo by Birgit Hackl

WHICH TYPE OF WATERMAKER SUITS YOUR CRUISING LIFESTYLE?
Type 1: Engine-driven watermaker
Watermakers with belt-driven pumps are big, strong machines that produce huge amounts of water in a short time. If you motor a lot and entertain guests who like to splash around then this type might be the best choice for you.

Type 2: AC-powered watermaker
AC-powered watermakers also have a high production rate, but they require a diesel or gas generator. If you run your generator for other appliances on a daily basis then this type might work best for you.

Type 3: 12 Volt watermaker
In comparison to type 1 and 2, many of these DC-powered watermakers don’t have a high production rate, but they also don’t require much energy. Systems based on passive pressure intensifiers (e.g. Spectra, Schenker or Aqua-Base) or energy-recovery pumps (e.g. Katadyn) are much more efficient than systems with classical high-pressure pumps and yield reasonable product output. Therefore those models are a preferable (though more expensive) choice for battery-run watermakers.

If you prefer to rely on alternative sources of energy, go for DC-powered! On Pitufa we run our watermaker every day for a few hours around noon when the solar panels generate the most energy. Free, fresh water produced by the sun for environmentally aware cruisers.

 

Birgit Hackl and Christian Feldbauer along with ship’s cat Leeloo set sail towards the horizon in June 2011 on their yacht Pitufa.

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