Conserving Fresh Water



We only have a 35 gallon water tank aboard Chance and no water maker. I’m not even kidding. We also have four 5-gallon water jerries and a 5-gallon solar shower allowing us to carry a max of 60 gallons of water on board. That is 60 gallons to cook, wash and prepare meals with. To fill our tanks we either have to catch rain water or pay for water at the dock. Since the Bahamas is made up of over 720 mainly teeny islands that are all surrounded by salt water, fresh water is a pretty hot commodity. Islands either have to make their own water by reverse osmosis (how a boat’s water maker works) or catch rain water. Marinas seem to charge anywhere from $.20 – $.75 a gallon when you want to fill up. For our tiny tanks that really isn’t such a huge monetary burden, but what happens if we want to sail off and spend some time in more remote islands where there isn’t a marina for us to fill up at?

water-conservation-tipsThe answer is to conserve. Water is treated like gold on Chance. (Better really, because we live on a boat and have no gold on board). If either Jason or I leave the tap running longer than about 3 seconds the other immediately turns their head to make sure it isn’t being wasted. Before we left for this journey we would maybe be able to get a week out of tank if we really tried. Since being in the Bahamas we’ve stretched it a LOT further. The last time we filled up it had been 19 days and we weren’t even empty yet! I’m really proud of how well we’ve been doing. Below are a few tips I’ve picked up and adopted along the way that have really worked for us.

  1. Salt Water Foot Pump. Seriously, this is genius. We’ve had our pump for months, all the way back to when we were on the hard. But, for some reason we just never installed it. When we were on the dock water was always available, and when we were on the ICW I was afraid of what that water may do to us if I washed our dishes in it. So, the project kind of sat on the back burner. One rainy day back in Green Turtle, I finally installed the beast. Now that we are in crystal clear water we use our pump as much as possible. I sometimes wish we used the pump for our fresh water to conserve even more and the faucet for the salt.
  2. Mesh Net Dish Washing. This tip came to me from our friend Jill aboard Dragonfly when we first crossed over to the Bahamas. It is so simple, yet so genius. I am confident this has contributed most to our water conservation. When you are done with your dishes throw them in a mesh bag and tie them up off the back of your boat (I tie them to our swim ladder). I call this step the “pre-soak.” As you gently bob at anchor any remaining food left on the dishes is loosened and sometimes rinsed off. After a bit soaking, I hop in the dinghy with my Joy soap (still gets sudsy in salt water) and Scrubr dish rag and do my initial wash and rinse in the salt water. Then I bring the dishes in the boat and rinse the cups, knives, silverware, bakeware (salt residue makes some of our baking tins rust a little if left on) and anything that a salty taste may ruin in fresh water. Some things really don’t need to be rinsed in fresh water because it doesn’t really matter if they have a bit of salt on them. Why waste the water if I don’t need to? We have noticed that our good knives need to be rinsed in fresh water immediately or little rust spots start to form. The system has been working fabulously for us! Make sure you pick up the mesh bags in the states if you can because they are really pricey here!
  3. Salt Water Bath with a Fresh Water Rinse. I can honestly say that I have finally figured out the purpose of soap on a rope. I may have only dropped one bar of soap (that I couldn’t recover) when things got a bit sudsy, but I have contemplated taking a drill to my bar of Dove on multiple occasions. We’ve started bathing in salt water first and then doing a fresh water rinse once we’ve gotten ourselves good and clean. Washing your hair can be done this way too and we don’t seem to have any residue left either. Just make sure you bath when the sun is shining or you may get a bit chilly. For our fresh water rinse we use our awesome solar shower. Leave the bag in the sun for a couple of hours and you have a nice and steamy bag of water to rinse with. I’ve found the pressure to be pretty good as well. Jason also likes to use the “I’ve been swimming in the water all day” approach. Me, not so much.
  4. Using A Cup of Fresh Water to Brush Teeth and Shave Legs. Leaving the tap running while you brush your teeth can easily waste gallons of water. I’ve taken to filling a cup about half way full with water before I start brushing. I can easily dip the brush in the water to wet it and then I have plenty of water to rinse with. Works the same for shaving your legs. Although, a final rinse is best done with the solar shower.
  5. Hand Sanitizer. Whenever possible we use hand sanitizer instead of washing with soap and water.
  6. Use (some) Salt Water When Cooking Pasta. So many recipes call for you to salt the water before you throw in the pasta anyway so why not use salt water instead? The one time I used all salt water it was absolutely disgusting, so bad that Jason wouldn’t even eat it. I find that if I use about 1/4 of the total amount of water I can’t even tell. Every little bit of conservation helps!
  7. Rinse Clothing Individually While Doing Laundry. Laundry honestly may cause our biggest consumption of water. It can easily take 5 gallons to wash and rinse a small load of laundry. I’ve written about how I do our laundry, but I’ve since been able to make do with only using about 3.5 gallons per load. To do this takes a bit more time, but saves a bunch of water. Start by soaking the whole load and washing it. When it comes time to rinse, first wring out as much of the wash water as possible from each piece of clothing. Then fill the bucket about 1/4 to 1/3 way full and start the rinse process. Only put in about 3 articles at a time. The first couple of items you should only need to rinse once. Pay attention to the water in the bucket, when it starts getting soapy again the rest of the clothes will need to be put through the second rinse. Put all the clothes through the first rinse cycle and wring out as much as possible. Then, repeat with the second rinse. You can also use the second rinse water as your next load’s wash water. Viola, you’ve saved about 1.5 gallons of water per load!
  8. Catch Rain Water. It seems to rain about once every 1-2 weeks here and I’ve been able to catch an average of 10 gallons of water each time. The most being more than 15 and the least being last night when I only caught about a gallon. This water is perfect for laundry or showering because there may be traces of salt left in the water. On Chance we have a faulty design for our arch-dodger connector piece. The fault is that when it rains it filters the water directly in to the cockpit at two points. Not so great when you are sailing during a rain storm, but perfect for collecting rain water. All I do is put a bucket on each side and watch as they fill up. The big question is whether to fix the connector piece or not.

These tactics have worked really well for us but may not work for everyone. What do you do to help conserve? Any tips/tricks you can share?


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  1. I use a spray bottle of fresh water to rinse dishes. It really cuts down on the water use. I can rinse a full day’s dishes in about a cup of water.

  2. I’ve used diluted ammonia with salt water tieing the clothes in a large trash bag and trail from behind the boat to agitate. Then give them a rinse in fresh water. The ammonia cleans well and dissipates quickly as the clothes dry.