Our two combined water tanks (approx. 65 gallons) provide Illusion with anywhere from four-six weeks of water depending on how often we cook and need to wash dishes. The faucet on our sink (as on most boats) only runs as long as you twist the knob, which can make washing dishes more difficult, but greatly cuts down on water usage. Also, the water pump comes on only after the water subsides to a tiny trickle. Thus when we fill a pot to boil water, we are more likely to use less water than wait on the water to fill. In addition, Illusion has three 6-gallon jerricans that we keep up on deck. We keep them filled but generally only use them for showering, which is kept to a minimum – truth be told, we have showered in the rain before!
Originally, Illusion had a hot-water heater and a small shower head over the toilet, but neither Brian or I ever used it. Brian removed the hot-water heater to create extra space in one of the outdoor lockers, and after the new floor was installed, showering in the bathroom became more-or-less impossible (because we don’t want water to get trapped underneath the vinyl flooring). Instead, we opted to buy a solar-heated camp shower, which holds up to four gallons of water – enough for four showers. We hoist the big plastic bladder, black on one side and clear on the other, a short ways up the mast with the halyard, so that it hangs above our heads. I usually only fill it halfway before I lay it in the sun, clear side up, for several hours to let it heat up first. True, I have to shower with my bathing suit on, but it can be quite a refreshing experience to shower outdoors.
When we are docked, we use public or marina showers depending on the access, so I would say that I am most wasteful on the boat when I wash dishes. In any case, there is an obvious correlation between the amount of cooking we do in a given month and the duration of our water supply. Our situation differs when we are on the move, of course, as opposed to stationary, and if we are docked, we usually have direct access to fresh water. The rule is: always top up the water supply before leaving the dock. If we are underway and far from land, we will scoop up seawater or drag a netted bucket behind the boat to clean our dirty dishes, soaping and rinsing with freshwater afterward to save our supply for drinking. Water is by far the most precious commodity on board Illusion, and although we haven’t ever been far from land for long, it is of great importance. I find it all too fitting that our main water tank looks exactly like an old metal treasure chest – surely it must have hidden gold doubloons at some point in time!
We don’t wash our laundry on the boat (although there are machines you can buy specifically for boats), and the toilet uses seawater for flushing; call it conservation or conscious water consumption or just plain necessity, but that’s it in a nutshell. Sure, there are plenty of ways to cut down our water usage even more. We can always shower less (although it is healthy from a personal-hygiene standpoint and I do love a good long shower), use less water to cook, stop boiling noodles, and make other subtle changes, etc. Not to mention, there are systems you can rig to catch rainwater and replenish the supply. But being stationary at the moment, I am pretty content with my current freshwater usage. I estimate that, on Illusion, I currently use an average of 1.5 gallons per day (drinking, dish-washing, and cooking water), +1.5 gallons if I shower on the boat with the camp shower. Of course, my personal water-usage amount is higher if I use public showers, or the laundromat, or even if I eat out at a restaurant, but that does not affect Illusion‘s water supply and cannot be quantified at this time. Even without an exact estimation, it still puts me far under the average in America according to this site, Water.org.
No doubt, I am certainly using less water than I ever did on land. Think about it; how much do you use in a day?