Yacht watermakers, also known as reverse osmosis desalination systems, have been around for many years. Although these systems can potentially be very useful additions to a boat, their feasibility is often called into question because watermaker technology seems so obscure.
If you're considering a watermaker for your boat, you need the complete picture to determine if this is a worthwhile investment. Below we review some of the common issues people have with marine watermakers and whether or not those concerns are valid.
Myth #1: Watermakers are too expensive.
The Reality: It's true that a yacht watermaker is no small purchase; it's an investment that must be carefully considered. For most watermakers today, you'll pay somewhere between $2000 and $8000 dollars, with the less expensive units typically being the lower output, manual versions.
Now let's put this into perspective. You own a boat - that in itself is inherently a bit pricey. Think about some of the equipment and accessories you've purchased or at least contemplated for your boat. Chart plotters, GPS, radar, refrigeration, cushions, canvas work...the list goes on and on. You could easily spend several thousand dollars on just a few projects. Watermakers are really no more expensive than many other pieces of marine gear and can provide you with convenience, flexibility and peace of mind.
Myth #2: Watermakers are very time consuming and expensive to maintain.
The Reality: Let's go back to a point made in #1 above - you own a boat. A large part of vessel ownership is investing time and money into its upkeep, whether it's cosmetics like varnish and paint or system maintenance like electrical and engine work.
That being said, if you properly care for your watermaker in the first place, it requires very little maintenance and is much less of a drain on your time and your wallet when compared to other systems. Yes, it's true that watermaker membranes are very expensive to replace. However, if you follow the instructions and routinely flush your watermaker every time you use it and then pickle it if it will be unused for a week or more, there will be no need to replace the membrane at all. Your only regular maintenance consists of swapping your pre-filters about once every 6 months. Pre-filters are normally less than $30 and can be found in many marine or hardware stores.
You've no doubt heard horror stories about watermakers that fail and cruisers waiting for weeks to receive the parts they need. The majority of watermakers do indeed have many specialty parts, which can be costly and must be ordered directly from the manufacturer. However, there are some watermakers that use off-the-shelf parts, which are much more economical and can usually be found in most hardware or marine stores. Watermaker kits like this will save you both time and money in the long run.
Myth #3: Storing / pickling a watermaker is complicated and not worth the hassle.
The Reality: In #2 above, we broached the subject of pickling, which is the process of preparing your watermaker for storage if it will not be used for a week or more. Many boaters glaze over at the mere mention of pickling and immediately assume watermakers are much too complicated. There seems to be an overwhelming misconception that pickling is some mysterious process that is just too complex for the average Joe to comprehend.
First and foremost, let's clear up this little fallacy. Storing your watermaker, also known as pickling, is an incredibly simple process. In fact, it's not much different than the normal process you'd use to flush your watermaker after each use. The only difference is that you're adding a chemical to the flush to make a solution that will prevent the growth of bacteria. That's it. It's really that simple.
When you're ready to use your watermaker again, just discard the product water for the first 15 - 20 minutes to be sure the solution has been completely rinsed from the system and then start filling your tanks. Easy, right? It's really not any more difficult than changing the oil in your engine or adding chemicals to your holding tank.
Myth #4: Watermakers use a lot of power.
The Reality: Most watermakers are engine-driven, in which case you aren't using any power. If you own a powerboat, you're running your engine all the time. If you own a sailboat, you probably run your engine regularly to accommodate for lack of wind, to make hot water or to charge your batteries. If you're going to run your engine anyway, why not use the energy to fill your water tanks?
Myth #5: Watermakers can't be used in harbors and anchorages because the water is too dirty.
The Reality: Whereas the previous myths noted have likely resulted from misunderstanding or misinterpretation, this one is just plain false. The water in many harbors and anchorages may be dirty or have a lot of silt and organic matter; the only effect this has on your watermaker is that the pre-filters get dirtier. If you're changing your pre-filters every 6 months, as we discussed above, there should be no problem.
Myth #6: Drinking water from a watermaker is not healthy because all the minerals have been removed.
The Reality: Watermakers are excellent purifiers; they eliminate salt, bacteria and everything else, including most minerals. However, most people aren't relying on their drinking water to provide them with the minerals they need on a daily basis. If you eat a normal, healthy diet you're likely getting most of the minerals you require. Also, keep in mind that if you don't have a watermaker, the water you'll get in some areas is of poor quality. Not only may it taste bad, but you may be getting more than minerals when you fill your tanks.
Most marine-related products carry a hefty price tag, so it's important to carefully weigh the benefits and drawbacks of various solutions. Watermakers can be a fantastic addition to a yacht, whether you're cruising on weekends, seasonally or full time, so be sure to base your decision on the facts and not on the mistaken beliefs of others.