Sailors are greener!

What’s important to a sailor?

This is a broad question, almost as infinite as “how long is a string”!  For me, family will comes first!  My Admiral and Sailor dog.  Next on my list will be our home Micasa, our well being will rely very much on her.  Micasa is not only the roof over our heads but the floor on which we stand on as well, amongst other things.

What is universally important to sailors around the world are, water and electricity!

Water to sustain life, to clean and wash.  On a shore based home we would no way be as conscious of our water consumption as on a boat.  The availablity of clean sweet water depends very much on the availability of resupply sources.  At the marina pontoon, the water tap is just a meter and a half away from the boat but outside of the marina, it would be wherever you can get it, if at all.  Some sailors are able to collect rainwater when it rains, if their boat has a large enough catchment area like a roof or Bimini.  Some even off the deck after it has been washed clean by the rain. 

Better equipped boats come with a watermaker, which consists of a powerful high pressure pump capable of generating pressure in excess of 800 PSI, at an acceptable flow rate (above 30 litres an hour, for example).  In a watermaker, highly pressurised seawater is forced through a special membrane in the process commonly know as reverse osmosis.  The sweet water is collected (or plumbed into a water tank) and the concentrated brine is returned to the sea.  This process requires a lot of energy and it is for this reason that Micasa does not have one.  I was given a used but functional watermaker system by another sailor, which did not ended up being installed on Micasa as I do not have enough electrical energy to power it.  The portable, petrol generator on Micasa (intended for emergency use) is only rated at 2000 Watts while that beast of a watermaker requires at least 2,500 Watts to run and much more to start it.  It would also be too draining for the 640 Ah of lead acid battery capacity.  In addition, the space required for it would eat up valuable storage space on board Micasa.  In Asia, where most of the shore line waters are murky and muddy, the pre-filters will be clogging so frequently as to render the system a nuisance to use.  Enough reasons not to have one!

So it will have to be shore watersupply mains and perhaps some rainwater collected off the Bimini when we are away from the marina on extended periods of time.

Micasa’s hardtop Bimini is both a rain catchment area with rain gutter and a mount for solar panels. Serving two of the most important commodities on board!

Even at the marina, water from the main is filled into the boat’s water tank first, for use on board.  One should never plumb pressurised water from the main straight into the boat (although this would mean no more topping up of the tanks required) as a raptured pipe in the boat’s fresh water system can sink your boat!  I have seen a few near disasters from boats around, whereby the boat owner has forgotten he was topping up his water tank and left the marina.  It’ll normally take a culmination of a series of unfortunate events which seemed to happen too regularly!  Even if the boat does not sink there’ll be untold damages on electrics and electronics, water damaged wood in the boat and the subsequent mould infestation and months of smelling like a dungeon! 

Yours truly here have been through plumbing repairs in the wee hours of the day due to leakages and/or water pump failures in Micasa’s fresh water system.  I’ve met a sailor who had no excess to the water in the boat’s water tanks after her (yes you read right) water pump failed in a rough storm.  The pounding can break things.  Such punishments to a boat can cause a multitude of failures.  That is why, I would do all repairs required by myself just to know my own boat a bit better.  This will give me a better chance of fixing things when required to, out at sea.  I do carry quite a bit of spares too.  Engine parts, pumps, electrical toilet parts, alternator, filters, etc, etc (never too much spare parts)!.

On a shore based home, we would flick on a switch and expect there to be electricity.  On a boat, you can only expect this, if your electrical system of power generation from shorepower, engine’s alternator (s), generator, solar panels and wind generator are functioning well and the electricity produce can be stored in batteries for later uses.  The health of batteries and their state of charge (how much current is in there) is closely monitored on a daily basis.

On a boat, electricity is used for the boat’s navigation lightings when at anchor, or underway.  It tells the other boats of your position and what your boat is doing.  The marker lights Red for Port side (left), Green for Starboard (right), when underway, tell the other boats what direction you are heading in.  This to avoid collisions at sea.  One may think that this is unlikely when the sea is so vast, however you can also be in a highly congested area.  Not too long ago a US Navy battleship (USS John S McCain) was involved in a collision in Singapore water, with the lost of several seamen’s lives.

Next on the list of importance for the usage of electricity on a boat is for navigation equipment.  I’ve touched on how high tech boats are these days in my previous post (learning the dark secrets of marine navigation equipment).  All these electronics equipment runs on electricity, without which, we will need to fall back on paper charts, analog compasses and sextants.  Sorry, I do not have that last one nor do I know how to use one. I’ll learn to use it, one day.  I promise!

Can you live without refrigeration?  I have to admit, I’ll find it very hard!  I can do without that cold beer but food will spoil too quickly!  My sailor dog’s food requires a small portable freezer – a 12 volt, 35 litres chest freezer which runs off my house batteries. 

I have recently upgraded my storage batteries from lead acid type to lithium iron phosphate batteries.  Batteries have a finite life.  At the end of their lives, they would not be able to hold charge for long.  Making them useless – for later uses!  When replacement time came, I bit the bullet to get these higher capacity and longer life lithium batteries.  Batteries are merely for storage.

For power generation, I do have a healthy amount of solar cells (840 Watts) for a monohull.  They are adequate for my needs when the sun shines bright enough each day.  When you have a few days of rain, which is not uncommon in the tropics, it’ll be down to what my batteries can store.  I’ll have enough for 2 full days, after which if smiley still does not smile, I’ll need to turn on the engine or portable generator, when at sea.

Yes, I am very much more conscious of how much water and electricity we are consuming on a daily basis, since living on a boat.  I remembered when paying my mum a visit one Chinese New Year and I happened to be standing near a sink when someone had left the tap running while doing some washing up, I simply had to turn it off and apologised.  I could not bear to see excessive usage of water!

Likewise with electricity.  Use only what is needed.  Turn everything off when not required.

I’m not someone you would call a “tree hugger”, but living on a boat has made me that much more environmentally responsible.  There’s no two things about it, it’s down to your own consumption and habbits.  There’s no one else you can blame but yourself in this microcosm of a world.  This was the best education yet for me, to be environmentally responsible.

The world can definitely do more by engaging sailors as stewards of mother Earth, for they truly understand the need for moderation in consumption and what conservation is about.  They do not just “walk the talk” but “live the talk” instead!

This is what I have become, subconsciously, in my own journey away from the corporate world.  It’s a different life, but yet so much more life to be lived yet!  This life has brought about a new level of consciousness of the world we live in.

This life has made me more grateful of what life itself has to offer us.  Each new day is a reason enough to rejoice. 

Do take a moment off your hectic and bustling schedule to reflect and perhaps learn to live life as it should be lived. 

Thank you for tuning in, cheers and live happy!

Published by Ben

Semi retired ex-corporate executive. Now a liveaboard on a sailboat with the Admiral and my sailor dog.

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