Keeping a clean water supply on your boat

One of the drawbacks of owning your own boat is suddenly being in charge of your own water supply. Spoilt by a nationally maintained water system on a daily basis, keeping a clean, sterile supply of water is possibly one of the most important chores of boating.

Obviously, how much you need to keep on hand depends on how many of you there are, and how prepared to rough it you are, but at the very least, you need a supply for drinking, cooking and cleaning (if you're willing to forego showering for a few days). And if you're with your family, you'll need a whole lot more.

So how do you ensure you maintain a clean water supply in your boat?

The simple methods

If you don't need a lot of water, the simplest method is of course, boiling. Boiling is also the most fool proof method of cleaning water. Simply put some in a pan, heat it to a rolling boil (remember to keep the lid on to speed up the process and save energy) and leave for 5 minutes or so.

The disadvantages are of course that it uses energy, and takes a long time to cool down.

Filters are a good way of keeping a steady supply going without having to wait so long for the results. However, filtering won't get your water 100% clean - see the DEFRA Advice leaflet. The cheapest have pore sizes too large to filter out bacteria, and even the best, with pore sizes measured in microns, won't catch every pathogen. Filtering is usually best used as a preliminary treatment to get rid of larger contaminants such as dirt.

Iodine is the 'classic' chemical water purifier. Available in easy to use tablets or liquid form, left for 30 minutes iodine will get rid of most (but not all) pathogens in water. However, it does have an unpleasant after-taste and is an imperfect solution. Best left as a lightweight, portable water purification solution e.g. for hiking.

Cleaning your water system

If you have a complete water system in your boat, then it should be obvious by now that you need a more comprehensive water purification system than any of the methods above.

Chlorine, with its familiar smell from misspent youths at local swimming pools, is a highly effective water purification agent; readily available in a wide variety of forms. Milton is a popular option for cleaning pipes. However, chlorine needs to be flushed out, so chlorine based water purification is best used for cleaning the pipes in preparation for the new boating trips – fill the water tanks, leave for 24 hours, then flush through thoroughly. Simple bleach is a similar story.

Hydrogen Peroxide based water purification solutions such as Elsil by SkyKem (right) are widely used in aircraft, but have also found their way into many a boat and caravan. Hydrogen Peroxide is very closely related to water (H2O2) so doesn't require any flushing once the water has been treated, as it naturally breaks down into the water supply. Simply follow the dosage on the bottle, allow 30 minutes of contact time and you'll have clean, fully oxygenated water indistinguishable from fresh supplies.

All of the above methods are widely used for providing clean water supplies in boats. Which one you use really depends on how much water you need, and how quickly.

Canal waterpoint

 

 

Safe drinking water
Drinking Water InspectorateThe Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI) was formed in 1990 to provide independent reassurance that water supplies in England and Wales are safe and drinking water quality is acceptable to consumers. Click to download their advice leaflet 'Keeping your private water supply safe' pdf.

Elsil Drinking Water Purifier

SkyKem manufacture the highest quality products for use by airlines and ground handlers involved in toilet and water support work that maintains hygiene standards on passenger aircraft. Water purification products such as Elsil are proving increasingly popular for boat and caravan use.

 

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