How Much Water?

The first time you plan a weekend anchored out or the first time you charter, I’ll bet that one of your questions was/is “How much water do we need?”  It was for us.

I’ve heard of people using as little as 1 gallon per person per day — basically just drinking water.  Everything else is done with salt water, including most of the cooking.  I can’t imagine doing that for any length of time and certainly not if you want cruising to be a “lifestyle” and not an ordeal.  Yeah, in an emergency, I could do it.

And we’ve known boats that use 20 to 30 gallons per person per day.  They’ve had long hot showers — generally in a separate shower stall — and even a washing machine on board.

Now, that’s a pretty nice lifestyle . . . but it takes either a large water tank and a short trip, frequent stops at marinas or fuel docks where you can get water, or a very large capacity watermaker and the power to support it.

Okay, those are the extremes.  US dirt-dwellers use about 100 gallons per person per day in contrast.  And luxury yachts probably use almost as much.  But how about us “real people?”

Most full-time cruising couples that we knew averaged 4 to 6 gallons per person per day.  Note that single handers may use a bit more and families a bit less as “boat use” is divided amongst fewer or more people.

How much water do cruisers typically use? And how do they use it? Here's what you need to know before you head out on a longer trip!And if you have a pet, be sure to allow a bit for them — both drinking and occasional spray-downs if they wade or swim in salt water (yeah, they get itchy in salt water and if you don’t rinse the salt off, they’ll track it through the boat, onto the carpet, upholstery and bedding).  Obviously, big dogs will take more than small dogs . . . as will dogs that like to roll in the sand or mud!

For the three of us — Dave and I and very small dog Paz — we were on the low end of the spectrum at about 7 gallons a day (total for the three, not per person), plus a can of soda and a beer or two (or maybe some wine).  But we didn’t have cases of bottled water or juice.

So what did this mean in terms of a lifestyle?

  • We were in a hot climate — temperatures generally 90° to 100° F.  We drank a lot of water and water-based drinks such as iced tea using “tank” water.
  • How much water do cruisers typically use? And how do they use it? Here's what you need to know before you head out on a longer trip!We swam most days and rinsed off with a half- or one-gallon tank sprayer of fresh water, which we also used to rinse off our snorkel gear and swim suits.  Occasionally, I’d shampoo my hair with biogradable shampoo and dive in to do the “big rinse” then use the sprayer to get the salt out.
  • Most days, Paz also got a spray-down after a romp on the beach — she loved to wade to cool down and yes, she loved to roll in the sand and mud.  We usually first poured a bucket of salt water over her to get most of it off, then used fresh to rinse.
  • How much water do cruisers typically use? And how do they use it? Here's what you need to know before you head out on a longer trip!Most of the time, we’d shower every other day with a 4-gallon SunShower (that is, Dave and I each got half), including washing our hair, shaving, etc.  We hoisted it with a halyard clipped to a side stay and showered on the side deck, wearing an old swimsuit (after being surprised a couple times by fishermen coming into “secluded” anchorages, we decided it was best to stay dressed . . .).
  • We never (literally) showered with the pressure water in the head.  For one thing, we didn’t want the dampness down below.  For another, we didn’t have a hot water heater.  And finally, we used a lot less water with the SunShower.
  • We both were careful never to let water just run when brushing teeth, rinsing dishes and so on.
  • I never used salt water to cook — it just wasn’t clean enough anywhere that we were.
  • How much water do cruisers typically use? And how do they use it? Here's what you need to know before you head out on a longer trip!We washed and rinsed dishes in fresh water, but were careful how we did it — leftover coffee would rinse or soak dishes, I’d put just an inch of water in the gunkiest pan and let it soak while I washed the other dishes from that, and I used a little indoor watering can to rinse the dishes.  In all honesty, washing dishes was the one area where I wished I had a little more abundant water supply — I mean, I know that I got the dishes clean, but I would have liked to rinse more. See more tips on doing dishes here. (NOTE: Now I use an Aquabot which uses less water and does a better job on the dishes — read about it here.)
  • We didn’t rinse the boat with fresh water except that the solar panels would get a quick wipe-down most mornings to keep them producing their max.
  • We never did laundry on the boat.  My one luxury was to take it to a local lady, drop it off and come back after doing all the provisioning to a bag of clean and wonderful-smelling clothes.  In Mexico, the cost wasn’t too bad and DIY laundromats were almost unheard-of except in some marinas.
NOTE:  All this is for times when we were away from a marina.  When we were simply living aboard in a marina and had access to plenty of water, we definitely used more for dishes and to wash the boat.  We’d usually use the marina bath house for showers (luxury!) and I’d usually still send the laundry out, depending on the facilities at the marina (some had none and some would have 2 washers for 200 boats . . . others had great facilities).

Okay, for the experienced cruisers reading this — about what do you average away from the dock?  What do you or don’t you do to conserve water?

How much water do cruisers typically use?  And how do they use it?  Here's what you need to know before you head out on a longer trip!

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  • Jasmin Brandini
    Posted at 15 August 2013 Reply

    🙂 good topic

  • Al Felker
    Posted at 15 August 2013 Reply

    Thanks for all the water saving tips. We have 300 gallons. Use it in 3 weeks with 2 people. So we are using 7 gals. / person. / day.

  • Diane Emigh
    Posted at 15 August 2013 Reply

    My husband and I are cruising in Mexico and are very rarely at a marina. We have calculated that we use 13 gal per day. We have a watermaker, which allows us much more freedom in water usage, We do about half of our laundry on board, depending on the nearness of a local laundry service, and also use fresh water in our heads.

  • Al Felker
    Posted at 30 August 2013 Reply

    Love this thread. Hope more people respond. A watermaker is a huge investment.

  • John Ahern
    Posted at 03 July 2014 Reply

    10 gallons for me a day is average when alone…..That gets me 10 days +/-…..My toilets are salt water so not using fresh water in heads. I use what I have to when coastal cruising

  • Ron Newton
    Posted at 03 July 2014 Reply

    80 gallons will last me by myself 10 days – 2 weeks but I don’t waste any, short showers, use paper plates, none used in heads.

  • Matthew Manninen
    Posted at 03 July 2014 Reply

    Julie and I on s/v Coup d’ Amour use 15 gallons per day. I take 2 showers, she takes one + dishes + laundry + cleaning + cooking + brushing our teeth 2 times daily + fresh water rinses after swims. We’ve been cruising for 4 years now year round. At first we would go through 500 gallons in a week. Then we learned how to manage our water usage. Now it’s second nature…..

  • Matthew Manninen
    Posted at 03 July 2014 Reply

    Guest will use all the water in a day …… guaranteed!

  • Sue
    Posted at 03 July 2014 Reply

    Great article as usual. We (2) used to havec160 litres and that lasted us nearly a month just for cooking and no showers, dish washing in salt water.
    Now we havec1000 litres and it lasted 3 months through Indonesia and we had showers. We use a small 12v electric pump shower for camping in a bucket of water. The pump head fits into a jerry jug and we use one on the back deck for rinsing after swimming. Use rainwater for that. But they use very little water…about 2litres for a nice shower warm a bit inthe kettle. And while in Northern Australia and Asia we use quite a lot for cold drinks. We have about 4 litres in different bottles in the fridge. We are careful where we fill up and always do it through a filter. We do not fell primitive at all.

  • Lupari Sue
    Posted at 03 July 2014 Reply

    Good article Carolyn

  • Tim Sheahan
    Posted at 04 July 2014 Reply

    We’re about to redo the galley, so we picked up two foot pumps one for fresh n one for salt with a nice dual basin sink. Our thoughts were to run a twenty foot loop up n down the mast for the hot water line, kinda an ondemand shower n kitchen luxury, curious if anyones tried it?

  • S.v. Silverheels III
    Posted at 04 July 2014 Reply

    With no pressure water, sea baths (drying off immediately takes care of the salt), using salt water for getting the initial grime off hands and dishes (then fresh), and not feeling like we are missing anything, 80 gallons can last about 3 weeks for two of us. We’ve been cruising and living aboard for 11 years so far.

  • S.v. Silverheels III
    Posted at 06 July 2014 Reply

    After 4 full seasons in tropical waters we’ve found that apres swim drying off quickly with large microfiber towels is best for us. We both have short hair and only rinse with fresh water before a haircut. The current large and thirsty microfiber towels were found in a pet supply shop; much cheaper than those available in camping suppliers. The fresh water sprayer and solar shower have been given away. Caribbean sea temps are nice and warm for the four or five lovely sea-baths which we take each day. 🙂

  • Judy Wakelam
    Posted at 06 July 2014 Reply

    185 lasts us about three weeks, with fresh water showers every other day, baths for a fur ball of a dog, and occasional laundry. Of course, when our access is limited we conserve more.

  • AllenKll
    Posted at 10 November 2015 Reply

    Just my 2 cents as a dirt dweller. I do live on an island, and water is scarce. We use about 14 gal/per/day. We use the dishwasher and have a washing machine. We’re pretty happy with that. We could get it a bit lower, but the cost of sanity is much higher. 🙂

    Love the blog!

  • Mary E Dixon
    Posted at 10 November 2015 Reply

    How bout dinner hot weather recipes. No cooking.

  • Brenda Greene
    Posted at 10 November 2015 Reply

    We are just starting..about 2 months out. We figure we use about 5-6 gallons per day for the two of us. . . We LOVE our solar shower. Better pressure than many “land” showers.

  • Keith T Shearlock
    Posted at 10 November 2015 Reply

    Yes, 120% of prior days urine output per person per day!/Xneph

  • Linsay Patterson
    Posted at 10 November 2015 Reply

    We don’t do long trips & haven’t measured the water usage but still conserve as “you never know”.

    We use salt water for washing dishes (water is pretty clean in Hervey Bay Australia) with a salt water foot pump in a dual sink galley.
    Usually just have a “Bird Bath” with heated water from the kettle in a bowl & a sponge bath. If grubby, a shower on deck (with undies or swimmers on) using a 2 litre orange juice bottle with tiny holes drilled into the lid makes for a frugal shower where we can shower using about 2 litres each. We usually hold the bottle & spray it for the other but it’s quite easy to do it yourself.

  • Wandering Star
    Posted at 13 March 2016 Reply

    Good article. We use 5 gallons or less a day. We sail mostly in Tropical climates and wash in the sea with a quick fresh water rinse. In the USA we washed inside, especially when it was cold, but water is free from any marina or fuel dock. A seawater tap in the galley reduces washing up water when it is clean enough. We cruised for 9 years without a watermaker. Collecting rain water is key. Watermakers are expensive bits of kit, ours came with our current boat and only puts out 3 gallons an hour but we can run it off our solar panels.

  • Marc & Caroline Kornutik
    Posted at 26 January 2017 Reply

    We are still at the dock and have only made week long trips so far. When it’s just the two of us (+ our pup Buckley) we usually get two weeks +/- from 285 gallons while at the dock, so guessing were in the realm of 10 gallons P/P daily. That’s with the occasional shower aboard, cooking and washing dishes, but currently still using bottled water for most drinking until I fit a proper filter system this spring.
    We do have a water maker (installed by the previous owner) but we have not run it since purchasing two years ago. That will change in the spring as well. ?

  • Sharon Haddix
    Posted at 24 October 2017 Reply

    My husband I were working out our water use when we discovered our boat specs stating 160 gallon water tank was in reality only holding 123 gallons !! We have since then installed a water maker.

  • Dave Skolnick (S/V Auspicious)
    Posted at 16 January 2018 Reply

    Note that dock water in some places is really not worth drinking. I’ve measured TDS of 1200 ppm in Marsh Harbour which is pretty darn salty. Being in a marina doesn’t mean lots of water for drinking and cooking.

  • Lee A Licata
    Posted at 16 January 2018 Reply

    When there are two of us on board in the summer cruising the Greek islands, our 750 liter water tank last about 3+ weeks. Who two guests are on board, it lasts about 2 weeks. We have a high efficiency dishwasher, another high efficiency washing machine, 1500 watts of solar power, FW flush toilet, a 24v DC 1250 amp-hour battery bank and an AC unit in the master bedroom. And this will be our 7th year cruising.

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