Ten years of using solar showers . . . 12 things we've learned for using it as your only shower on a boat!

Tips on Using a Solar Shower

Dave and I have literally never showered below decks on either of the two cruising boats we’ve owned. Basically, it’s for three reasons. First, without a separate shower stall, water would get all over everything in the head. A pain to move it all. Second is that we just don’t need any more humidity below deck. And third is that the showers on both our boats did nothing to conserve water.

Instead, we’ve used various brands of solar showers bought from Amazon. To be honest, our first one had been left by the prior owner of our first boat and we figured we’d never use it . . . until we discovered that the boat didn’t have a hot water heater (somehow that slipped by us in reading the specs . . .).

We were frankly surprised at how well it worked and how little water we used with it. And so we used a solar shower the whole time we owned the boat . . . and bought another one with the first batch of things for Barefoot Gal. With 10+ years of using one now, we’ve learned a few things:

  • The water can get hot enough to scald you in the tropics! ALWAYS check the water temp with your hand or if the bag has a thermometer, check it. If it feels too hot to your hand, or the temp shows it’s over 110 F (I prefer it about 105), put a towel over the bag or put it in the shade to cool a bit and then check again.
  • The water doesn’t stay hot very long after sunset, though . . . timing is everything!
  • Close nearby hatches before showering. Particularly open ports just below where you shower. Want to guess how I know how easy it is to miss these?
  • If you’re going to shower on deck and don’t want to be seen naked, hang on to an old stretched out swim suit. It’s now your bathing suit – literally. A stretched out suit is easy to wash your body under, so you don’t need to rig a privacy curtain. We’ve learned that even when we think we’re the only people for miles around, a boat will come into the anchorage just as we soap up our hair!
  • If you’re sailing, watch where the bag is lying in relation to where sheets and rigging will go not just on the current tack, but after a tack/jibe and also as the sails come down. Lines chafe holes in these bags very quickly! We also learned to clip the bag to the boat underway . . . after we lost one.
  • A 4 to 5 gallon bag works well for two people to both have “nice” showers – maybe not luxurious, but both with hair washed and conditioned, etc. as long as you turn the water off while you soap up. Actually, we both get a shower and have water left over with a four gallon bag.
  • With everyday use, bags will typically last 6 to 9 months in the tropical sun. Do not expect it to last forever . . . and you may have to make a few “field repairs” on it towards the end of its life. If this is your only hot shower, keep a spare on hand!
  • A bag with a screw cap for the fill port is much easier to use and less likely to leak than one with a “press to close” fitting. They’re generally a little more expensive, too.
  • We’ve had bags with both screw nozzles and push-pull ones. They’ve worked equally well, it’s just a matter of personal preference . . . or not (we don’t care).
  • Lay the bag down to heat the water and only hang the bag when showering. If it’s lying on non-skid, put a towel under it as the non-skid can chafe a hole in it in a surprisingly short amount of time.
  • If you have a hard bimini, you can probably lay the bag on the bimini to shower and run the hose into the cockpit. This is what we do on our current boat.
  • On a sailboat, you can use a halyard to hoist the bag in the air – we used a carabiner from the bag strap to a sidestay to keep the bag from swinging in the air on our previous boat. Keeping it from swinging is really important . . . as what appear to be dead flat anchorages usually aren’t and that heavy bag swinging around your head can be unnerving, not to mention potentially dangerous.
  • If the hose for the nozzle is too long, cut it and reattach the nozzle. You’ll be happier if you can stand to shower instead of having to sit or kneel. Should you need a longer hose, you can buy clear tubing at almost any hardware or home improvement store that’s the same diameter and just swap it out.
  • We’ve used a number of different brands of bags, and it usually does not pay to buy the cheapest one. Since specs constantly change, we go by the features a bag has rather than just by brand.
    • Toughest and thickest material
    • Large fill port with screw cap
    • Strong attachment for the hanging handle – a bar that spreads the stress out over the whole top is better than a single point.
    • Strong handle itself – the bag is heavy when full and hanging!

My favorite right now is from Advanced Elements, but Amazon sells many brands of solar showers, as do various camping, outdoor and big box stores.

  • Capt'Rich Kervan
    Posted at 12 July 2016 Reply

  • Jan Bogart
    Posted at 12 July 2016 Reply

    Used to use one too on the sailboat. I would tread water shampooing and conditioning my hair! The nudity thing is a PITA…lol. Ours would last for ages.

  • Rachel Roy Smith
    Posted at 12 July 2016 Reply

    we used a sun shower for 10 years while living aboard in the Caribbean……only went through 2. They seem to last forever! We would hang it in the head for showering…..

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 12 July 2016 Reply

      Wow. Great life on yours — I know that where we hung ours next to a stay was hard on ours.

    • Rachel Roy Smith
      Posted at 12 July 2016 Reply

      we would lay ours on the cabin top for a few hours prior to showering….

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 12 July 2016 Reply

      Oh, yeah, we laid it down to heat up. I meant when we were showering.

  • Sherri Brenner
    Posted at 12 July 2016 Reply

    We use a sun shower every day and love it! We string up a few Pareos to create privacy in the cockpit. The hose in ours was not long enough so we had to extend it.

  • Ernie
    Posted at 12 July 2016 Reply

    Another alternative is a weed sprayer. A one or two gallon plastic sprayer is not a lot at Home Depot. Get a sink sprayer.. You may need a longer hose that fits the sprayer and a reducing coupling to connect the hose to the hose on the sink sprayer. You put the water you need in the sprayer, pump it up, and then use the spray nozzle.

    The hot water can come from the sun shower, or you can boil up a pint in a tea kettle and add cold water as needed. (My 1 gallon sprayer works fine with a pint of boiling water and the rest cold, and takes up less space. It is fine for one person, while the next pint is a-boiling).

    The advantages are: you save even more water than the sun shower; you don’t have to stand under a swinging bag, since it is very portable; and you can get real pressure rather than a drip; and you can direct the flow very specifically.

  • Donna Blagg
    Posted at 12 July 2016 Reply

    A tankini (with a loose fitting top that covers the butt) also works well for showering when there is not the privacy to shower in the nude.

    When we have clean saltwater, we soap up and shampoo using a small bucket of saltwater and standing/sitting on a side deck. Then it is down the ladder for a thorough rinse and then back up for a fresh water rinse. We find that we can get nicely rinsed using about two gallons or less of fresh water between us.

    We used to use a sun shower for rinsing, but now we just use a bucket of warm water and a sponge for rinsing. Seems to be simpler than a sun shower, given we have a water heater. But even when we didn’t, I would just heat up some water on the stove top. Any water left over in our rinse bucket is used for dishwashing.

  • Donna Blagg
    Posted at 12 July 2016 Reply

    Oops! Forgot to add that we do not pour the fresh water over our bodies for rinsing. We use a sea sponge to squeeze the water over us. This seems to use less water than the sun shower.
    Also, when weather does not permit going overboard to rinse in saltwater, we use a bucket to scoop up the water and pour over us until rinsed and then follow with fresh water. This method also works when we are underway.

  • Richard Rebekah Ellison
    Posted at 12 July 2016 Reply

    I’ve heard a garden bug sprayer works great. You can pump up pressure and the wand is easy to use and conserved water. Spray the tank black. Also harbor freight has a nice big backpack style that I think would be interesting to strap to the mast and has a pump handle.

  • Tod Mills
    Posted at 12 July 2016 Reply

    A kitchen sink type nozzle is a nice improvement, imo, well worth the effort of swapping it for the standard push/pull nozzle.

    • Donna Blagg
      Posted at 12 July 2016 Reply

      We have led a line from our sink outlet to an outlet in the cockpit and mounted a connection in the cockpit to hook up such a nozzle. We can adjust for a mix of hot/cold water. Because this is such a water guzzler, we only use this when we have access to an abundant water supply.

  • Cheryl Bular
    Posted at 13 July 2016 Reply

    For those who have water makers here’s an idea. We extended our shower hose from the head so we could take deck showers. Rinsed off the deck, no clean up and much cooler.

  • Molly Ebelhare
    Posted at 14 July 2016 Reply

    Our boat has two heads so one has become the designated shower. We simply hang the sun shower outside and run the hose/nozzle through the port. This has worked perfectly for 22 years.

  • StarWish246
    Posted at 15 July 2016 Reply

    And, don’t think that just because another boat is far away, that you have privacy. People travel with binoculars.

  • Steve Gibbs
    Posted at 18 July 2016 Reply

    One more suggestion, when your bag is nice and hot, you can put it in a soft-sided cooler to keep the water warm. Then you can have a warm shower in the evening. It may not be piping hot like it is in the afternoon but is it much more comfortable than a cold shower.

  • gato
    Posted at 30 August 2016 Reply

    I’m constantly amazed at troubles people take to avoid small parts of their skin from possibly being seen. Does it harm one in any way to have their butt and boobs seen by people that they don’t know? (I know that has never hurt me.) Are people emotionally stuck with the body-shyness of an 8-year-old? And, the biggest questions: are people so self-absorbed that they think other people are watching them bathe? If they are so self-absorbed, wouldn’t they figure that other people are also so self-absorbed that they aren’t paying attention to what’s happening on somebody else’s boat? And if somebody actually wants to see me bathe, well then I have given them some pleasure. Win-win. Life on board is simpler when bathing is done in the water or on deck, without clothing or elaborate privacy screening. Consider it part of the cruising lifestyle and get on to more important/pleasurable/creative activities.

    Enough of my rant. Thanks for an informative post and also informative comments. I’ve used a solar shower for years, too. My tip is to read the instructions that come with your shower.

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 31 August 2016 Reply

      We have cruised in a number of places where the locals were highly offended by people bathing nude on deck. I certainly do not want to offend them.

  • Lachlan Callander
    Posted at 31 August 2016 Reply

    I endorse the comments above from “Ernie” and “Richard Rebekah Ellison” suggesting that a weed sprayer or equivalent is a great alternative. We use a shower bag to heat up the water but the hand pump to pressurize the water is a great advantage. While it uses even less water than the shower bag the real benefit to us is the power the spray is delivered. We use one that was recommended to us by fellow cruisers (HozeLock) but I’m sure there are many alternatives that work very well on a similar basis.

  • Jennifer
    Posted at 24 November 2016 Reply

    Camping I have used a gallon pitcher and a 32oz plastic cup. use the glass to set my hair and start the process, I have long hair, tail it into cup and tip the cup over my head. use a wash cloth to soap up, then pour the pitcher of water over me for the rinse.
    I am intrigued with the idea of a solar water bag and shower. Thanks for all of the information.

  • Richard Armentrout
    Posted at 07 June 2017 Reply

    We use a rechargeable camping hand shower found on Amazon it has a mount that we use in our shower. The water is heated in a black charcoal bag holder you can find anywhere they sell charcoal grills. We bring in the tube of hot water to the shower and use the camping shower pump.

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