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Old 08-09-2016, 14:50   #1
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Selecting A Water Maker-a Lesson Learned The Hard Way. Maybe This Will Help Someone?

I haven't posted here in a long time, but used CF a lot especially when researching for preparing for our cruise. We've been cruising full time for over a year and thought I would share the lessons we learned about selecting a watermaker in hopes that may help a fellow cruiser selecting their water maker. The idea for posting being not to suggest one brand over another but help define what you REALLY want from your unit and the questions to think about before buying. Hope it helps someone.

To save myself a whole lot of time and typing, I've just cut/pasted our reflections from the blog (thanks for understanding):


"It’s Hard To Admit You Made a Mistake"

It’s hard to admit you made a mistake, especially an expensive one, but we did and here is our admission….

We chose the wrong water maker. It was one of the most expensive pieces of equipment we added and had done months of researching before selecting one, but we still got it wrong. So wrong that we are removing our perfectly good operating unit that is only a season old and spending what is, to us, several months worth of cruising budget to buy a different unit. At the moment the new unit is sitting in Florida waiting for us. I generally don’t have the interest or energy to do much technical writing on this blog but I know we were not alone in the flaws of reason that led us to make the wrong decision in the first place so for any one else in the process of selection a water maker I want to share our original thought processes and discoveries. Hope it helps.

First, a quick backtrack. We had narrowed our choices down to two very different units when we first started this search: the Katadyn PUR 40e and Rich Boren’s Cruise RO Seamaker20. Besides turning sea water into drinking water, the units are almost like comparing starfish to puffer fish. In very brief summary the Katadyn unit is teeny-tiny (about the size of a shoebox), runs off 12v (4.5amps), and is simple (nothing more than an on/off switch). It makes a little more than ONE gallon an hour. The Cruise RO unit is robust (our shipping receipts says it came in six different boxes), runs off AC (Honda generator), and is more complex in that pressures and outflow may be adjusted (and monitored). It makes a little more than TWENTY gallons an hour. (There are also Cruise RO units that make over 30, even 40 gallons per hour!) Note, we know there are other 12v units out there that are more efficient and had higher outputs than the Katadyn-but out of our price range, and, there are other AC units out there besides the Cruise RO- but the quality of materials excluded them from our consideration. So, for us, we narrowed it down to these two units; the Katadyn and the Cruise RO.

Here is how we rationalized the differences between the units originally and our reflections after one year of cruising. The most obvious difference between the water makers being, one-plus gallons vs. twenty-plus gallons per hour. While it seems obvious which one is the winner here, we honestly believed that we just needed enough RO water for drinking and cooking. More water could never be a bad thing, admittedly, we just didn’t rate it as the highest priority in the selection process. We assumed we would either collect rain water or purchase water for our showering and other water needs. We have separate tanks for these uses. In reality, the Katadyn has done exactly what we’ve asked of it, it does provide enough water for cooking and drinking, but nothing more. We’ve also come to realize (admit) that we still desire more fresh water. Collecting rain water in the winter just doesn’t happen (its rained once in the last six months) and lugging very heavy jugs of water in the dinghy from shore is not so fun. More than that, we would like to have more water supply to do things like wash gear, the deck, the windows, clothes, the salty dog, ourselves. Sometimes an extra long shower would be a real treat and currently the rate it takes to make a glass full of water with the Katadyn compared to the rate it takes to flow from our faucets is very, very imbalanced.

The next most obvious difference to contend with is the power source, 12V vs. AC. This is where we got hung up. We crave redundancy on this boat, and this is where the Katadyn unit shined for us originally. In theory we would just run it off of solar alone but the engine or even the Honda generator could power it if needed too. Hell, it even came with a hand pump if we things got that bad. Multiple sources of power-this was originally a higher priority than the output. Our original biggest concern with the Cruise RO system was that if the Honda Generator broke we would have no way of running the water maker. We voiced this concern with Rich Boren, the owner of Cruise RO and a fellow cruiser, and his answer was so swift and assured. He said, “If my Honda broke, I’d be fixing or replacing it ASAP”. I wish we had truly understood that response at the time. In reality, our solar panels do not provide us enough power to run the water maker. This is not a fault of the water maker, but a limitation of our current solar array. But, what this means is we pull out and start up the Honda generator almost every single time we run the water maker. Now, if we are having to run the generator anyway—those extra 19 gallons every hour that we are NOT making start to get missed! Do you know what I could do with an extra 19 gallons of water– every hour? It only took us about three or four months of cruising for us to start admitting that we should have gone with the Cruise RO unit (another eight or nine to do something about it). And now we understand- if our Honda generator broke, we’d be fixing it or replacing it and for more reasons than just a water maker. And besides, if it ever came down to this, we learned the Cruise RO system can be pickled under 12V power so no risk of damaging a membrane, a concern that we got so stuck on in our original decision making process.

A few factors have not changed for us since we began researching which unit to buy, primarily quality of materials and size of unit. We were always more impressed with the quality of materials used in the Cruise RO unit than any other from the start. The high pressure Stainless steel pump head and body, along with several other components, come with a full lifetime warranty. ALL parts are non-proprietary, meaning everything from the membrane, fittings, and chemicals can be found all over the world. We also always agreed that the service and warranty of the Cruise RO system was easily the most reassuring we had found in the industry. While our Katadyn has functioned adequately and we cannot fault it we did have to completely rebuild it already, after only 300 hours of use, and have found that this seems to be pretty standard amongst everyone we have talked to who owns one. Meh. As far a size goes, the tiny 12V unit couldn’t have been any better. Of course I suppose something that makes 20x the amount of water is going to take up a significant more amount of space. Here it comes back to a priority thing and “more water” has moved up the ladder. The nice thing is that the Cruise RO system can be installed modularly. Meaning each piece can be installed in a different location as needed. I.e., the membrane in one location, the pump in another, the control panel in yet another. This should make fitting it into our tiny, odd shaped spaces a LOT easier. (We will let you know- we are eager to start installing it as soon as we get back to Florida will do a post on the installation process).
I see a lot of very clean, un-salty things in our near future🙂

(Photo from Cruise RO website as our unit is sitting in boxes in Florida waiting on up).......update: installation complete!!! Yay!
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Old 08-09-2016, 16:43   #2
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Re: selecting a water maker-a lesson learned the hard way. Maybe this will help some



I'm blushing...
I can now at least have a smile on my face as I'm fixing the shower sump pump, that by the looks (and smell) of things hasn't been working for a few days....
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Old 08-09-2016, 16:47   #3
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Re: selecting a water maker-a lesson learned the hard way. Maybe this will help some

What are you doing with the old one? I may be interested in it. (solo, no pet, no generator)
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Old 09-09-2016, 08:07   #4
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Re: selecting a water maker-a lesson learned the hard way. Maybe this will help some

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Originally Posted by SV THIRD DAY View Post


I'm blushing...
I can now at least have a smile on my face as I'm fixing the shower sump pump, that by the looks (and smell) of things hasn't been working for a few days....
Have fun with that . We just discovered that the pickup tube in our grey water tank broke off about 10 inches from the bottom so it was never getting emptied. Oh yum! We can empathize with you. But....we got it fixed and all set for those longer showers
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Old 09-09-2016, 08:08   #5
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Re: selecting a water maker-a lesson learned the hard way. Maybe this will help some

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Originally Posted by alctel View Post
What are you doing with the old one? I may be interested in it. (solo, no pet, no generator)
Sorry, we already sold it. Not room enough for two units on this tiny boat!
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Old 09-09-2016, 09:59   #6
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Re: selecting a water maker-a lesson learned the hard way. Maybe this will help some

Heh Kindle, thanks for sharing what happened in your decision making process. It is helpful to me that is for sure. I think if you have a lady on board it is one of the most important things there are.
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Old 09-09-2016, 10:01   #7
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Re: selecting a water maker-a lesson learned the hard way. Maybe this will help some

Thank you for the intelligent cogent discussion.
Fait winds and following seas.
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Old 09-09-2016, 10:03   #8
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Re: selecting a water maker-a lesson learned the hard way. Maybe this will help some

We ran our watermakers 24/7 for years at a time. If the water tank was full, the excess went overboard. Keeps the need to pickle the reverse osmosis screens down to seldom. Also meant we always had fresh water, not days old water and the tanks were always topped up. Sizing the system this way you avoid needing big watermakers. Our solar and water driven chargers were enough to keep batteries always charged up to offset the watermakers' electrical drain. The system was independent of the engine except for battery recharging if needed. The generator was automatic so at moorings or dockside, the system could keep working. Nothing like unlimited fresh water. With kids, its essential.
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Old 09-09-2016, 10:03   #9
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Re: selecting a water maker-a lesson learned the hard way. Maybe this will help some

I'm a bit surprised you narrowed down to 2 that were so different. I'm looking to buy one soon and want 12V, 8-10gph.

There are very good, quality units like Parker little wonder 8.3gph and modulare, Spectra (who makes your old 40e) also makes the ventura 150 and 200 (6.3gph and 8.3gph) and the ECH20 Tec makes modular 8.5gph 12V units and there's a guy selling kits for $2k called Quality Water Works in NC... all have SS pumps.

Why did you rule those manufactures out? I'm guessing the little wonder and Spectra units may cost a but more ($5.5-6k vs $4.5k) than cruise RO, but QWW is cheaper and I think ECH20 is on par with Cruise RO price. And they are 12VDC/20A. I don't have an AC generator, but have 550W of solar panels and don't think 20Ahr is a big deal for 8.5gal, so I'm planning a 12VDC unit. Cruise RO is the most expensive if you add the price of the generator!

best
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Old 09-09-2016, 10:41   #10
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Re: Selecting A Water Maker-a Lesson Learned The Hard Way. Maybe This Will Help Some

zstine... would be great to hear what you decide and how the install and operation go... when you have time .
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Old 09-09-2016, 11:28   #11
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Re: Selecting A Water Maker-a Lesson Learned The Hard Way. Maybe This Will Help Some

I'm by no means very educated in water makers but some time ago I asked around a bit and what turned me off about the Katadyn ones was the ridiculously priced membranes. Pure piracy on the high seas imho.
Furthermore, Spectra prices seemed very inflated.

I do reckon Rich has a good product overall. And I agree with the Honda 2000/20e aspect, I think it's an essential equipment anyways.

Just never understood one thing, what the ¿《#* makes these things so bloody expensive?? It's not like they are space rocket technology nor gold plated..
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Old 09-09-2016, 11:31   #12
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Re: Selecting A Water Maker-a Lesson Learned The Hard Way. Maybe This Will Help Some

I'll lay odds that next year he will be installing the other RO membrane, have that redundancy, and make 30 gls an hour.
I will be going with an AC unit upon discovering that I will be running a generator twice a week anyway, to top up the batteries to truly 100% ( I have Lifleine's ) and if I'm running a generator anyway, why not make water at that time? And maybe wash clothes, make ice and a few other things when I have power to spare.

I know a "real" cruiser doesn't need AC power, ice etc., but I have this feeling that if I don't provide some luxuries, I may not be cruising long, after all she who must be obeyed has a vote too.

Oh, and my back up if the generator packs it in is a big inverter and a 125 amp alternator, so you can have redundant power supplies, you may already have one in fact.
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Old 09-09-2016, 11:33   #13
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Re: Selecting A Water Maker-a Lesson Learned The Hard Way. Maybe This Will Help Some

Good post and your final thoughts matched our analysis exactly. More water the better, ALWAYS.

Like another poster above, I'm really surprised you originally narrowed it down to 2 very dissimilar units. I know many people choose between the Spectra or the CruiseRO, but those 2 units are much closer in output.

I'm glad you got the right unit in the end and I'm sure you will be happy with the product and service from Rich!
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Old 09-09-2016, 11:41   #14
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Re: selecting a water maker-a lesson learned the hard way. Maybe this will help some

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Originally Posted by bjymd View Post
Thank you for the intelligent cogent discussion.
Fait winds and following seas.
Agreed. You have been helpful. I have been wary of AC-driven units, but I realized not only have I already installed a 2000W inverter and a big house bank, I'm bringing two Honda 2000s for power tools and "emergency modular genset" use. So I'm recalculating our modest needs for water vs. the logic of making 20 gallons in a shot with a modular AC unit.

Basically, I've been using Honda 2000s for nearly ten years. They are very reliable (I bike one to my boat in winter to lay on charge on the house bank I don't remove). It should work well for you.
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Old 09-09-2016, 12:00   #15
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Re: selecting a water maker-a lesson learned the hard way. Maybe this will help some

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Originally Posted by zstine View Post
I'm a bit surprised you narrowed down to 2 that were so different. I'm looking to buy one soon and want 12V, 8-10gph.

There are very good, quality units like Parker little wonder 8.3gph and modulare, Spectra (who makes your old 40e) also makes the ventura 150 and 200 (6.3gph and 8.3gph) and the ECH20 Tec makes modular 8.5gph 12V units and there's a guy selling kits for $2k called Quality Water Works in NC... all have SS pumps.

Why did you rule those manufactures out? I'm guessing the little wonder and Spectra units may cost a but more ($5.5-6k vs $4.5k) than cruise RO, but QWW is cheaper and I think ECH20 is on par with Cruise RO price. And they are 12VDC/20A. I don't have an AC generator, but have 550W of solar panels and don't think 20Ahr is a big deal for 8.5gal, so I'm planning a 12VDC unit. Cruise RO is the most expensive if you add the price of the generator!

best
Hey Amigo
I think an important point about water maker selection is that there are many "Right Ways" to go and as long as the way you pick works for you. Then bingo, you have the almost mythical "right water maker". Where the headache comes in is that "Right" for one person may be totally "Wrong" for another and vice versa.

How I think people pick the "wrong water maker" is when their water maker choice while in cruise planning stages does not match their real world needs while out cruising, both for water amount and ways to power it. I've almost never heard people say they have too much water or power on a cruising boat.

Tom on Jeanne on SV Eagle blogged about a simular water maker/power available mismatch story and to summarize, they went with a little wounder 12v unit, the output was enough for them BUT the realities of powering it while living at anchor 365days/hr meant that they needed to run their Honda 2000 generator every time they wanted to make water because their power usage (like almost everyone's) was higher in the tropics and in living aboard than it was in their systems planning stage. It's something I saw in Mexico and why we centered the powering of our 20 or 30 GPH water makers around the Honda 2000. Because in my view there were two types of cruisers, said jokingly, but 90% true:
The ones with a Honda 2000 (or diesel genset)
Or
The ones that wanted a Honda 2000.

If you are already going to have either a Honda or a diesel genset for power, then it seems an easy choice for a 120v AC high output water maker. Here's a few links to another cruiser blogs about how the Honda was an essential piece of gear for them:
SV Totem
SV Just a Minute

You mentioned some other water maker companies and Ecotech is a great company owned and managed by good people so, there is nothing to knock them for, but I just don't believe in running a energy hog high pressure piston pump on 12v DC. 20A, 30A, or 40A those are the types of loads that I just don't see a typical cruising boat being able to sustain for long enough duration without running their generator or diesel motor/alternator. Unless they have LiFePO4 batteries. It works in an energy usage spreadsheet, but often falls short in the real world. For example, a cruiser called up and wanted a 29A 12v unit and asked me to basically make one like Echotec, by swapping out our 120v AC motor for a 12v DC motor. I literally begged him not to do it and told him to go buy it from Echotec, but he insisted, so I built it and sold it. After he went through the battery cabling issues and voltage drop issues he realized that his 400AH battery bank could just not support the load without crushing his voltage. Feeling bad for him, I gave him a discount when he traded in his 12v DC motor and piston pump for our standard 1.0Hp/1.6gpm motor/pump set up so he could run it off of his Honda 2000. It all worked on paper for him and despite knowing me for 10yrs, he just though I was blowing smoke at him or was giving him a sales pitch.

Now at 550W of solar, you way outpace the wattage of the "average cruising boat" so a 12v non-energy recovery water maker could make sense...but most people have 1/2 of your solar. Not because they don't want it, but because they just can't make it fit.

The only way I see a 12v water maker working is if you have an energy recovery pump like a Spectra, again unless you have a LOT of solar or LiFePO4 batteries. There are other energy recovery pump water makers out there...but Spectra is hands down the best. This is my opinion of course but if you can't make water solely off of solar (and the amount of water you want/need rather than just survival amounts) but have to run your generator or diesel engine to "keep up" with the power demand, well you may have picked the wrong water maker. Now some people motor all the time, so their alternator is always running, sure...that works. But most cruisers spend the majority of their time at anchor, so who wants to run your main diesel engine to make water? The heat, noise, maintenance, etc when for $1000 with free shipping you can run a Honda 2000 and make 20 or 30 gallons of water per hour AND charge/top off the batteries at the same time. That is a winner in my view anyway.

Now there are the folks out there that say, BS...who needs all that water.
"We shower with a hudson garden sprayer...you are being ridiculous with all your water usage. You guys are missing what cruising is all about with all your this and that." Hey...more power to those folks. But I can tell you this. We would not be on year 9 of living aboard without enough water so that I have NEVER had to tell my wife or daughter to not use so much water in the shower. When it's hot I take an afternoon shower after the boat chores and an evening shower before bed. Sea water is evil, I don't wash my dishes, clothes or anchor chain and deck with it. I try to keep it out of and off of the boat...ha ha.

There are many good water maker companies and choices out on the market today and my units certainly are not the end-all-be-all in the water maker world. So go with what works for your cruising style and budget and enjoy yourself out there...that's what matters in the end anyway! I tell folks all the time, don't let not having a water maker stop you from going Cruising....you can certainly go cruising without a water maker, even if my wife wouldn't have...
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