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Old 27-12-2008, 19:17   #1
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pirate Living off the hook / grid - what do you need?

For those of you who live off the hook....

I want to outfit my boat to live off the hook for long periods of time. Not sure if I shall ever do it, but I want to have the ability and the peace of mind comes with it. The ultimate goal is to have a boat that is completely off the public power and water grid.

I tried to brainstorm all the times that I would need to come to shore and it came down to food storage, power, water, and holding. The solutions I came up with are in the list below. This is what I've dug up so far by digging through tips from this forum and on the rest of the net....

- Composting Toilet
- Solar Panels
- Diesel Furnace
- Wind Generator (for fear that overcast skies will make the solar ineffective)
- Rain catch with water filter
- Watermaker
- Lithium Ion Battery Bank
- Extra capacity water tanks

Here are my questions...

What things on this list (or not) would you have installed on your dreamboat (or the boat you have) to make it possible to not go to shore for weeks at a time?

If you don't care for a certain item on the list, tell me why as I'd like to hear.

Also, what items have I forgotten that are nice to have or a complete necessity?

What is the longest you have stayed out before needing to go to shore?

Thank you for your opinions and any salty tales about living off the hook/grid are most welcome.

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Old 27-12-2008, 19:37   #2
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There is a guy attempting a record for unprovisioned days at sea. I think the site is 1000 days at sea or something. His boat is huge and he has a large amount of dry stores. He fishes and tries to affect repairs underway. I think he has been at it close to a year. The boat is a bit of a floating barge at this point and the bottom growth apparently is getting quite out of hand.

For me 30 planned days would be about the limit 45 days outside.

I'd add a reserve generator to the list you have. No sun + no wind = no power. Nice to have an alternative to running the boats engine.

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Old 27-12-2008, 19:50   #3
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Extra capacity water tanks
If you think about it extra capacity is only so you don't have to make water as often. The trouble is when you do make it you have to make a lot. If you do the math it really adds nothing to have extra capacity. You don't say what extra is though? You still use as much as you do and with a water maker you do better running it regularly. Water makers don't like not being used Every other day works out nice.

Being self sufficient requires a better understanding about what it takes to meet the needs you have. Minimizing electrical power goes farther than any one thing you can do. The power you don't uses does not need to be replaced later on. Eliminate refrigeration and you can go a lot longer if not almost indefinitely. Minimize water use as well since water making uses energy too. Without refrigeration I can go a week easily and still have a lot of power left including running an anchor light at night.

Lithium Ion Battery Bank
How is this of value? You could have the biggest battery bank in the world. It works really well until it has to be recharged and then you run the engine for a week. You only need enough power to last between charges. You should recharge banks to full capacity after drawing down to 50% for the longest lifespan. Batteries don't last forever. Bigger banks don't help unless you are using a lot of power over a short period of time. If you are using a lot of power then you won't be self sufficient very long. Reduction of power is the only method you have that is easy and cheap.

Diesel Furnace

They work quite well for heating. Diesel has more heat energy per unit volume than most other fuels. Why anyone would want to live on a small boat in the cold on the hook for extended periods is I guess something I don't comprehend. Hermits are often misunderstood.

Wind power
It tends to work better on passages where you have constant wind. No one really wants an anchorage with the wind blowing 20 knots all the time.

Solar panels
They work quite well if you maximize the amount you install. They don't make noise and they work all the time during the day. They generally won't do all the work you need so you still need something else to refill the battery bank. Still worth adding though.

Perhaps the one thing you are missing is how all this works to outfit a boat and just what you expect to be able to do. The gadgets don't sound all that bad but it's the putting them together and balancing the outputs to the inputs. You outline the inputs so how do you mange the outputs so they balance? Without that part of it you don't know how much of everything you need. making the outputs match the inputs after the fact usually fails. You use more water and power than you think you do. You run out of water and are left in the dark. You really are just dreaming until you get into the other side of the problem. It really is the harder part.
Paul Blais
s/v Bright Eyes Gozzard 36
37 15.7 N 76 28.9 W
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Old 28-12-2008, 01:07   #4
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1000 Days endurance attempt and energy/food/design ideas

Originally Posted by Ex-Calif View Post
There is a guy attempting a record for unprovisioned days at sea. I think the site is 1000 days at sea or something. His boat is huge and he has a large amount of dry stores. He fishes and tries to affect repairs underway. I think he has been at it close to a year. The boat is a bit of a floating barge at this point and the bottom growth apparently is getting quite out of hand.

For me 30 planned days would be about the limit 45 days outside.

I'd add a reserve generator to the list you have. No sun + no wind = no power. Nice to have an alternative to running the boats engine.

Thanks for the mention ~ I am one of Mr Stowe's techinical advisors (energy/electronics) as well as his present shore press rep, and picked this thread up off of Google.

The address of the 1000 days website is - Home on it, you might find many ideas that you could apply to any 14 to 30+ day sail as well as green energy options. This is an effort 20+ years in the planning, and the preperation was painstaking. We are now at 615 straight days, and have been off shore power for an additional 225 days (!)

YES, it is a good idea to have as many options for electrical generation as possible: but Mr. Stowe elected to forgo wind as an option due to the high maintenance needed to montior the turbine in differing conditions over an extremely long endurance sail.

We did supply him with 4 water FOURWINDS 20A backups, (with two mounts, one internal on the propshaft, and one external trawl) an internal perment magnet high-output generator driven on the propshaft, (made by a company called ECHOTECH) as well as wiring techinques that help him backup his solar options.

For instance, he has 3 solar panel groups hooked to three networked BLUE SKY MPPT boosters. If a solar array or individual panel or booster goes, he has the option of rerouting the wiring to use fewer panels, or boosters etc or a different combination of panels. We provided backups for each booster as well as emergency switch cutoffs that are easy to locate ~ all mounted (boosters, cutoffs,etc) in spots that are easy to monitor.

So, it's a good idea, if you are going to be out there for awhile, to plan your systems not only with backups aboard, but easily accessible wiring plans and pre-planned options for service and maintenance.

As for food ~ Stowe packed a lot of beans as well as other dry staples. The beans he uses for sprouts as well as backup sources of both protein and carbohydrates. Sprouts are an excellent nutritional staple, and can be, as long as one stores his beans properly, a very good space-conserving way to feed onesself with vegetable material. He is catching a lot of fish, and drying some, while trying to mix in fresh catch as much as possible for animal proteins.

I have to be specific here in telling you THIS BOAT IS NOT A BARGE ~ it's a fully operational and elegant hand-built gaff-rigged schooner that cruises at 1.5-5 knots. At it's helm, I have personally trimmed it to go to 7+ knots up the Hudson against the current(!) He makes a note, yes, of having to clear the hull frequently, but it's definitely something that's not gotten out of hand. It IS something, though, that one needs to pay careful attention to to maximize both forward speed as well as navigational efficacy.

What makes Reid's efforts so remarkable is that the schooner is hand crafted, and many of it's rigging parts are made of wood. If he had millions to invest, I am sure that he (I was active as a systems advisor while he was in final preperations for this trip) might have opted to install more machine-built commercially manufactured rigging ~ but I am not sure that that rigging would offer him as many options for repair as his hand-made stuff does.

The materials on that boat are VERY rugged ~ stainless steel hand-forged gaff blocks, as well as safety rigging that is immaculate.

Material, backup, proper design aimed at easy repair accessibility as WELL as space-saving food options are all part of good planning for an extended cruise or sail...

I invite you all to watch his progress and comment/learn on any endurance techniques you can glean from this experience. When he returns, he will have surpassed Jon Sanders 658-day record solo sail.

We are on the way ~ so, please excuse the long long post, but this is DEFINITELY a seriously fascinating venture on a very carefully crafted and designed craft with MANY lessons to teach about endurance planning AND execution!
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Old 28-12-2008, 01:47   #5
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As for other OFF THE GRID options suggested here:

1. I'm NOT a fan of large single battery banks made up of numerous individual cells ~ it's better to use as few batteries at any single time, while periodically resting some, and keep ALL in constant rotation. The ANNE has 6 banks of 2 OPTIMA 75Ah gel cells each (each bank offers 150Ah at 12V): four in constant rotation (@ 1-2 banks per use) for "house" power (lights, instruments, electronics, etc) and 2 used more seldomly for the power winch and starting the engine.

WHY? well, you have to recharge your batteries 100% as much as possible ~ and while solar still produces in overcast conditions (I have personally watched the process) yes, it's true that all green input (sun, water, wind, etc) VARIES, and so, if one aims at recharging smaller amounts of batteries at any given time, while others are in use, one can be better sure that those batteries can recharge AND rest ~ thus helping to extend their life. The gel cells on the Anne were installed in two increments over a FULL YEAR before departure, and still consistently recharge to 12.75V or better ~ meaning that they haven't aged that much. So, with my fingers crossed as his designer, this IS working(!!)

Why 12V? well, the system was already at 12V, so the choice was easy to consider, but also, one must consider lower output from green sources, and failures. So, it's better to run your energy through the proper solar regulator at 12V (solar is the most ample and constant energy source of ANY "green" input) and avoid the neccessity to run anything that might fail in series (batteries) ~ as well as keep all the sources and wiring as simple as possible and keeping flow at lower current/voltage keeps wiring more durably failsafe.

And don't worry about more oomph from 24-48V ~ the ANNE has a 100A max powerwinch that is amply supplied at 12V ~ and though the skipper eschewed luxuries like electric heat and refridgeration, one CAn find very efficient 12V fridges and space heaters...

Lithium-ion banks? well, if you can AFFORD or find them, ok ~ but my dad was a metallurgust who helped engineer and consult on design for lithium, cadmium and other batteries ~ he told me over and over in his lifetime that the same handling (full recharge, rest, rotation) applies for ANY battery ~ so, unless you're going out for a year or more and are infinitely funded, go with gel cells.

2. LARGE WATER TANKS are definitely a priority, but one also must take painstaking care to be sure that stored water remains as pure as possible. this DOES mean chlorine at times, though there are other more environmentally-sensitive options.

3. DIESEL ENGINES are very good for backing up both power and fuel efficiency. The ANNE has a rebuilt Detroit Diesel in it from the 70's which has proven thus far to be very reliable. Your engine plant must be simple in design and mounting, though, to enable easy maintenance and repair. Witnessing the skipper rebuild his engine plant in place with a Detroit Diesel advisor was fascinating to watch ~ but made more easy by the design of the engine and how it was mounted/installed. He was easily able to slide and squeeze underneath the engine to get at difficult-to reach parts.

BE SURE TO HAVE hand-crank option as well as a starter backup for ANY engine, though ~ and remember to start and run it warm for 15-20 minutes it at least once every 10-14 days!

3. SOLAR: CAN provide enough energy, if you design the voltage and recharge systems properly to ALMOST COMPLETELY provide enough electricity. It's nice, though, to use the engine at short intervals, while one keeps it running, to top off banks in extended bad weather.

BE SURE to see that your boat is wired so that you can charge each bank or all banks at any given time ~ that way, when energy sources are plentiful, you can maintain charge, as well as individuate smaller charge output when input is unstable/low.

4. In all things, if you want to extend life off the grid, design for efficiecny and easy repair ~ design simply. Do the math on how much energy you need, and use ~ figure the best way to power yourself, at the lowest possible voltage and current, and you can extend the "perpetual" process as more easily!

If anyone would like any other advice, please feel free to write me at, or ask a question of the skipper at We welcome hearing from you ~ and blue skies and good speed ahead to all of you! I think we all must, whether on the water or landlocked, be more interested in energy in/energy out ~ and try to grab as much energy as we can from natural sources. (SOLAR being the easiest and most reliable).
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Old 28-12-2008, 05:41   #6
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OK, time to get back on topic here...what do you need for living on the hook?

It depends a bit on where you want to cruise. Based on our experience in the eastern Caribbean, I think a well-planned and installed electrical system, a good reefer, sufficient water tankage, and a good ground tackle are the four most important components. You'll be able to provision on a regular basis, so refrigeration and freezer space is essential. The fridge will consume most of your electrical budget, say 100-120 amp-hours per 24 hours. A 400-600 amp-hour house bank is sufficient. Solar and wind power work well here, and cruisers use them to supplement or supplant mechanical charging systems (main engine alternator or separate generator). Water is available all over, but to be safe install a biological filter just for your drinking water. Our 170 gallon tank would last for 12-15 days without being too miserly about water use. Buy an anchor that will set in sand or grass, an all chain rode, or at least 150 feet of chain backed by nylon, with a good windlass. Oh, and don't forget a good dodger and full bimini to shade for sun and weather protection in the cockpit.
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Old 28-12-2008, 05:50   #7
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What "Pblais" said, especially about nailing down your usage needs - that's where you'll be making lifestyle choices - to conserve water/electric or not.

If you have a fat wallet then most of the problems are easily overcome.

I am used to being independent of external resources (in Fl.Keys) for 2 (sometimes 3) weeks at a time based on 80 watts of solar panels (feeding two 75 amphr batteries with no recharging needed) and 25 gals of water storage. That seems to be on the "simple lifestyle" end of the spectrum as far as I can tell from othere skipper's needs as well as similar forum discussions.

Water capacity for me is more restrictive - so I don't usually provision with foodstuffs that intentionally require water/rehydration, rather use packaged foods that include their own liquids.

If I were trying to go for longer stints I would add a solar water making still - similar to the design of the ones in the very helpful book "Sailing the Farm"
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Old 28-12-2008, 07:10   #8
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Sweet surrender,
THese are just my thoughts
IMHO you first need to understand that a sailboat is not completely self sufficient, you will always need to provision, and buy supplies, having said that there are many ways to extend those periods;
If you are going to be on the hook as opposed to cruising there are differences; A watermaker is pretty much useless in a harbour/ anchorage, the water is too dirty, so larger water tanks make sense, Rhosyn Mor carries close to 130 gallons.
A reefer is ok if you have access to shore power, but for extended stays out they cause more problems and use too much power, a well insulated icebox will hold ice for up to a week ( especially if you use block ice)
A lrge battery bank is nice but you need to think how you are going to charge it, solar panels are pretty much the only way to go if you dont want to use a generator. Theres no point in having a 900 amphour bank if you are 30 amps a day- you need to think about what needs you have on board and work out your power consumption, without a reefer, radar, tv, freezer etc your power consumption drops a lot. As Hud said you cannot look at power, etc without first deciding what kind of sailing you are going to do, its quite common for people too buy too much boat for the type of sailing they do, and then outfit it for world cruising when in reality for 5 years they will be coastal sailing
You will also need a good dinghy- and work out how to store it
THe most important things on Rhosyn are the water tanks, charts, a complete and good condition set of sails, self steering, and a good dry bunk
Any way just my 0.02
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Old 28-12-2008, 08:47   #9
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wouldnt you just need what ever the guy that is doing it has? seems that is your answer.
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Old 28-12-2008, 09:02   #10
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When considering being off the grid, you need to be realistic about how long you intend to be off the grid and is it out of choice or do you expect to be in locations where access to water, fuel, food etc is not possible?

Making water in a harbor is not recommended. But you could catch rainwater... if it rain.

But how much water do you need for the period? You certainly don't need to use much for bathing and if it's in a warm climate you can swim. But let's say you can't swim... you still can limit your use of water for bathing to a minimal amount. Then you have water for cooking and clean up and drinking. If you use a couple of gallons a day a 20 gallon tank will last 20 days without any replenishment.

You will need electricity for lighting, although you can use fuel lamps, but that's another consumable to keep aboard.

If you have a diesel it can with little fuel in 1 hour charge your batts, give you some hot water. A 40 hp diesel should burn no more than .5 -1 gal per hr so to make it for 10 days you'd need no more than 10 gal of diesel.

If you need heat you can use a diesel fired heater. That will consume about .1 gal per hour or less than 1.5 gal per day if you don't run it 24/7. So add another 10 - 15 gal for heating. That's 25 gal of diesel.

This should keep you warm with electricity to spare, hot water a plenty.

Now you need to get provisions. For refer you can use an engine drive system which is cooled when you run your diesel to recharge the batts and make hot water. Use this engine run time to do things like vacuumin with 110v from the inverter which will be replenished by the high putput alternator. Shower when the engine is running to replace the hot water you may use, same with doing the dishes or using the SSB radio. Essentially you want to use energy while the diesel is converting diesel to energy and the alternator will add as needed.

You can also use a holding plate in your refer system that can go way down in temp. Fill it with frozen foods which act as "ice" keeping the box cold. Work you way from top to bottom through these frozen foods. A smakll box can hold a lot of frozen meals.

A propare tank of 20# will last your month of regular use cooking.

For up to a few weeks you don't need special batts, solar, water maters etc. These are survival strategies for long term stints off the grid... like ocean passages or being anchored in some far off paradise.
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Old 28-12-2008, 09:31   #11
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OK....this is getting interesting.

My 2cents on the topic...lots of water storage capacity would important...even with a water maker.
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Old 28-12-2008, 09:41   #12
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Composting head:

As someone who's had both composting and traditional heads, I'll comment on that. I think composting heads have their place, but I don't think installing one will make you more self-sufficient when out long-term cruising. You need to have the peat or equivalent and the place dump the compost. I think a traditional head with the appropriate spare parts is likely to be more self-sufficient.
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Old 28-12-2008, 09:55   #13
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We don't make efforts to avoid going ashore but we do spend about 60 percent of our time on the hook and we have often spent a month without provisioning with food, water, fuel, etc. The diesel heater would not be on my list because we typically don't cruise in the cold,- Maine in the summer and the Bahamas in the winter. We have solar panels, wind generator and a diesel generator for power and our biggest draw is the refrig/freezer. Earlier in our time aboard (living aboard since 1972) we went about twenty years without refrigeration and had far less power needs. We don't have a water maker and our 200 gallons of tankage can last the two of us a month when we conserve. Joy detergent will lather in salt water for bodies and dishes followed by a conservative fresh water rinse. 'take care and joy, Aythya crew
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Old 28-12-2008, 10:30   #14
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My re-fit includes:
-Hurricaine II system for heat & hot water making with engine exchange incorporated.
-5KW Northern Lights
-2 123W Solar
-1 Aerogen 4 wind /aqua capable
-LED lighting inside & out
-240 gal water
-Saltwater pump in galley and washdown
-260 diesel
-Balmar high amp alternator
-3 Gp 27 starting
-2 housebanks of 2 & 4 golfcarts
-Force 10 Galley, propane tanks TBD

= I want to install a Village marine 200GPD RO watermaker if funds allow.

Electrical consumption is not real low, but comfortable such is teh reason for the electrical array. Elec systems are tied in to house except for Bilge pumps are separated out and to each bank. 1 Gp 27 Starting is isolated from all for emergency use but can be combined for maintenance.
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Old 28-12-2008, 11:12   #15
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Originally Posted by CaptForce View Post
. Joy detergent will lather in salt water for bodies and dishes followed by a conservative fresh water rinse.

Joy? That is something I have often wondered about. If there was a soap that worked very well with salt water. Thanks, thats a great tip.

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