May 29, 2016

Potable Water in Southeast Alaska...

We occasionally participate in various boating forums. [See our Some Forums We Read sidebar for links...]

Some of those topics may be relevant here, so sometimes we repost to our blog for reference.

The following may be one of those cases. To accommodate our non-boating blog readers, add additional detail, and/or just cause more confusion, I sometimes add some additional {information and links} to the original forum post, below.

Link to original forum post [14-Jan-2016]

Re: Water quality British Columbia and SE Alaska

Originally Posted by redhead View Post
We're planning our trip north and of course are trying to talk to as many people as we can find who have gone before. Recently I met a woman who has made the trip from Puget Sound/Salish Sea to SE Alaska twice before. She was very firm in that we should not attempt the trip unless and until we have a water maker on board. Her experience has been that the further north you go the more the water has been acidified by the evergreen trees (is it tannic acid, I can't remember what she said) making the water brown and pretty nasty tasting.

Now we have been planning on a water maker, but it hasn't been on the top of the list as the water quality here in WA and as far north as Pender Harbour, BC has been wonderful. Do I have to think water maker sooner rather than later?

I've tried researching this but can't find any mention of it either way. Do any of you have experience? (I'm betting the answer is Yes).

Thanks as usual.
Hi Redhead,

It sounds like a great trip you have planned. [We live on our boat in SE Alaska and cruise through BC, Canada often.]

Without more information from your friend, I have to assume they were obtaining untreated [not to be confused with unfiltered...] rain-catchment water or, perhaps directly from streams and the like. Or they had one or two bad experiences with rusty pipes somewhere, or have contaminated tanks onboard?

I've been living and boating in Alaska since the mid 1980s and have yet to experience non-potable [or undesirable] water anywhere across the entire southern coast. [Seward to Ketchikan... And please do not read any defensive tone in my statement... I'm very objective- except when I'm being subjective...]

You can gain a better understanding to answer your own question about whether you need a watermaker- not based upon available water quality- but instead by genuinely reflecting on how long you can [or are willing to] go [really; repeatable- not theoretically] between water fills. How often do you want to be forced to make port [which are often days away- not including wx delays- from your anchoring location...]

Don't forget to include fuel considerations when mapping your calls to port. Your heater will likely be running much of the time, and don't plan on doing much sailing in the summer season...

e.g., If we could not go longer than, say, 5-7 days between water [or fuel...] fills, we would be planning our routing in SE Alaska based upon ports-of-call possibly missing some of the remote places we may want to visit and spend time in... Or we could use rain catchment on our boat, or go ashore [plenty of fresh water everywhere up here...] and filtering that on its way to our tanks. [I did that for many years... I like the Katadyn Base Camp filter and Platypus bladders for such needs (because I'm inherently lazy...) and still carry one for back-up on the boat, and for our extended remote shore excursions...]

We have several bog posts on this and related topic with lots of consumption data if you are interested [...or just can't sleep...] [e.g., Here is one on water, fuel, and anchor chain consumption... There are other related posts as well, and our titles are typically self explanatory...]

Our current boat, which we brought up to SE Alaska from Seattle in 2014 is the first with a water maker. It is wonderful to have, and we run it every week or so to fill our tanks. But, one is not required for cruising these waters- if you have adequate tankage for your needs between water [and fuel...] stops.

Except for keeping a slip on Wrangell Is, Alaska, for home port, we typically anchor out 6-10 months of the year. The water maker facilitates that extended independence [and we carry 220 US gallons of water in our tanks...]

All the small towns in Alaska have treated water, and in our experience, it is always very potable... That said, regardless of the water source, we filter all of the water we drink using a .5µ silver halide filter at the galley sink just to protect us from anything that makes its way into, or has spawned in our tanks- which are also sanitized routinely... [i.e., 2+ times/year]
From our Cleaning, Treating, Corrosion & Odor Control sidebar, for sanitizing our potable water system we use Neutra Sul HP41N Professional Grade Oxidizer [for cleaning/sanitizing potable water tanks and plumbing- similar to 7% hydrogen peroxide]
One consideration not often mentioned is the hose used to put water in our tanks... [We cannot do anything about their pipes...]

I have aways carried special potable water hoses which we only use for potable water [typically white in color, and BPA free.] And we always use those hoses whenever we are obtaining water from a hose bib, let it run a while before diverting to the tanks, drain them completely when finished, and sanitize them whenever the tanks are sanitized.

The point is we never use a hose already laying on the dock for potable water- to do so is to invite easily avoidable trouble. [Cut open any used garden hose and/or Google microbial slime... And no, I'm not a germaphobe, but I do have enough of an understanding about microbes and therefore attempt to avoid easily preventable maladies...]

Many prudent travels [RVers/boaters/etc.] who rely on remote water sources also use inline filters on the outlet end of their hose when filling their tanks.

I hope you enjoy your trip, drink lots of delicious water [and whatever else you find delicious...] Rest assured you can make this trip without a water maker- again assuming you have adequate tankage for your consumption levels...

All you really have to do is balance how long you can go between water [and fuel] fills with how often you want to make port; then decide...

I have to say, however, now that we have a water maker, we wouldn't go without... It seems balancing convenience and comfort against additional technical complication and expense is a slippery slope for us...




  1. As usual, very useful information :-) We don't have a lot of water tankage onboard, so a watermaker is something we're debating getting. It's a big decision though so we'll have to see what we end up doing.

  2. Thank you, Ellen.

    Denali Rose is the first vessel in 40 years on which I had a water maker. Somehow I always managed to get along without one, but now that we have one, I wonder how I managed without all those years... [Do I miss taking the dinghy to shore in winter during a teens above zero 'warm' spell to gather water from the running streams while at anchor? Not really...]

    One of the main reasons I never invested up to now was back then [20+ years ago] the technology didn't produce enough quantity in cooler waters. [higher latitudes] Water temp is much less of a limitation these days, and our current unit is testament to that. We generate about 12 gallons/hr of the most delicious potable water from 45-55°F salt water, and for the cost of only 1 amp-hour/gallon. [Spectra brand]

    Of course, deciding on a water maker is a slippery slope; next you will want a larger capacity water heater for longer showers, a washing machine, fresh water wash down on deck, perhaps even a dishwasher... etc... [Ask me how I know this... sans the dishwasher...]

    Best wishes deciding what is best for you.

    Cheers! Bill


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