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 us to pick it up still) 

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6 thoughts on “It’s Hard To Admit You Made a Mistake

  1. Ugh, admitting you have a problem is the hardest part! Excited to see how you ending up liking the new system. We’re not installing a water maker yet, but it is on our list before we head out again. I’ll happily learn from others’ experiences!

    1. We are really excited about the new unit, I’ll let you know how we like it after we’ve had a chance to use it for a bit. I’m looking forward to longer showers! Give me a shout if you have any questions about ours when you are selecting yours. Enjoy the summer, looking forward to seeing more sailing pics from you!

  2. I feel so bad for you that your water maker didn’t work out, but so happy you’ve shared your experience so that we can learn from it. I remember you telling me about your Katadyn and it seemed like a really good option. It was one that we were considering too. We’ve put off getting a water maker, but like Kelley, it’s on our list. Thanks for sharing the good, bad and ugly of cruising life.

    1. Yeah, we really thought it was too. It’s not that we didn’t like it, opposite almost. We really liked it-and wished it did more! Aren’t we just greedy. I didn’t put it in the post, but I know you are a researcher so a little food for thought while you are selecting your unit: check out what the manufactures acceptable limits of ppm are for the units you are considering. The WHO standard for drinking water is 500ppm. Katadyn considers their units as working properly up to 1500ppm. (No wonder the unit didn’t come with a TDS meter!). Happy sailing!

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