Water Maker Installation

The project of the year is complete!  So, remember when I wrote about yoinking out our practically new and still functional water maker to replace with a different water maker?  (you can read about our reasonings here) Well, we finally did. Whew, It was a process!  But we are very excited with it.  Here is a little recap of the install project that has been keeping us busy the past few weeks:

Step 1:  Unpack and Uninstall

Like kids on Christmas, we giddily collected the six boxes containing the new Cruise RO Seamaker 20 water maker from our friend’s house (Thank you for being both our post office and storage unit!) and piled them onto the boat. Giddy slowly morphed into nervous once we no longer had room to take two steps or even sit in our boat any more.  Holy Crap, there were a lot of really BIG boxes! Are you sure we can fit this thing on board?!  We lived in a mess for a bit. At least removing the old unit was simple; 4 bolts, 3 hoses, 2 wires and one hand and it was out and onto eBay.  Buh-bye Katadyn.

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Step 2: It doesn’t fit, Oh, yes it does!

We thought we had planned out exactly where we were going to put all the parts months ago while still floating about in the Bahamas.  Only about an hour into the project we realized the membrane wasn’t going to fit where we thought it would, nor the pump.  Not because the size specifications were wrong, but we didn’t account for enough space for the hoses that had to attach.  At this point, I will be honest and say I had some serious doubts whether we could get this unit on the boat, at least without sacrificing our storage spaces, which we really couldn’t afford to do.  This was the most difficult and time-consuming part of the whole project.  We spent a lot of time- many, many day- just staring, both at the space we had to work with and the parts that needed to fit in it.  Sometimes we pulled out the tape measure and would remeasure the same spot again.  Nope, still won’t fit.  Besides physically fitting somewhere other than our storage lockers we really wanted to keep it accessible, not just the filters that need frequent maintenance, but we wanted to be able to see all the fittings and pumps just to keep an eye on things.  It was a long road, but in the end I am actually glad it didn’t fit in the original spot as I think our final installation was superior choice.  Keith made all the pieces fit, without losing storage, it’s easy to access the filters and they are in a place that’s okay when water gets sloshed when you changed them (because water always gets sloshed).  To boot,  I think it’s pretty tidy of an installation, at least for being in a workroom.  He built out two false walls to mount the control panel and filters on.  This allowed all the hoses to be neatly run behind, yet easy to get to if needed.  The pumps, the boost and power pump, were built into an awkward little nook that allows for great ventilation, easy access, and if they ever do spout a leak they won’t damage anything as they are on raised mounts and the water would just drain into the bilge.  In the end, it fit in just perfectly.

The messy “BEFORE” photo:

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The slightly less messy “AFTER” photo:

Here is what you are looking at:

 

Step 3:  Plug and Play

Once Keith figured out where all the main pieces were going to go it was time to connect them all together.  Cruise RO uses Mur-lock fittings, it was Keith’s first time using them at first he thought it looked like at lot of places to introduce potential failures and he didn’t think he’d be a fan of the push locking mechanisms, but after getting into the project he grew more confident with them- and they were easy to work with.  Note, all the high-pressure fittings are Swageloc fittings.  There were plenty of full color diagrams and photographs in the 57 page installation manual, so it what was pretty straight forward of a job.  It still took a while primarily due to cramped spaces.  When I mentioned to Keith “maybe not plug-and-play like the Katadyn,” he said “no ,it is, there is just a lot more plugging and playing”.  

Behind all those connections is the 12v boost pump and raw water strainer.

The membrane fittings.

The control panel

The back of the control panel (behind one of the false walls)

The saltwater filters and the fresh water back-flush carbon filter housings.

It’s a difficult photo, but the pumps.  The boost and high pressure. The orange line is because we just used it to pickle the membrane.

 

Step 4:  Time to  make water…..lots and lots of water……….and lots of phone calls.

The original plan had been to wait until we sailed the boat down to Fort Pierce (by the inlet with fresh ocean water) to try out the unit.  But, we were excited and slightly impatient to see it work so made a quick change of plans and we decided to fire it up in the river (I’m going to come back to that point in a minute).  We read and re-read the instructions for initial startup before finally flipping the first switch. Step one was to make sure there were no leaks in any of the fittings when the boost pump was turned on. Immediately we had water-spraying in the workroom!  Obviously there was a leak; it was easily resolved. No big deal and take-two had no more water leaks. The instructions for the process were very clear but we still had lots of questions and concerns through the process.  Things like should we be seeing bubbles in the flow meter, should the flow valve be closed all the way to achieve pressures…)  We called Cruise RO  just to confirm what we were doing.  When you call the phone is answered by Rich Boren, the guy who made the water maker and owns the company so he knows everything there is to know about it- no phone tree, no transfer, no tech guy following a flow diagram.  Just another cruiser who can answer all your questions immediately. Crazy-good refreshing customer service. We ended up calling six times, pretty much at every step we had another question.  We felt kind of ridiculous for calling so much, we were just trying really, really hard not to do anything to mess up and hurt the membrane before we got started and make sure we understood everything we were doing (I’m going to come back to that point in a minute). Rich was very patient and held our hand the whole day.

During this initial run the water being made was not being dumped into our water tanks, the point was just to get the pumps broken in and everything set so we had the outlet line just draining into the bilge.  The old water maker just made a “dribble-dribble-squirt” kind of flow so we were surprised by the hose when it started whipping around and had to be clamped down once it started making water. It was kind of like a firehose without a fireman at the end.  More water everywhere 🙂 We were trying to collect it in containers and buckets because at this rate dumping it into the bilge didn’t seem smart.  Neither of us could get over how much water we were getting, not that we were calculating it (I’m going to come back to that point in a minute), but it was much more than we had envisioned!  We could barely keep up with emptying the buckets! 

Somewhere between our excitement, following the checklist, dumping buckets and buckets of fresh water,  phone calls, and trying to be so careful we overlooked one very big detail.  Thankfully Rich helped catch it for us.  On our last phone call of the day to Cruise RO Keith mentioned our high flow rate readings to Rich, who in turn immediately said we needed to  address that.  Since we were running in brackish water we needed to adjust the flow rate as to not exceed the maximum rated output to avoid damaging the membrane.  Crap.  We were running at nearly twice that!!  No wonder we couldn’t keep up with the buckets! In hindsight, in the first pages of the manual, listed as #4  of things never to do in BIG bold red print it says  “In brackish water, such as in an estuary or river, never allow the product water production flow rate to exceed the units rated output.  In such cases, simply turn down the system pressure or RO membrane damage will occur.”  In all of the excitement, we both overlooked the fact that since we didn’t go to the inlet as planned, and we were still in the river that warning did in fact apply to us now. We were so focused on the two pressure gauge readings that even though we had both briefly wondered out-loud about the flow-rate meter readings, we hadn’t done the quick math of what the reading should have been. Our mistake. We now have that noted on our checklist! Fortunately, we didn’t damage anything, and besides, it’s always good to stress test a new piece of equipment right? 

Once we got through he initial startup and got the flow adjusted for the brackish water, everything ran perfectly.  All the switches and gauges that at first seemed intimidating to me, made sense and not overly complicated at all and Keith was happy with his install.  The real treat was testing the water with the TDS meter.  We had a reading for under 200ppm, a huge improvement from the Katadyn.  We did “pickle” (preserve for non-use) the unit after we got everything running smoothly and I think we will wait until we are in clean, salty water next month to run it again.  We can’t wait to see what a difference the Cruise RO makes in our cruising comforts, safety, and cruising range.  Water, water, wat-er!

 

If you are installing or thinking of installing a water maker at some point, I’ve included a few more notes below:

DIY vs CruiseRO:

Before we made the purchase, several people commented that you can just buy all of the pieces individually and make your own water maker.  True, we didn’t see the value though.  And, now, after installing the Cruise RO we would never consider it.  For one, there are a lot of pieces.  I wouldn’t want to have to research, locate, ship, assemble them all one-by-one.  Second, with the Cruise RO all the figuring has already been done for you and written in it all out in a well-done manual.  It sounds like a small thing, but having all the warnings and reminders already laid out for you is big, and may prevent some expensive errors- even having the standard operating instructions already put together is a huge value. Finally, being able to make a phone call when something isn’t working right-or you just have a question-any day of the week is worth it alone.  We really appreciated this on our start up day! The warranty is another consideration. 

 

The CruiseRO kit:

We were very happy with the kit and units and the quality of all the parts.  Our only frustration, and it’s very basic, came in the lengths of hose provided.  Additional lengths of hose are available when you order the unit so that you can locate each part (pump, membrane, panel..) separately.  Even spacing ours as close as they are Keith was continuously running into the problem of not having enough green hose to run it where he wanted to. We would strongly recommend ordering extra hose (its cheap) even if you are installing all the parts in close proximity, it might just make it easier.  There were plenty of extra fittings left over.

 

TDS meters and ppm:

Our old unit (Katadyn powersurvivor 40e) didn’t come with a TDS (total disolved solids) meter and we later figured out why. The Katadyn considers it’s normal operating TDS values to be under 1500ppm.  The WHO (World Health Organization) sets the upper safe limit at 500ppm. Yikes! No reason to use a TDS meter when it is always in the red zone. Had we known this little fact maybe we probably would have never purchased the unit.  The RO water is our sole source of drinking and cooking water-I’d like it to be in the “safe” range. The Katadyn manual actually states to taste the water.  By the time you can taste salt in the water, it is at kidney damaging levels!!!  The CruiseRO produces water in the 200’s range and states to call the company if levels reach 500-it is an indication that something is wrong.  We were thrilled to test our first run at under 200ppm. 

 

Specifics on our install:

First, if you are interested in the specifics about the unit we installed, you can check them all out on the Cruise RO website.  

We Googled to see how other people had installed their units when we were in the designing stages.  Each boat is so different that I am not sure it is helpful to include too many details about our install, but here are a few more specifics in case you are doing the same that may help:

Dedicated through-hull:

We called Rich to ask if the Cruise RO needed it’s own dedicated through-hull as we knew some other manufactures will consider the warranty voided if it is not provided its own.  It is not required for the Cruise RO BUT…. Rich explained the needs and even has a YouTube video addressing this question.  We have ours Tee-d into the head intake, just like he has his.  This saved us a haul out and another hole in the boat.

Water tanks:

We have integrated fiberglass tanks that I have never felt comfortable drinking from, they have been sealed  with an unidentified coating so we use that water only for bathing.  With our old RO system, we just used three 2.5 gallon jugs and filled them up directly from the water maker.  It took almost 2 hours to fill each jug.  With the new unit they would be filled up in just minutes so we needed a new process to collect and hold the RO water or we were going to be kept very busy while the unit was running.  To solve this, we installed a third water tank.  It is fed directly by the water maker and is higher than our main tanks.  When it fills up, it then starts to flow into the main tanks by gravity (we don’t have to do a thing).  This new small tank, which is in the galley, has a spout for filling our water jugs for drinking and cooking.  That part of the system still works well for us so we are keeping it.  The additional perk to having the third tank is that the back-flush of the membrane uses water from this tank instead of the main tanks.  The membrane is sensitive to bleach and this water will have never been treated- it still goes through the required charcoal filter. It sounds complex, but it actually simplified things for us.  The main thing was to make sure everything was properly vented as backpressure will damage the unit.

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4 thoughts on “Water Maker Installation

  1. I’d love to see a diagram of how your tanks are laid out. Also so seriously impressed with how organized your workshop is. Seriously spotless. Can’t wait to see how this water maker treats you after a bit more use. You guys are my guinea pigs 🙂

    1. We will let you know how it goes! I tried taking pictures of the tanks, they didn’t come out-couldn’t really tell what you were looking at. I’ll try to sketch a diagram and post soon.

  2. Wow – that’s an impressive job! Getting a watermaker is on our wishlist, but probably a couple of years down the road, so I’ll be curious to see how you find your new watermaker after you’ve been using it for a period of time.

    1. We will give an update after we’ve had a chance to use it for a while. I’m pretty excited about it right now :). Just about to put away a load of provisions so island time is in our near future. I’m so ready! This the year for lobsters and brownies?

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