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Triton Survey: Plastic water bottles

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This survey was suggested by a captain who recently looked at the number of plastic water bottles his yacht goes through and did the math. If 2,000 active yachts used what his yacht used, “we’re filling landfills,” he said.

So we asked yacht captains and crew if they go through the same amount of bottled water. More than 110 replied and it looks like they do.

A little caveat first. This survey is not intended to criticize anyone’s decisions about bottled water, but rather to get a sense for how prevalent its use is in yachting. There are valid arguments supporting their use (including owner’s preferences and convenience) just as there are valid arguments against their use.

We began simply: Does your yacht provide water in plastic bottles?

More than 90 percent of the captains and crew who responded said their yachts do offer plastic water bottles, the majority (62.6 percent) to crew as well as owners and guests. About 28.6 percent provide them only to owners and guests.

“I purchased a water cooler and buy five gallons of drinking water for cooking and crew at a time,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet with 5-8 crew. “This cuts down on small bottles that we save only for guests. Cook and crew have great water and we can refill the five-gallon jugs everywhere we have gone.”

Among those who offer bottled water, some offer them only when asked or only away from the yacht, such as on the tender or ashore on excursions.

“All crew water and guest interior water is provided through under counter RO [reverse osmosis] units in the crew mess and pantries,” said the captain of a yacht 160-180 feet.

“For the past nine years we have always drunk the water from our tanks, regardless where we are filling up from,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet. “It goes through an extra cartridge filter designed for drinking water and has its own small tap in the galley to fill up water jugs. I really do not understand why other vessels do not do this. We have never been ill nor have I ever had any complaints from crew members.”

Just 8.9 percent of our respondents do not provide plastic water bottles onboard.

“Glass bottles of San Pellegrino and Perrier, no plastic,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet. “Double RO purified water to refill pitchers and crew bottles.”

With watermakers so prevalent on yachts, we were curious the reasons why yachts stock bottled water, so we asked Why do you provide water in bottles? (We asked our respondents to choose only one reason, even though many reasons might apply.)

The most common reason, chosen by 44.2 percent of those who provide water bottles, was convenience for service.

“It has its place,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet. ”Sometimes it is very convenient to take a bottle of water when leaving the boat. So to have them for that purpose is expected. Over the last 20 years, though, the water bottle explosion has people convinced it is the only way to drink water. Just a Brita or Pur filter will give you just as good quality of water without having to lug cases and cases and generate huge amounts of trash. Yachtsman once were careful with the amount of trash they generated; they even cared about the environment. What happened to that kind of yachtsman?”

“Bottled water is necessary for the convenience of the owners, guests and, at times, the crew,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet. “They also prevent any discussion by guests about where the water comes from. Guests will often want bottled water and then pour it over ice from the ice maker without even think about where the water came from to make the ice. That doesn’t seem to concern them, but they wouldn’t drink it from a glass. … The water that comes from the filtration system is better than any bottled water. The crew drinks it, the owners drink it and we cook with it. We still keep bottled water so it’s available for convenience and for guests who don’t need to go through the explanation of the filtration system.”

The close second reason — chosen by about 38 percent — was because the owner or guests demand it.

“The owner requests specific water and there is no changing this,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet. “He pays the bills.”

“Some guests demand it but we always push our tap water, which is better than bottled water,” said the captain on a yacht 100-120 feet. “We have Spot Zero osmosis water. The boss doesn’t drink bottled water. Only some guests prefer it and it is more convenient on some rare occasions. First thing I did when taking over as captain was buy water bottles for the crew and ban bottled water for the crew.”

About 13.7 percent of our respondents said bottled water was safer and cleaner than other types of water.

“We operate in Mexico; it’s definitely safer than tap water,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet.

“Have you ever looked inside an aluminum (especially aluminum) or other water tank onboard?” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet. “If so, you would never drink that crap.”

Four of our respondents had “other” reasons for providing water in plastic bottles. Two just didn’t know.

“The question has never been asked,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet that provides bottled water to crew and guests.

“It beats me,” said the captain of a yacht more than 220 feet. “It’s a waste of resources in most cases. Desal water is as good as the average bottled water.”

“The water supply onboard provides drinking water that has been treated onboard,” said the captain of a yacht 180-200 feet. “I encourage the crew to use this supply as it is perfectly fine to drink. However, just to avoid legal issues should someone be sick due to drinking the water, we do have bottled water available for those who chose to use it.”

“It’s the least expensive way to provide clean water,” said the captain of a yacht less than 80 feet that provides bottled water to both crew and guests. “Our watermaker provides better water than most bottled, but also costs more, considering the life of the unit and energy required.“

We asked the small group who do not carry bottled water Why do you not offer bottled water?

The main reason — chosen by 44 percent of respondents — is because the onboard water is just as good or better than bottled.

“We make water daily, using reusable water bottles,” said the deckhand of a yacht 140-160 feet.

Nearly a quarter said it’s because the owner or guests forbid it.

“Owner had a water purifier installed with gas bottle,” said the chef of a yacht 120-140 feet. “Crew use a reusable drink bottle and we use jugs for fizzy and non-fizzy water for owner and guests. Everybody loves it.”

Just one respondent noted that it’s because it’s wasteful; none said it was because of its cost.

In an effort to get a sense of the magnitude of bottled water use, we asked those who provide water bottles How many bottles per person, would you say?

More than half (52.7 percent) said people took about a handful of bottles a day, and a third more said just one or two.

Those numbers sort of supported the results from the previous questions, that although bottled water is provided, not as many as might be expected are consumed. (Certainly not the requisite “eight glasses of water per day” that many diets proclaim.)

With that number in mind, we asked When provisioning for a week-long trip with the owner and/or guests, how many cases would you estimate you stock?

We were surprised to discover that the numbers here were more evenly split, resulting in more bottles being purchased and stocked than appear to actually be used. Slightly more than a third said 6-12 cases; slightly more than a quarter said 1-6; and slightly less than a quarter said 12-24. Nearly 12 percent of respondents stock 25 cases or more for a week’s trip.

We looked at those numbers more closely to match those provisions with yacht size and discovered exactly what we expected: as vessels got larger (and presumably carried more crew and guests) the number of cases they provisioned grew larger. The bulk of our respondents are on yachts 160 feet and less.

Yet about half of the yachts that provision 25 cases or more water were 120-140 feet.

Given that the bulk of our respondents tend to fall in the middle range of yacht sizes, we asked Do you have a problem storing bottled water and other single-serve beverages?

More than half said “Somewhat. We have adequate storage but end up putting cases of water wherever we can.”

“It’s the same old story,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet. “You have designated areas to store but those get filled up easily. Then you start stashing bottled water wherever you can on the boat.”

About 31 percent more said “No. We have dedicated space for beverages.”

“If crew use was included, it would be a huge pallet of water bottles, like you see so many yachts packing away,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet. “But yacht owners still specify Fiji water. If they had ever traveled to Suva, where it is bottled, they would never drink it again. Plus, each bottle of Fiji has to travel 9,000 miles just to get to the store shelves. Lots of diesel for one bottle.”

Just 17 percent said they have trouble finding space to store it.

“It’s a ton of work for the crew,” said the captain of a yacht 80-100 feet. “Shopping, transporting, and loading dock carts, loading the boat and stowing it, repeatedly. It gets to feeling ridiculous when we have perfectly good water aboard.”

In addition to stocking bottles, many yachts struggle with what to do with the plastic when the water is gone, so we asked Do you recycle the empties?

The largest group — 43 percent — said rarely, that recycling containers aren’t usually available where they cruise.

“Very few ports of call have designated recycle areas on the dock,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet. “Everybody complains about the separation of trash in Nantucket. I think it is a great idea to help toward recycling and keeping a community clean. It’s amazing how effective it is on a island like that where they have to worry about dumps and landfills. The world would be a much cleaner place if everywhere was like that.”

Slightly more than a quarter usually do, storing at least some of them until they can find a recycle bin.

“I come from California, where nearly everyone — individuals, cities, and nearly all businesses — pushes recycling,” said the captain of a yacht 80-100 feet. “It is frustrating to see how little it is done elsewhere when we have found it so easy to do.”

Seventeen percent said no, they don’t recycle. Almost 13 percent said they always recycle. (About half of them were on yachts smaller than 80 feet.)

One of the biggest complaints we hear from captains and crew as it relates to water bottles (other than finding room to store them all) is that the drinker rarely finishes the water, so half-empty bottles are left lying around all over the boat. We wondered if that anecdote played out among our respondents, so we asked <<BOLD>>Do you find that you dispose of half-drunk bottles?

Almost two-thirds say Yes, this happens all the time.

“This is one of the reasons we convinced the owners to use them as little as possible,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet. “We hate the waste involved and the trash it creates.”

“My biggest pet peeve,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet. “I usually pour them into the hot water kettle. Iit gets boiled and kills all the backwash germs. I’ve been doing it for years and no one has ever gotten sick.”

“It’s a total waste of money,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet. “If the people drinking the bottled water were paying for it, you would never find a half-empty bottle laying around.”

Some captains have tried different things to minimize that waste.

“I have taped a Sharpie to the beverage fridge to mark water bottles with the name of the owner to try to prevent the half bottles of water,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet.

“We’ve started using the smaller bottles,” said the captain of a yacht less than 80 feet.

“Crew labels their individual bottles with their initials; they get in trouble for leaving half-empties,” said the captain of a yacht 80-100 feet in yachting more than 30 years. “Guests are the problem. Once I got pissed off at the extensive number of half-full bottles (no intention to finish) left lying around by owners and guests over the course of many days. We were anchored in the islands and were shortly going to run out of bottles, so when they couldn’t see me, I poured the half-drunk ones into each other to fill them, put the cap on, and put them back in the cooler. Not proud of that, but upset at the inconsideration and the waste.”

About 22.8 percent said they sometimes have to deal with half-drunk bottles, but not often.

Just 14 percent said their crew and guests usually finish their water.

“When we do have half bottles, we use it for the coffee machine,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet where crew and guests all drink bottled water.

Several other respondents noted that they, too, recycle half-empty bottles for the iron, to water plants, and for the dog to drink.

We were curious to learn if stocking bottled water was a crew decision so we asked Who decided to carry bottled water?

More than 57 percent said it was a mutual decision by several parties.

“I won’t drink out of the boat tank, the crew won’t and the owners seem to follow along,” said the captain of a yacht 80-100 feet. “I only had to tell them once, show them the color of our filter after a week …”

“A lot of the time, it is not discussed at all,” said the captain of a yacht 80-100 feet. “If captains would bring it up with owners, they may be very open to a better, less wasteful plan. Most don’t bother to ask, and just assume the owners/guests demand cases of bottled water, instead of a better method.”

“I’ve been in yachting for eight years,” said the bosun on a yacht 100-120 feet. “Three times, I’ve worked with the captain and vessel owner to install an RO system onboard and use carafes for turndowns. We have a limited supply of [plastic] water bottles onboard, but most guests and crew are aware of the environmental issues and are thrilled to have an alternative. I’m always stunned by the many people I meet who are oblivious to this issue or have told me small efforts don’t matter as yachting destroys the oceans anyway. It’s a soap box issue for me.”

The bulk of the rest — 28.3 percent — said it was decided by the owner.

“We now only supply bottles for guests,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet. “This was my decision as captain. It was amazing how many plastic bottles we would throw away daily. We now have cut our garbage disposal in half.”

The captain decided in 10.9 percent of cases; the chief stew about 3 percent of the time.

When we asked those who don’t offer bottles Who decided not to carry bottled water?, it was an even split between the owner, the captain and a group decision.

Confident that convenience was a main reason for bottled water onboard, we asked Would you ever drink water created from your watermaker?

Almost all our respondents — 91.7 percent — said they would, even if they don’t.

“I try to convince crew but it is easier to grab a bottle,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet where both crew and guests are offered bottled water.

“Sometimes I drink out of the tap because it is filtered water, but bottles of water are a lot more convenient than carrying around a cup on a boat that can be spilled easily,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet where both crew and guests drink bottled water.

“I think that the water (generally speaking) provided by the watermaker is superior to the water provided in bottles,” said the captain of a yacht less than 80 feet that provides bottled water for crew and guests. “We have a very clean water tank. Upon dispensing water, we run it through a secondary carbon filter anyway.”

This question generated the most write-in comments of any of this month’s questions, which perhaps indicates it is a sensitive issue for many yacht captains and crew.

“It’s about time this topic got brought up,” said the captain of a yacht less than 80 feet. “Thank you.”

“We have dedicated drinking water spigots that supply purified water that is run through military-spec filters at several locations around the yacht,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet that provides bottled water only for guests. “These are available for cooking, ice makers and filling personal water bottles for the crew.”

Several respondents noted that, while they will drink water made onboard, it ought to be treated somehow first.

“Firstly, I had the water tank cleaned and coated with a food grade silicon coating,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet that provides water bottles only for guests. “We run a UV filter then additional filtration systems directly to a single dedicated tap in the galley for crew drinking water. We also use this water for carafes during service for the owner and guests.”

“Yes, but it must go through a rehardener as RO water is very low on minerals,” said the engineer of a yacht 120-140 feet. “Very soft water pulls minerals from the body as it tries to balance itself. Most RO systems have a rehardener to prevent pitting of the storage tanks.”

“But it needs to have the minerals and fluoride added,” said the captain of a yacht more than 220 feet that provides bottled water to the owner and guests only.

“You just need to replenish your body minerals,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet. “I make sure to take a multi-vitamin daily.”

“We need a better filtration system for RO water,” said the captain of a yacht 80-100 feet, “like a dedicated charcoal filter and UV treatment, with dedicated spigots to dispense it.”

“Only if the system is set up with filters, etc., for supplying drinking water,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet. “You really need a dedicated tank.”

Among those who wouldn’t drink onboard water, several noted it’s because the yacht doesn’t have a watermaker.

We asked all our respondents this month <<BOLD>>How do you personally feel about water served in plastic bottles?

The largest group — 40 percent — said they are OK with it.

“Because I recycle everything,” said the captain of a yacht 80-100 feet. “When we’re in the Bahamas, I bring everything back to be recycled in the states.”

“Easier to refrigerate, stock tenders and coolers,” said the captain of a yacht 80-100 feet. “Easier for guests leaving vessel on trips ashore.”

“I’m neutral,” said the captain of a yacht 80-100 feet. “I like it due to the fact that it’s convenient to keep from spilling as well as easy to refill and reuse. I won’t actively search for a bottle versus just getting a glass of water.”

“I don’t mind if it’s for guests but it bugs me when I see crew pouring out the unused portions,” said the first officer of a yacht 120-140 feet that provides water only to guests.

About a third said it bothers them, but there didn’t seem to be many feasible alternatives.

“Should not have to, do have to … can’t change that,” said the captain of a yacht 80-100 feet that provides bottled water to crew and guests.

“Not really necessary, but I live with it,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet. “It keeps the boss and guests happy. They want to feel special.”

Twenty-two percent said they hate it.

“Due to the environmental impact and also the ingestion of PCBs,” said the captain of a yacht 180-200 feet.

“We never used to drink it,” said the captain of a yacht 180-200 feet. “We treated water where it was necessary and just drank it out of the tap where it was fine to drink. If you are in a very remote area and staying ashore, sure, you should be cautious. But there is no reason why a modern yacht would not be able to produce drinking water and maintain the equipment. There is nothing new about this technology. Water is tested for quality every year or six months. The water system gets hyper-chlorinated every few months; filters, uv tubes, etc., get regularly maintained. No big deal, and it is so much better for the environment as well as saving some money.”

Just 6 percent said they prefer it.

We were curious to know Has the yacht ever tried an alternative such as hard-sided, reusable drinking bottles for the crew?

Seventy percent have tried something, and more often than not, it works.

“We do this with our charter guests as well as crew and put a name on each guests bottle and keep them topped up with cold/cool water while they’re aboard,” said the captain of a yacht less than 80 feet. “Most actually seem to prefer it due to being environmentally conscientious.”

“There are other alternatives to getting drinkable water on board besides a watermaker, which makes water at about 140 ppm (parts per million) on average,” said the captain of a yacht 80-100 feet. “Bottled water is about 40-60 ppm. I’ve had a Spot Zero machine on the last five yachts I’ve run, which takes dock water through an RO process. The end result is about 4 ppm, which is better than any water you buy off the shelf. Everyone gets a hard, reusable water bottle or plastic cup to drink out of. No more throw-away bottles.”

“On my last boat we installed a R/O unit and eliminated bottle water for the crew,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet.

“We no longer supply store-bought water bottles for the crew,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet. “We have Brita jugs that are refilled from the tap or we drink straight from the tap. All crew have their own hard-sided water bottle to refill. We have reduced plastic waste (especially in places where there are no recycling bins present), the storage factor has been reduced as has the cost of constantly shopping for flats of water for the crew. And no more half-empty bottles without a name.”

“It works to some extent,” said the captain of a yacht 80-100 feet. “Keeping them clean is a problem.”

But for 26 percent of our respondents, an alternative to bottled water didn’t work.

“Had crew bottles and everybody agreed, but it lasted two weeks,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet.

“Some crew take to it, others don’t,” said the engineer of a yacht 120-140 feet.

“I have had them bought for crew and the results are mixed,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet.

Still, 30 percent haven’t tried an alternative.

“No, the owner refuses,” said the captain of a yacht less than 80 feet. “But on my next boat, I will not use water bottles.”

Click here to read comments from respondents.

Lucy Chabot Reed is editor of The Triton. Comments on this survey are welcome at lucy@the-triton.com. We conduct our monthly surveys online. All captains and crew members are welcome to participate. If you haven’t been invited to take our surveys and would like to be, e-mail lucy@the-triton.com to be added.

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