Marine News from the Great Lakes

Managing Power, Water And Trash For A Week Aboard

Published: Wednesday, August 14, 2019
By: Zuzana Prochazka

A boat is a small city that must be completely self-sufficient and managing power, water, and trash aboard is a whole different matter than it is at home. Whether you’re on a week-long charter in the tropics or a summer cruise in your local waters, you’ll have to be your own tiny city manager. That means living within a smaller footprint in the fresh water you use, the power you generate and consume, and the trash you create.


The less you use, the less you’ll need. Our wasteful ways can get a workout on a boat.

Power Generation and Storage
Think about the size of the house batteries and how many amp hours you have to work with in a 24-hour period. That will help you plan how often you have to charge the bank. The less charging time, the less fuel you use and the less emissions you put out. Generators are more efficient than engines at charging so use one if you have one. If you need to fill depleted batteries quickly, use both simultaneously because charging batteries is faster and more efficient when they’re cool. As they heat up, turn the engine off and continue with the genset only.

If you’re motoring each day from point to point, the batteries should be fine until the evening when the usage increases at dinner with lights, fans, and the stereo running. Charge after dinner when everyone is busy cleaning up but turn off the engine or genset early so you don’t disturb the anchorage.

Power Usage and Conservation
Refrigeration is a power hog and in hot climates people go in and out of the fridge frequently. Here’s a tip – don’t put drinks in the fridge. Instead, keep a separate cooler in the cockpit filled with ice, soda, beer, water, etc. That way, the fridge gets opened only during meal times and the battery draw is less.

Discard any excess packaging before the food goes into the reefer so you have more room. Packing items in densely helps keep the temperature stable. Move quickly when you go in/out of the fridge and pack it thoughtfully – like keeping all lunch items in one bag so you can retrieve them in one fell swoop. Consider turning the fridge off at night when nobody will be opening the door and letting cool air out.

Air conditioning units eat power so run only when plugged in at a marina. Better yet – open a hatch and keep environmentally degrading AC off. Turn lights and fans off when not in the cabins and make sure faucets are completely off so the fresh water pump doesn’t continue to cycle.


Water (and running out of it) may be the single most contentious issue on a boating vacation and its conservation is key to onboard harmony. Create a usage and replenishment strategy and make sure that everyone is playing by the rules because there’s nothing crankier than dirty crew.

Water Consumption and Usage Etiquette
Confirm the size and number of your water tanks and understand that it may not be realistic for everyone to shower every day. Discuss the concept of the “navy shower”: get wet, turn water off, soap up, water on, rinse, and be done. Watch the water use on the swim step spigot as well because that can sneak up on you as guests rinse after every swim. Toss your swimsuit at your feet when you take a shower in the evening. It will get a rinse while you get clean and no extra water or pump power will be needed.

Do “pre-dishes” where everyone uses their napkin to wipe down their plates before putting them in the sink. It conserves water and makes the job easier for the galley slave.

To Drink or Not to Drink
If you don’t want to spend your week in paradise with intestinal distress, buy bottled water in large containers from which to fill individual bottles. The size of the containers should be big enough to minimize plastic use but small enough so that people can lift and manage them as they transfer the water into personal, reusable water bottles.

If you boil tank water when you make coffee or pasta, it should be safe but use your own judgment. Even if the water was good going into the boat, it’s hard to know how long it’s been in there, how old the plumbing and hoses are, and when the last time was that the tank got flushed.

Waste Management

As westernized humans, we tend to generate a lot of trash. Nowhere does that become more apparent than when you must tend to and live with your own garbage for a week.

Minimize It
Buy food in large containers from which you can dish out single servings. Toss any excess packaging and cardboard boxes before you leave the dock.

Don’t Dump It and Don’t Burn It
Plastic can never go over the side, while glass and food scraps can be thrown away when at a certain distance from land (check local laws). When cruising inside reefs or near islands, don’t throw anything overboard. Nobody wants to go swimming in your potato peels. Don’t burn trash – you’re on a boat, seriously why would that even come up?

Stow It
Stow trash in the lazarette or in the dinghy (when on davits) and then take it ashore at the next opportunity. Secure it so it doesn’t slide or bounce overboard in a seaway and so rough conditions don’t puncture the bag and create a mess.

Better Habits at Home

It’s possible to create good habits on vacation, which you continue back home to reduce your carbon footprint in every aspect of your shoreside life. It’s amazing what living on a boat for a week can teach us about conservation, sustainability, and cleaner living.

About the Author

Zuzana is a freelance writer and photographer with regular contributions to over 18 sailing and power boating publications. A USCG 100 Ton Master, Zuzana is the founder of a flotilla charter company called Zescapes that takes guests adventure sailing at destinations around the world.

Zuzana serves as an international presenter on charter destinations, safety issues, and technical topics, and she's the Chair of the New Product Awards committee for innovative boats and new gear. She is a member of the American Society of Authors and Journalists and a board member of Boating Writers International.


This article first appeared in the Summer Issue (Jul/Aug) 2019 of Great Lakes Scuttlebutt magazine.

tags: Boating 101, Charters, Environmental Impact, Travel

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