Let there be water

Of all the upgrades you can lavish on an older boat, few will give you more bang for your buck than a complete overhaul of the fresh-water plumbing system. An improvement in water quality should be immediately apparent; any of the new breed of water pumps will be quieter and less power-hungry than their predecessors, and with a little planning, you can make your boat much more user-friendly both for your family when cruising and for yourself at winterizing time.

The water system on Ostara, a 1973 Norlin 34, was about (or just below) average for a boat of its age. Two 20-gallon fiberglass tanks of recent vintage were mounted under the port settee, feeding a faucet in the galley via an elderly Jabsco pump and another in the head via a Whale Gusher foot pump. Another Gusher pump in the

galley supplied salt water, a great idea for offshore sailing, when fresh water needs to be conserved. On tracing the salt-water hose, I found it was connected to the intake line for the toilet. Call me old fashioned, but I didn’t like the thought of that.

This setup had obviously served the previous owner well enough, but he had done a lot more racing than cruising. With children aboard and plans for extensive summer cruising, we wanted a bit more sophistication. But how much is too much? I initially planned a simple system, with a more powerful water pump supplying faucets in the galley and head as well as a transom shower—the latter a request from the children, who unaccountably like to swim in the frigid waters of New England. It’s much better to wash the salt off on deck than down below.



  • Cordless drill
  • Hole saw
  • Screwdrivers
  • Tube cutter
  • Materials

  • Semi-rigid tubing, 1/2″ ID
  • Reinforced PVC tubing, 1/2″ ID
  • Couplings
  • Hose clamps
  • A simple plan

    Step one was to rough out the proposed system on a plan of the boat’s interior. Drawn to scale, this allowed me to calculate how much tubing I would need and where and how to make the connections. The tubing runs would include low points where I could tee in valves to let me drain the system in the fall so I could avoid winterizing it with antifreeze. I also decided to move the water pump out from under the galley sink and into a side locker where it would be easier to service. I would replace the galley faucet, add a freshwater manual pump in the galley, and install a new faucet in the head.

    This simple plan soon morphed into something more complicated. Why not take advantage of the free energy provided by my diesel cooling system and install a water heater? The kids would be even more impressed with their transom shower. I could put a second shower in the head, and there’d be hot water for dishwashing too. I anticipated appreciative cheers from the whole family. So I decided to install a water heater; you can read about this project in the Fall 2007 issue of BoatWorks. The resulting system is, I think, about as good as it gets for an elderly 34-foot coastal cruiser.

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