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Triton Survey: Plastic Water Bottles

Posted on: 01/26/2015

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.

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