It is extremely important to stay well hydrated when we sail. It is essential to have an adequate supply of fresh drinking water on board for this. The main supply most commonly comes from an on-board tank, where we store the water we get from the desalination plant or that we have filled on land before sailing.
However, stored water can sometimes go off and then it is not only unpleasant to the sense of smell and the palate, but consuming it can also pose a health risk. This can happen when it is contaminated with algae, plankton, mould or bacteria or because we have not followed basic cleaning and conservation guidelines.
Conservation of water stored on a boat
We first recommend that stainless steel tanks be used to conserve the water on a boat for as long as possible, as they are the most hygienic and do not react with water. But in some cases this is not feasible, as boats that are 6 m or longer usually have a built-in tank, in many cases made with the same fibreglass as the hull.
In any case, and whatever the material the deposit is made from – PVC, fibreglass, high density polyethylene, stainless steel…-, we should clean it at least once a year with a specific product that guarantees the total elimination of possible micro-organisms. In addition, it must be opaque to prevent the proliferation of microscopic algae.
We can detect if the stored water has gone off with the naked eye, because the colour changes (it becomes cloudy, greenish or with particles) and begins to smell bad. What do we do in these cases?
What do we do if the water has already been contaminated?
If the contamination is mild (taste or smell of water altered in a way that is hardly perceptible), and we are at sea, with little chance of obtaining another supply, there is the option of purifying the water with disinfectant solutions that kill bacteria.
In any case, priority will be given for the tank to be thoroughly cleaned to eliminate all micro-organisms that may have remained as soon as we can.
It should be borne in mind that in new fibre deposits it can take years to eliminate the smell and taste of plastic, although this will not be caused by contamination of the water but by the material (resins) with which it is made. The water in these tanks is used for cleaning or hygiene, but not for consumption.
This can also happen on very new boats, although in these cases the smell usually disappears quickly as we use the tank and rotate the water.
In short, the main thing is to prevent water contamination with a tank of suitable material and regular cleaning with suitable products. It is also important that the stored water is regularly changed. We must think that it is very risky for our health, and even for our survival, to be left without a supply of drinking water on board, especially in long-distance crossings and on the high seas.
And in the event that the water has become contaminated, we must not only discard the contaminated water, but thoroughly clean the tank to remove any trace of micro-organisms that may have damaged it, and check that there are no leaks where they can re-enter.