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The Ultimate Guide to Understand Everything You Need to Know About Reverse Osmosis Systems

Isn’t it something amazing to be surrounded by billions upon billions of gallons of water, yet not be able to drink any of it? That’s precisely the situation when you’re boating for a long period. If you’re looking for an alkaline remineralization filter that will provide great-tasting, fresh drinking water for you and your family when you’re sailing, Reverse Osmosis (RO) water filtration is one of the most popular and cost-effective water filtration methods available.

A reverse osmosis water filter works as water is forced across a semi-permeable membrane. Doing so leaves contaminants behind that are flushed down the drain. The clean drinking water collects in a holding tank.

Many boaters choose a reverse osmosis water filtration system because:

  • It produces healthy, great-tasting water 
  • It saves money on a water delivery service 
  • It saves valuable storage and deck space
  • It is simple to install 
  • It is fully automated 
  • It uses no electricity

Let’s review all the details you need to know about reverse osmosis systems:

Table of Contents

What Does a Reverse Osmosis System Do?

What Does a Reverse Osmosis System Do?

Understanding the Process of Osmosis

Osmosis is a natural phenomenon that occurs in many living organisms. It is a process by which a solvent, including water, passes through a semipermeable membrane. The membrane doesn’t allow the passage of the solute, like the salt in ocean water, for example. In our natural world, this process happens to balance two solvents with different salinity. 

In fact, during the natural osmosis process, an amount of the solvent with a lower solute concentration combines with the solvent with higher salinity. After osmosis is complete, the concentration of the two solvents will be almost the same.

Reverse osmosis is the other way around this natural phenomenon. You don’t want to mix two solvents, you want to make one solvent purer.

How Reverse Osmosis is Different

In the best reverse osmosis systems made for boats, the solvent is the water and the solute is the salt. A reverse osmosis filter system is pretty straightforward. It is accomplished by water pressure pushing salt water through a semi-permeable membrane to remove contaminants, including but not limited to salt, from the water. 

This is a process in which dissolved inorganic solids are removed from a solution. The reverse osmosis process pushes water through a series of water filters. The membrane doesn’t allow the solute to pass, separating it from the solvent. Doing so ultimately cleans the water and the clean water goes into a holding tank. 

Unlike osmosis, the result is not going to be two solvents with the same solute concentration. There will be two solvents unbalanced in the contained solute.

After going through a reverse osmosis filter system, the contaminants are flushed back out to the ocean.

How Long Does it Take to Make Freshwater?

Make Freshwater With a RO System

A reverse osmosis system makes water somewhat slow, but don’t be discouraged. This is why we recommend working to turn saltwater into high quality before you need it. Long ago, it took about one minute to produce two to three ounces of water this way. At this time, it would take about 5 minutes for it to fill a glass of water. 

Chances are pretty good you need more than one cup of water per day. Being Cruisers ourselves, we understand the challenges of powering a large capacity water maker aboard a cruising vessel, which is why we came up with the revolutionary idea to design our SeaMaker 20 and 30 gallons per hour watermakers for sailboats to operate on the power produced by a cruising staple, the Honda EU2000i generator or small diesel Genset. 

Having the ability to produce 20 or 30 gallons of fresh water per hour changes everything. Daily showers for the crew, fresh water deck, and gear wash-downs while at anchor, and even a freshwater anchor chain wash-down and fresh water flushing heads are now a reality to be enjoyed not only by the Mega-yacht crowd but by the average cruiser. 

Work to fill out several gallons at a time, then refill your gallons of purified water when they’re empty. This way, you’ll always have fresh water when you need it.

How to Transform Saltwater into Freshwater

How to Transform Saltwater into Freshwater

As mentioned above, reverse osmosis is the core of the seawater desalination process. The essential stages of filtration can be broken down into:

Step #1: Harvesting Water

You have water all around you. The first step is harvesting it. In step one, the salty sea water is sucked up by a feed pump.

Step #2: The Filter Makes the First Gross Prefiltration of the Water

It removes the bigger dirt that could damage the watermaker or its osmosis membranes. This includes not just dirt per se but also sand, sediments, and even microplastics.

Step #3: The Water Passes Against the Osmotic Membranes

Next, the low-pressure pump pushes the seawater and the water passes against the osmotic membranes. It does so at enough pressure that it can produce the separation between fresh water and brine. 

The brine returns all the hydraulic energy to the device. It is then continuously discharged out into the open ocean. At the same time, the freshwater is sent to the tank.

Step #4: Reverse Osmosis Takes Place

At this point, the osmotic membranes cause reverse osmosis to take place. This is the stage where the salt is separated from the water and drinking water is generated.

Step #5: You Have Fresh Water

The freshwater collected from the tank is then conveyed to the point or points of consumption via your onboard fresh water pump. At this point, it can be drunk without the worry of it being salty or dangerous. It can also be used for the shower or washing dishes.

In only five simple steps, the salty, dirty water from the ocean is transformed into clean water able to be drunk or used for cleaning.

Is Reverse Osmosis Water Good for You?

Drinking Water From Reverse Osmosis

Drinking an adequate amount of water is essential for healthy living. The Mayo Clinic reminds us that The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine determined that an adequate daily fluid intake is about 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids a day for men and about 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids a day for women. Drinking this much freshwater a day gives you many benefits, like:

  • Carrying nutrients and oxygen to your cells
  • Protecting organs and tissues
  • Regulating body temperature
  • Aiding in proper digestion
  • Preventing constipation
  • Normalizing blood pressure
  • Cushioning your joints
  • Flushing bacteria from your bladder
  • Ensuring you urinate enough
  • Maintaining electrolyte and sodium balance

Giving your body enough fluids to carry out those tasks means that you’re staying hydrated, and only freshwater allows you to do that.

Reverse osmosis systems produce clean water for you and everyone else on board. For instance, the Modular 35 is the Schenker watermaker ideal for a crew of 1 to 4 people, in a 30-40 feet sailboat or a 25-35 feet power boat or catamaran. If you have more people on board, that’s not a problem either. Modular 60 is the watermaker ideal for a crew of 4 to 6 people, in a 35-45 feet sailboat or a 30-40 feet power boat or catamaran. 

The capacities only go up from there, all the way to the Modular 500. This is the watermaker ideal for a crew of 14 to even 20 people, in a 70-100 feet sailboat or a 65-80 feet power boat or catamaran.

The only minor downside is that reverse osmosis systems have the potential to reduce some of the good minerals from your water along with the contaminants you want to get rid of. Don’t be discouraged by this; you’ll have no problem replacing these minerals with a healthy diet.

Can You Drink the Water Produced by a Watermaker, and if so What Does it Taste Like?

Drink the Water Produced by a Watermaker

Rather than wondering what it will taste like, it is perhaps easier to understand what it won’t taste like. Since reverse osmosis is the removal of unwanted contaminants from your water, it will lack any sort of unwanted salty or metallic taste. It will taste fresh and clean.

The reason that reverse osmosis water has a very clean taste to it is that the process of reverse osmosis removes most of the sodium from the seawater that causing it to taste salty. Beyond just the salt, magnesium gives water a bitter taste and calcium gives water a milky taste. Your system will remove these contaminants as well.

Due to the amazing fact that the majority of the dissolved solids, chemicals, and impurities have been removed from reverse osmosis water, your drinking water will have very little taste at all. It will probably even taste better than your tap water at home. 

How Long do RO Systems Last?

Use a RO System While at Sea

Let’s answer your questions with another question. How long do you want it to last? We can say this because water systems will last virtually forever if you service them regularly and replace parts that wear out. 

This includes the storage tank and the faucet. The membrane will need to be replaced as well. 

The typical membrane life is anywhere from two to five years, depending on the nature of the water that it’s processing. If you’re boating somewhere that it’s especially salty, your membrane may wear out closer to two years than five. 

It’s always best to be safe than sorry, so ensure you’re replacing any older parts before you leave for your trip and maintaining them properly for the duration of your time at sea. 

Remember, if you have any questions, we are here to help. You can email or call and talk to us 7 days a week, 12 months a year. If we are awake, we’ll answer!

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