Boat and Camping Showers: Equipment and Strategies

A shower will feel good this evening!

Boat showers, like camping showers, are simple luxuries that can change a remote vacation from roughing it, to a pleasurable escape that you, your friends, and your family will look forward to year after year.

One of the most luxurious and to my mind, necessary adjuncts to boat cruising, is being able to take a shower after 2 or 3 days. I can manage a weekend, a week or even a month without a shower, washing and rinsing as necessary to keep comfortable and not offend my crew mates. But really, I need a shower about every 2 or 3 days. It turns survival into comfort, pleasure into luxury. It is often the little things that can turn roughing it into a memorable and enjoyable life experience.

You do not have to have a large boat nor a big budget to enjoy the luxury of a shower while camping or while boating, cruising and sailing. There are many options available; from solar heated shower bags to full fresh and salt water pressurized transom and in-head integrated shower systems. Each system has its advantages as well as limitations.

Unless you are on a cruise ship or a very large yatch, keep in mind that all of these showers require that you use just enough water to get wet, then turn it off and soap up. After you are all soaped up and shampooed, you rinse off as fast as you can. If you use a saltwater wash and freshwater rinse, the fresh goes further.

Solar Boat Camp Showers

Small boat sailing is boat camping and much like camping anyplace else, except you are on the water. Most of the techniques and equipment you would use in a hiking or camping environment are adaptable to small boat cruising. The most limiting factor is your fresh water supply. When boating in fresh water, this is not really an issue. When boating on the salt, fresh water becomes more critical. You can bathe or shower in saltwater, but still need to rinse in fresh water in order to feel refreshed and avoid skin irritating salt residues. You can do it all in cold water but for comfort and luxury, having a hot water rinse makes all the difference in the world. If you are extremely frugal and water limited, you can get by with as little 1/2 gal fresh water per shower. More realistically, I like to budget 3 gallons for a full fresh water shower and rinse.

If you can count on a bit of sunshine and warm weather, a solar heated black water bag or “sun shower”
placed on the deck or in the cockpit will provide a really nice and refreshing clean and rinse. Hang it from your boom or suspend it on a boat pole or stick and you have a perfectly functional shower. Wash with salt, rinse with fresh. You can have a hot bag for each if you like, and with conservation might get showers for 2.

Camp Stove Showers

For those who have a bit less reliable sunshine and a bit more room, a DIY shower can consist of a small, 1 1/2 – 3 gal. garden sprayer, adapted to make a shower. To adapt the garden sprayer to make a shower, remove or cut off the spray nozzle and replace it with a RV type shower head. To use, Add 1/3 volume boiled water to 2/3 volume cold water (adjust to individual preferences), pressurize, spray and enjoy.

Propane Portable Camp Showers

An alternative to the pressure sprayer, while a bit more expensive, is a dedicated propane camp shower. We had very good experiences with a 3 gal propane heated “Zodi” shower. Coleman, Texsport and others also make similar products. The basic configuration of these units is a water reservoir, a battery powered water pump, heating unit, and shower head.

When using any of above 3 shower alternatives, it is assumed that you do not have a shower configured head or shower stall on board. If that is the case, a portable or substitute shower stall might be needed.

Portable Boat Shower Stall

If the weather is warm and you are not overly modest or don’t care what the neighbors think, don’t worry about it! There is something extremely liberating about just stripping down in the cockpit of your boat and refreshing with a nice shower in the sun. For those who are a bit more modest or for when it is windy, rainy and cold, some form of shelter or stall can be a comfort.

In our 26′ Pearson Ariel Sailboat, we handled this in a couple of different ways. In warmer weather, we rigged a tarp over the boom and showered in the cockpit. It was a self-draining cockpit so water disposal wasn’t a problem. It was actually a lot of fun as you could look out over the water and forests while still maintaining a bit of privacy. In cold winter weather, we rigged shower curtains on clothes lines inside the cabin. The cabin sole had a teak floor with some drains to the bilge. The shower curtains were to keep water off of the cushions along each side. With our wood stove, the cabin was warm and toasty. Showering was wonderful and resulted in clean floors and rinsing of the bilge. We took a squeegee to dry the floor after we were done. You can’t imagine how good it felt to have a hot shower in a warm boat while it was freezing outside!

As always, other options are available. There are several camping shower stalls that are designed to hang from trees but that would adapt just as well to hanging from a boom, mast, or other boat fixture.

Cabin Boats: Transom and In Cabin Showers

On larger boats, those with hot water systems and showers already integrated, shower use and water conservation are still important considerations. Our 32′ Endeavour Sailboat, the “Agadda Da Vida,” came with a leaky hot water tank, an engine without a freshwater cooling system or heat exchanger, as well as a few other minor shortcomings. We talk more about this in a separate article under water heaters and heat exchangers.

The addition of a seawater pump allows not only the ability for easier deck wash-down but the ability to add a transom or cockpit seawater shower. If you wash in salt, you can then rinse in fresh and thus conserve your fresh water supply. Most larger boats will have a tappable seawater inlet that can be connected to a pump and piped to an outlet. Your shower stall can take any of the configurations as described above, or you can keep your skivvies on and rinse them out when you take your fresh water splash.

Whatever your size or configuration, keep in mind that boat showering requires that you: (1) Get wet; (2) Turn off the water; (3) Soap up & Shampoo; (4) Turn water on & rinse; (5) Turn water off.

Keep clean, keep comfortable, enjoy nature!


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One Response to “Boat and Camping Showers: Equipment and Strategies”
  1. Sherrie says:

    I will never forget the first shower I took on the Gwa’Wis with that shower stall you built inside the cabin. That truly made the difference between roughing it and luxury! I could have stayed out another week! Thanks for that Ken.

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