Sunday 22 January 2023

Washing Machine on Board

 Washing Machine on Board Our Journey.  While reading a recent article in a Cruising magazine, I noticed that a lot of ladies settling into the cruising life had a common complaint, of not having a washing machine on board. I thought if we told our story it may help others and perhaps shed some light on the fact that it may not be as big a problem as it first appears. The reality is the more things that we can do to make life on the water easier the better it is so we can have more time to spend doing what we enjoy.

For a long time we didn’t have a washing machine on board, I wouldn’t come into the argument that it will save time and effort. However, looking back I think my main aversion to having a washing machine was due to not being able to get my head around where to store it. In my mind’s eye all I could see was domestic machines and I think that added to the problem of size. 

Besides, at the time we were in a marina securely fastened to the dock and were in a stone’s throw of the amenities block, and really it was all too easy to sweep the problem under the rug. Having full time employment we determined that the cost of the weeks washing wasn’t going to break the bank.  At the time we were allowed to hang the washing on the boat to dry. If we weren’t, no one said anything about the boat being full of clothes so we took that as an endorsement of the practice. Although, now we do know some marina managers are on to a line full of clothes quicker than a hungry kid eats a jam doughnut.

Wash day in a secluded bay, no problem having the wash hung out to dry. 

Once we went cruising full time, I quickly learnt that we had been living in a marina with very reasonably priced washers and dryers. In the first marina we visited after leaving our home base we found the price for a load of washing was double what we had been paying. To top it off, the marina managers expressly prohibited the drying of clothes on the vessel, so that meant more out lay of the cruising kitty to dry the clothes. Micro seconds after hanging the recently used damp towel over the rail one of his boys was knocking on the hull asking if we had read the six hundred marina rules and in particular rule five hundred and ten subsection B ‘thou shalt not dry clothes or towels in view’. 

We also came to realize we couldn’t continue to rely on being in marinas as we were going to be spending a lot of time at anchor to maximise the cruising budget.  When we dropped anchor in a new port we would have to work out where the local laundry was and washing day became an expedition similar to resupply day. We became quite efficient at finding our way there and back on public transport. Like resupply expeditions out and about we saw a lot things the people who stay full time in marinas miss.

 On the other side of the coin some of the things we did see could not be unseen if you know what I mean. We would have loved to have used the local port marina laundries.  But as we found out this is not allowed because we were not paying guests. I would have understood if the machines were free and installed only for the marina guests but mostly these machines were more expensive than the ones in town.  Price wise our out of pocket expenses would have broken even due to the transport costs. 

Heck one marina manager wanted to charge us to tie up the tender to buy fuel and gas (supplied through him) and use his washing machines. No other amenities were included in the price of tying up the tender at ½ the day rate of a berth for a thirteen metre yacht, we left feeling upset. It’s no wonder this marina has to give away seafood dinners to get people to stay.  In spite of the success of getting our clothes washed in town we decided that we needed a plan for when we travelled further afield. We didn’t want to be dependent on feeding coins into the laundry’s in town, so we had to work out a way to wash our clothes on board easily.

After reading glowing reviews about a camping washing machine we had a brain snap and in came the egg shaped clothes washer supported on a flimsy stand and powered by a hand crank. The unit’s advertised selling point said it was able to wash a 1kg load in minutes with a minimum amount of water.  Sounds great to me, so an internet search followed and the new washer was purchased on line, then shipped to the local post office. 

While I appear to give this machine a bad rap, used for small loads and rotated slowly as its meant to operate it would be ok, it just wasn't up to the task we had in mind

While our galley has reasonably good counter space the newly acquired machine didn’t really fit so we could use it easily, and the chart table was out of the question lest the lid fly off and drench the charts and instruments stored or mounted behind. So we would use it in the cockpit, but when this hand cranked machine was in use it was hard to keep it in one place as the centrifugal force would try to fling it off the seat or try and launch it into space. Then we slowed the crank speed down but it still didn’t work as we had envisaged. This portable, efficient and environmentally friendly washer didn’t really work for us, perhaps we overloaded it, but I don’t think so. The other reason for its down fall was that it took up more space than we had budgeted for (304 mm x 406 mm) and finding a counter top to use it on wasn’t easy. The stand that supported the twirling egg shaped drum really did leave a lot to be desired. At the next town we visited we left the hand cranked egg in a laundry after we used the facilities and put the whole episode down to experience. You know how it goes ‘Experience is that what you get when you didn't get what you wanted’.

After a nice season in the Whitsundays we headed to Sydney with plans to tour Tasmania. That all came to an end when I broke a couple of ribs in a fall.  We ended up in Eden while I recuperated and a couple of things came to light. Taking the weeks laundry into the town laundry wasn’t easy, the first part of the trip was getting the washing into the tender and with broken ribs that didn’t happen easily unless we did the transfer in small loads, of course getting it out at the jetty was just as tiresome.  

On a trip into town to get a gas bottle filled we found the local gas supplier also had a shop full of goodies. In amongst the displays of home brew kits and camping gear was two small washing machines. These machines looked like domestic machines just smaller. Or as we have become used to saying here while traversing Asia ‘same same but different’. Debs eyes widened and rather than take a jab to the ribs I quickly took down the details of the machines and when back on board we discussed the pros and cons of the two machines.  

The new washing machine keeping it simple.  

Later that evening we called up a few of the long term cruising couples we know to find out if they had machines on board. As it turns out they all had washing machines and from the short conversations with them we certainly found far more reasons to have a machine than not.  One line hit home ‘couldn’t afford not to have one on board old boy’.  What we did find interesting was the group was evenly divided between a fully automatic machines and the older style twin tub. One couple had a full size front loader machine fitted into their modern cruising yacht, but they wished they had a smaller machine due to the space requirements and water usage. 

Washing machine stored and ready to go

Where to store the washing machine is a perplexing problem for more than one cruising skipper. I must admit it was one of the reasons I was so anti washing machine on our vessel. Now we know the smaller light weight units don’t need a dedicated cupboard space for storage/mounting. Being light weight we can easily move it around the cabin on wash day and when not in use it finds a place amongst the pleather of items in one of our back cabins or should that be store rooms. The machine is easily secured before a passage with a simple cargo strap connected to pad eyes. So the machine doesn’t need to take up large amounts of cupboard space like a domestic sized machine. Mounting was not an issue and the other thing that made the smaller machines attractive to us was that we didn’t need to plumb in water, power and overcome the complexities of drainage to remove the waste water. If we want we can take the machine on deck and do the washing there or in the cockpit.  

Our vessel is fitted with a pure sine wave inverter, and we have a reasonably large battery bank. The inverter is capable of supplying 2500 watts so this was one hurdle we didn’t need to jump. So if you are thinking about installing an inverter, while it may be slightly more expensive to start with, get a pure sine wave output. There are several reasons to get a pure sine rather than a modified sine. Running shore based/house hold appliances efficiently is one of them. The modified sine or quasi sine units do not operate house hold appliances efficiently, especially motor driven appliances (washing machines) these may break down, burn out prematurely or if they are electronically controlled they may not work at all.

A big inverter, a lot bigger than necessary to run a washing machine, it is however a pure sine wave inverter which is best for running electric motors. 

You don’t really need a generator when installing a washing machine if you get the right machine, of course you will still need to do your homework and make sure you don’t deplete the batteries or overload the inverter. On the subject of generators we know of two couples who have troubles with running their washing machine on the generator. It appears there is stray RF interference that causes problems with the controls (automatic machines). Of the two who have problems one of the vessels can use the machine once the batteries are nearly fully charged, so perhaps the battery charger is causing some form of interference. The other couple could not get their machine to work on the generator at all, but it would work fine on the inverter.  

Some of the white goods; (read) washing machines available at main stream white good retailers may not be suitable for a smaller boat. Some of the newer units can take over an hour on a quick wash, not sure how this works but this is also supposed to be environmentally friendly and consume less power. But I wonder if this overall power consumption is including all the power saved outside the house due to the small water usage. When running on an inverter or generator the best option is to have a washing machine that is efficient while also having as short a run time as possible. Do you need a dryer to go with the washer, well that would certainly need a generator due to the load on the electrical system to heat the dryer elements. I do know it is possible to run a dryer on an inverter, but the battery bank necessary to supply the required power for the time required to dry a load would mean the vessel battery bank would be enormous. 

A neat and tidy 12 Volt washing machine. However it does have a dark side, it will consume 78 litres per-load. If your water supply is good then go for it as its a fully automatic unit. I think it main market is RV campers in a park with connected water supply.  

Water usage can be a problem, while we have a water maker we found the best thing to do is every time we start the motor we run the water maker even if the water tanks are nearly full. The excess water is stored in a couple of jerry cans we keep for back up water supply. A good reason to keep a couple of jerry cans of water is so you don’t have to run the ships water pressure supply when filling the washing machine. Then with simple water management when doing washing loads we have found we don’t need a great deal of water for several days washing. Really our clothes just don’t get that dirty on the boat unless we have a breakdown or need to do some dirty work. When cruising in Australia and most of Asia we have found it is reasonably easy to get a couple of jerry cans filled up, so we can do a load or two of washing. 

Another fully automatic machine, not sure on the water use as its not listed in the spec sheet. There is no reason the rinse water couldn't be recycled to be used in the next wash load with a little thought.  

Plumbing, ok so this is where it gets tricky, or not. Our washing machine does not require water plumbed in to make it function. Some models do and it would not be a big job to supply water to the machine. If you’re handy a ‘T’ off the water supply with a ball valve and a domestic style connector will do, but there are lots of options.  Drainage, we put the waste water into a slump in the bilge and pump it over the side, bio degradable environmentally friendly washing powder is a must, but still don’t do the washing in a coral atoll. This slump and pump arrangement works well for us as we recycle water during the wash cycles but more on this later. 

Ok here are the specs of the two machine’s we were deciding on, there are other models now on the market. Different brands have different specs and load capacities, but the increased load capability usually also increases water usage. Both of the machines we short listed were Ezy Wash Portable washing machine and as you can see neither are very heavy to move around. The sizes are for the lid down so if fitted into a cupboard allowance will need to be made for the lid to open. Reading between the lines, neither machine will pump water out, the drainage is gravity feed. The automatic machine will dump not pump the water out when the cycle is finished. The Twin tub has a drain leaver that must be switched to facilitate emptying the machine. We know cruisers who have the automatic machine and love it, we didn’t go down that route due to not being able to control water usage and the need to plumb in the water to fill the machine. Neither machine are heavy on the power. The twin tub 240 Watt machine will suck just over 20 Amps from the batteries through the inverter when running normally and if you crank up the spin at the same time we usually see 32 Amp draw on the twelve volt battery bank for the short time the spin runs for. It’s hard to give a specific number due to the intermittent forward reverse function of the agitator. The final figures you see will vary and be dependent on the efficiency of your inverter. 

Portable Automatic Washing Machine

Features                 Specifications

Fully automatic with spin function Size: 640H x 420W x 410L mm

Electronic control system Overall Weight: 16 Kgs

Plated steel tub         Power: 220-240VAC / 50 Hz

Lint filter         Rated Power: 235 watts

Automatic draining Max Water Pressure: 0.6Mpa

Six washing programs Capacity: 2.5 Kgs

Water Inlet Hose: 1000 mm

Water Outlet Hose: 1400 mm

Max Water Use: 60Ltr (on high setting)

My what big bowls you have 

Portable Twin Tub Washing Machine

Features                        Specifications

Top loading twin tub with spinner         Rated Voltage: 240V AC/50Hz

2.0kg wash and spin capacity Rated Power: 240W - wash and (+) 120W - spin

Wash and spin cycle with timer Size: 650H x 560W x 362D mm

Two wash levels – normal and gentle Capacity: 2.0kg 

Quiet operation                 Overall Weight: 12.0kg

Bottom mounted agitator

Strong ABS plastic housing


Why did we get the twin tub, well KISS (keep it simple sailor), we had total control over the length of time the cycle runs either wash or spin. There were no fancy electronic controls to play up. The housing and bowls were plastic not coated steel, so this should alleviate any problems with rust in the marine environment. Water usage was also totally in our control. Now back to the recycling water that we do, when the rinsing of the first load is complete we use this water for the next wash load that is of course unless someone has just rinsed a new red towel. We have also found that the tub of wash (detergent) water is good for two loads, so is the rinse water, both are dependent on water colour and what is being washed or rinsed. The only tricky part to recycling water is to catch the water out of the clothes being spun, we simply catch it in a bucket and put it back into the machine.  Our water usage for four kilograms of washing will usually be about forty litres. It’s a little more work but easily accomplished in a morning, all without having to feed money into shore based machines or breaking the on board power or water budget. 

In conclusion, 

We have come across some frontloading compact washing machines, not as light or portable as the machines we had shortlisted for our vessel. These are worth a look if you’re contemplating a machine and have a dedicated room to mount/install a front loading washing machine. When making enquiries you will be looking for a Compact Washing Machine, these are not stocked in any of the main stream white goods retailers that we contacted.  Start with the RV/caravan accessory suppliers then once you start to make enquiries you can usually find a supplier in your area. Like us you will more than likely find one or two machines are rebranded and distributed and sold under different brands for widely varying prices, so shop around. One thing I would do is make sure the specifications they are supplying are for the machine you want to purchase, I have seen a wide variation for the same machine in the advertised specs.  Getting it in writing via email should be easy and that way if the truth has been stretched on water usage or power consumption you have recourse. 

The popular ones I have seen are capable of doing a 3 to 3.5 kg load. As I have already stated the weight of the machine may be a problem if you are thinking of moving it around on wash day.  The average weight of most is just under or over 50kg, most of which is a weight to help stop the unit being hurled into low earths orbit during the spin dry cycles.  Power consumption varies of course, some draw as little as 230 watts so this is something that shouldn’t break the power budget. However do your research on power consumption as we did find a wide variation between machines right up to 1700 watts for one machine when doing a hot water wash, by the sounds of that it’s heating the water.  Water consumption also varies between machines and some have specs that show excellent consumption, for example 19 litres on low setting and 45 litres on high setting. There isn’t a great deal of difference in the size of the compact machines or the one we have for that matter, the average sizes are 700mm(h)x510mm(w)x440mm (d) and being a front loader additional space above isn’t necessary like you would need for the top loaders.  

Front loader secured for passage

I was able to get a picture of one of our friend’s machine. It is fitted into the back cabin of their modern Jeanneau yacht, being a front loader the machine doesn’t need any overhead space for the lid to open. Their machine is a Candy Aquamatic 3.2kg machine they don’t move it around and it is all set up for use in place. When in use on the rapid cycle the machine will use <25 litres of water. They are very happy with the operation and performance of the machine. Securing is simple with the use of two cargo straps to keep it in place on passages. 

Fair winds and happy sailing

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