The Saga of the Katadyn Watermaker

The passage from Huatulco to Xtapa was eventful in many ways.

Our fine feathered friend was ready for adventure

The Katadyn 160 Water maker, made in Switzerland, has been a stalwart since installation four years ago, in 2014. It’s simple, which attracted me to it. No gauges, no bells, no whistles, no back flushing, no nothing. When doing long distance cruising, the more simple, the better. It’s only accessories are the manual and a salinity meter, but the manual says your taste buds are more accurate than any salinity meter. Thus, I turn it on, have the three-way valve to the test hose which empties into the galley sink. In the first minute or two, it will taste salty and maybe even moldy, if I haven’t used it in a week. After 5 to 10 minutes, (depending on when last used), I check it again and it’s good.

If I won’t be using it for more than a week, I will “pickle” it. Basically, that is to run a solution that prevents bacterial growth, mold, on the membrane that is producing fresh water.

I have used it in brackish water, but the organic growth quickly clods the first filters, so I don’t do that anymore. I also have a special cleaning solution that I have only had to use once, this past year, because I did not pickle it for a few weeks of non-use.

So, this Katadyn has produced thousands of gallons of water the last four years. I turn it on, taste the output in 5+ minutes and switch the three-way valve to fill one of the water tanks. No fuss, no muss, simple.

This time was no different, however after a few hours, I noticed that I was wasn’t hearing its distinctive thumping sound. It’s hard to hear unless you listen for it, though I can put me hear near the galley sink and the thumping is quite distinctive there since the output water uses the galley drain thru hull.

The power was on, but the watermaker was not. There is an auxiliary pump and the watermaker itself (which is essentially a very high-pressure pump that forces seawater thru the membrane and molecules larger than pure H2O, water, can not pass thru and are sent down the discharge hose.

The auxiliary pump and the watermaker each have a separate fuse, so that was an easy check and I found the watermaker fuse had melted. not just opened, but the plastic fuse itself was melted.

That’s bad.

Mark pointed out that those fuse holders can be the culprit by not holding the fuse tight enough, letting it arc. OK, new fuse and holder. Watermaker is thumping again.

Eight hours later, the watermaker had stopped again. Same fuse, though not melted, just blown.

There was clearly a problem, that just couldn’t be laid on poorly made Chinese fuse holders.

To compound matters, I had let us leave Huatulco with minimal water on board, only 55 gallons in one tank, the other being empty, ready for the watermaker to fill. The watermaker fills one 150-gallon tank in about 20 hours.  In normal water usage, I use about 25 gallons per day, but there were three of us.

I was far more stressed than I let Brian and Mark know.

I replaced the fuse again and hoped for the best. This process was made more difficult because to check the fuse and the watermaker, I had to open the heavy hatch cover to the aft section of the engine room in the salon. (On the list of winter projects is to put a hinge on two of the four panels).

Seven hours later, it stopped again. Quick check shows fuses OK. Next step, the relay.  This relay was one of the half dozen I bought from Amazon for $8. It had been working in that hot engine room for 4 years. Despite being Chinese made, it was heavy duty and well built, except for one thing, the wires, also heavy gauge, were cross colored. Color coding and “standards for American and European Direct Current (DC) wiring (as used in boats and cars) are pretty much the same: red is positive, black is ground, yellow is accessory, etc. So, these relays, all used red, black, yellow, blue wires, but not in the accepted color scheme. It was clear even before I bought them that that was the issue and the reason they were on sale at such a good price. So even though I’ve used them on applications around the boat for the last 4 years, even doing a simple replacement, takes me some time, because it’s hard to get my head around the different color scheme. Don’t connect that red wire to the black one!

But that was done, and we are making water again. Good, because we were down to 23 gallons.

Three hours later, again a blown fuse. Now I was getting worried about running out of 30+ amp fuses.

While I was dicking around with the relay, I took the opportunity to dig thru my spare 12-volt electrical parts bin to figure out my options if I had to replace the fuse holder.

I could take the fuse out of the circuit altogether, but that’s an emergency fix. I did have a real circuit breaker. I could rewire and replace the fuse holder with the circuit breaker and put long enough wires on it for me to have access in the salon. In other words when it tripped, I could just reset, without opening the heavy hatch each time.

So, a few hours later, when the fuse went again, that’s what I did.  I also stopped the engine, over the years I have come close to having a severe accident when underway and my foot slips next to the spinning shaft. In this case, my ankle just bounded off the shaft, but I took it as a warning. It took 30 minutes, but at the end, I had the circuit breaker wired up to the salon.

The watermaker worked for the next 20 hours filling the one tank.  I think the circuit opened not once during that time, though it did open while filling the second tank the next day.

Best of all, it was easy for me to check and we had no more water problems.

We left Xtapa with full water tanks and the watermaker did work as required on the four-day passage to Cabo San Lucas, however, just before arrival, I noticed that the watermaker pump itself was leaking its internal oil. The seals had failed. I’m sure that was the cause of the higher than normal electrical draw all along. I’m just happy after four years of no maintentance, it gave me one more week when I needed it.

I have the seal repair kit, it will be another winter project. More than ever though, I was grateful to Katadyn for making a watermaker that would tolerate my shenanigans.

Here is a link to the Katadyn. I bought it directly from Katadyn, since they were discontinuing the model, so they gave me 30% off. But the link shows the simplicity of the system.

http://www.downwindmarine.com/Katadyn-PowerSurvivor-160E-Watermaker-12V-p-91001017.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

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