Featured Post - Replacing Plumbing Part 1

Sailboat Plumbing Replacement Project (Part 1) – Planning the Project

This will be the first of a 4 part series on completely replacing the fresh water plumbing system in your boat.  If you have a boat that is over 20 years old, chances are, you are starting to see some signs that the plumbing system could use an update.  This could be anything from old fixtures to leaking connections to faded and sticky poly water lines.

On our 51’ Formosa, we were starting to notice the bilge pump kicking on a couple of times per day when it didn’t do that before.  What we found was that over the last 38 years the plumbing system more resembled a ‘tape and bailing wire’ system that was originally copper and modified with a poly hose clamped to cut Copper and some various types of hoses connecting it all together.  We could see that at some of the “Tee’s” there was water leaking.  Upon further inspection we had found that when we left the fresh water pressure pump on, it was starting to push the clamped poly hose that was just slid over cut copper tubing and causing it to drip from most of those connections.  We also knew that the fixtures needed to be updated for a host of reasons.

In this series, we are going to cover several different topics.   The first one will focus on planning out the new system and making sure that you have all the right supplies.  The second post in the series will cover how to remove the old plumbing lines and prepare for the new system. Part 3 will be focused on running the new plumbing lines and installing all the new fixtures.  The final installment in the series is going to show how to tie it all together, test for leaks and also some bonus footage on how to add a fresh water filtration system in the galley to have clean, fresh filtered water for drinking.

Reviewing the old plumbing runs to get a sense of the current system runs

I like to start out these projects with drawing or sketching out the major components impacted and how I would plan to install the new parts in the system.  As I prepare to sketch out this project, I spend quite a bit of time reviewing the existing systems.  I take note of where the plumbing lines run, how long they are, if they’re run in the most efficient path through the boat and are they up and out of the way of moving around the bilge.  I like just to get a good understanding of how the system is currently set up so that I can plan appropriately for the new one.

Now it is time to sketch this out. I typically use graph paper because it’s easy to get a relatively consistent scale throughout the drawing.  In our case, I started out by drawing the two freshwater tanks that exist on the boat. I then drew the valve that combines or switches between water tanks and also drew a symbol for the FreshWater Pressure Pump.   At this point, I then drew all of the water output sources that exist in the boat today.

By way of example, I noted the following information related to the forward head.  I listed a sink with a hot and cold output, the freshwater flushing electric head with a cold connection only,  the forward shower with a hot and a cold connection and also the galley with a hot and a cold connection as well as a cold only connection for the drinking water filtration system.  This process continues throughout the boat (don’t forget to list deck or cockpit showers if your boat has them.)  Also now is a good time to plan for future growth of the plumbing system.  In our case, we planned for a hot and cold connection in the engine room as well as a hot and cold to the deck for deck showers or a fresh water rinse after swimming in salt water before tracking it down below.

Please note, I’m not advocating that this has to be a drawing that’s perfect.  It is just a reference point so that you understand what supplies you need as you start the project.  I’ve also found it is an excellent way to add documentation to the boat book that you keep on board as a reference manual for onboard systems.

If you want to get fancy, there are great online sites that allow you to draw electric schematics.  I have used the symbols and tools to draw out the plumbing system as well, so it looks more professional.   I have created the plumbing system, electrical systems, network communication, and speaker zones and wiring diagrams with the tool below.  It is a free website service that only requires a user to register and doesn’t spam the heck out of you after registering.

The link to the website to create the free schematics is http://www.digikey.com/schemeit/   As a bonus; you can save files to edit later and can export them as Images or PDF documents.  The PDF’s are great if you use digital documentation on your boat as we do.  The PDF’s are great to import into the iPad and iPhone iBook app

With your plans complete, this is a very good time to count up and estimate the length of plumbing lines you’ll need as well as the number of fittings, tee’s,  90-degree elbows, sweeping bends, Pex clamps for your fittings as well as the tools required for the job.  There will be more on tools and PEX connection types in the next episode around supplies required, but in preparation, it will be very helpful to have the estimated counts of each connection on hand.

I like to plan for some extra fittings and extra clamps. It never seems to fail, that when I get involved in a project such as this, I and up having to make multiple trips to a local store to pick up additional parts because I was one or two fittings or connections short of what was required.  If you’re close to a Home Depot or Lowes, you can buy extra parts and just return what you didn’t need when the project is complete.

Removing a run of copper from under the lower salon
(Yep, this bilge needs a good cleaning and painting)

The next step is removing the old plumbing. The interesting thing here is that the order in which you
do the next couple steps is dependent on your comfort level with the job and the tasks at hand. For example, on our Formosa, we decided that we would run the new plumbing lines before we removed the old ones. We did this because space was not an issue where we were running the lines, and it allowed us to see how the old system was configured and how the lines ran if we need to get tips or tricks on what we should do installing the new lines.

For the sake of this blog, we’re going to assume that we did this in the order of removing the old plumbing lines first. One of the things to consider is if you have copper lines and you intend to replace them, save the old lines as they can be sold as scrap to make a few extra dollars

It certainly won’t be a lot of money, and it’s not going to extend your cruising kitty, but it might buy a beer or pay for a couple of fittings.Click the image of the plan to download a copy of the plans we created for DreamChaser as an example of the level of detail that we typically include in our plans.  This is the document that we keep in our boat binder.  We did something very similar on our previous boat. If you would like to see an example of that plan, click HERE for the plans from “ Last Affair”.  Last Affair is our 43 foot Center Cockpit Gulfstar.  

Below is a link to the first part of the 4 part series on Youtube.  I was shocked that there were about 80 gigabytes of video that was captured for this 4 part series.  This is part of the delay that we have had in posting them because of the time to edit and sort through the data for the best component of footage.  (I may have to add some time-lapse to the future videos on Youtube because things seem to look funnier in fast motion)

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