On any refit or new build project, the overwhelming task is to figure out where to begin. The first is infrastructure. If you don’t establish a good power, tool, and work environment, you’ll find yourself repeating operations, which can really extend build times. Reduce or eliminate duplication as much as possible. Start from the hull, and work inside to out. If your vessel is operated within inland lakes, or on the open sea, you may have waste disposal regulations that you need to comply with (i.e. sewage and greywater).
A. Establish A Vessel Power Strategy: What will you use for primary vessel power ? What dock power supply options will you have ? What will be the vessel power outlet voltage ? Also consider hybrid technologies, or even electric outboard. If you’ve ever had to rebuild a internal combustion engine in a bilge, you’ll understand the challenges and hassles of working in cramped spaces. Also determine type and number of helm stations, or going with more automated (iPad steer anywhere on the boat) systems and one helm.
B. Determine A HVAC and Plumbing Strategy: Reduce plumbing runs, and options, to reduce costs. Consider reviewing a flush toilet system, versus a composting toilet, or a potash toilet. If you have ever had to unclog, or take apart a sewage system, it will make you seriously consider other options. If you go with a composting or potash system, you may be able to circumvent lots of holding tank regulations. Remember for each gallon of water and sewage onboard, your hauling around 8.3 pounds of weight that your engine or sails have to move. For HVAC, do you want a centralized heating/cooling system, or point-of-use ?
C. For Sailboats - Rigging Strategy: For those working on a sail vessel, determine best rig, and any re-rigging options.
D. Solar Electric and Solar Thermal Power: Dump the propane/butane (hard to resupply and explosive), and go induction electric for cooking and heating. If possible, use solar PV or solar thermal hot water heaters for on-demand supply of hot water, and also water-making. Is a solar electric water heater more efficient than solar thermal hot water ? The benefit is that electric point-of-use hot water is available any time, while a solar batch heater system may or may not be available when the Sun is not out, unless you use the new Zeolite heat storage pellets (they can be recharged by direct solar heating in a solar vacuum tube, or by electric heat).
E. Galley (Kitchen) Options: Consider HDPE countertops (white), top opening freezer/cooler chests (fixing refrigeration at sea is very difficult), induction cooktop, portable microwave and oven. Insta-Pot for efficient pressure cooking. Bread machine and countertop ice machine for on-depend supply. Small electric washer-drier. Small luxuries really add-up to a more pleasurable voyage.
F. Flooring, Wall, and Overhead: Consider peel and stick or glue down vinyl, or FRP. Consider zoning cabins or sections using the solar power charging stations listed at the beginning of the article. This makes electrical redundency easier to manage.
G. Vessel Operation and Living Flow: Give some consideration to developing a strategy on the flow of the vessel. Make access to critical systems easy, and watch YouTube videos on cruisers to see where difficulties persist (typically cooling/refrigeration systems, engine systems, prop fouling, water ingress in the bilge, fresh water making, and storage. Develop a habit on shore that you can easily adapt at sea.
H. Food and Fresh Water: Consumables will take up major time segments at port, so try to minimize as much as possible. Some forethought into developing ways to make freshwater will go a long way to reduce filling and carrying jerry cans onboard. Install a water maker, or solar water still (may be a more expensive front-end cost option, but will save lots of time in the long run). Try to grow some food onboard (easy items like herbs, lettuce, etc.) will provide welcome nuturition for longer stays on at anchor, or on a voyage. Lightweight hanging vertical tube towers can be the answer to space restricted vessels. Growing sprouts can also provide a great nutritional addition to any meal, and easy to grow from seeds stored in vacuum sealed pacakges. Add a vacuum sealer to your kitchen items to help preserve food and keep out mold. While it may seem like a stretch, consider a whole food plant based diet while at sea. It drastically reduces food born illness, freezer space, power, etc. The great thing about rice and beans (just two examples) are that they can be vacuum sealed and stored dry at room temperature, then rehydrated and cooked when ready to eat.
I. Exercise at Sea: Consider a elliptical trainer and compact recumbent bike, both powering a 12V DC generator. Not only does it help you keep fit, but can provide emergency power.
J. Use Specific Devices: If you have a large flat area to work with, look into building pods which serve multiple purposes (such as a chair or lounge with storage, or a mobile cart for tools which can be easily wheeled to the job, etc.).
K. Colors and Wood: Teak and other woods will eventually rot, or get discolored. While natural wood appearance is beautiful, it’s a maintenance headache. If possible, go with a wood veneer, or wood veneer print, with UV stablized epoxy (on the outside). For interior, go with white, for best light reflection. Dark colors suck away light, which means you have a higher lighting (energy) consumption. If you want color, try accent lighting (low power LED on demand) or accent trim colors or veneers.
L. Odors and Ventilation: Good airflow within a cabin and enclosed spaces will prevent mold, and decrease any odors. This can be as simple as opening a hatch cover, window, or more sophisticated methods such as a solar powered vent for a anchor locker, or dedicated fans on the interior to move air around. At the very minimum, I would recommend a small powered fan air filter unit with washable (reusable)filter with replaceable activated carbon pellets (same as fish aquarium pellets, or use your own homemade charcoal from a wood or coconut husk fire).
M. Outdoor Mini Wood Fired Pizza Oven, Stove, Grill, or Firepit: While most fire onboard is bad, a well thought-out contained wood fired appliance can provide ambiance, grilling, and emergency food cooking, even water desalination. The potash can be used for a composting toilet, and the charcoal can be used in a air filter. This would be a great product to develop for cruisers, since most already have a heavy stainless steel gas grill on the back stanchions.
N. Long Term Yearly Maintenance: Most use 20-30 percent of value of boat as a guide for annual maintenance costs. If you design in low maintenance, it will pay you back quickly in terms of time and ongoing costs.