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Navy showers

In years past we’ve come back from a vacation and had to face grim aspects of “real life”, which usually included freezing weather, a pile of backed-up mail and phone calls, and a house that needed some attention right away.   In this case, coming back from Hawaii has been a relative pleasure because we landed in Los Angeles where the sun was shining and the temperatures were in the 60s.   It was less of a shock to the system, coming from humid days in the 80s.

But the best part was coming back to the Airstream.   At last, a bed I can sleep in.   Our own kitchen again.   No more unpacking and re-packing.   No more people at airports telling me that my bottled water is too risky to carry on board an aircraft. My own DVD collection rather than pay-per-view on the hotel TV.   It’s great to be back home and yet still able to travel.

To be fair, there were a few things to deal with. We had removed a lot of stuff from the truck and put it in the Airstream for safekeeping, including three bicycles, some tools, the sewing machine, etc.   With Los Angeles traffic we got back to our storage spot after dark, and we couldn’t stay in the storage lot overnight, so we had to re-arrange everything, hitch up, and tow about 1/4 mile to a campsite.   But in 20 minutes or so we were set up for the night, which is about the amount of time it took us to get checked into our Waikiki Beach hotel, get a parking pass, and unpack in our room.   We’ll keep the Airstream hitched up overnight and pull out tomorrow to points as yet undetermined.

One small lifestyle change is the need to re-adapt from the hotel shower to the RV shower.   In the hotel, we had a cascade of water, and hot stinging needles if we wanted them, flooding the tub so quickly that the drain couldn’t keep up. This was the sort of shower that people seem to like, not so much because they get cleaner but because it feels like a “spa” experience.   You don’t get pummeled by hot water much in an RV, and that seems to really bother some folks.

This is probably why I get so many reports from people saying that their “gray water” tank doesn’t last long enough when they are not connected to a sewer hookup.   (The gray tank is the tank that holds used water from the shower and sinks.)   It’s true, the tank is never as big as you’d like it to be, but with a little careful conservation you can last a long time. The problem I usually find with people who are filling the tank quickly is that they’ve never learned to conserve water.

There are two things that really fill up the gray tank fast: Showers, and dishes. A lot of people switch to paper plates when they are trying to make the gray tank last a long time. We’ve done that, but we’ll also use campground dish-washing facilities if they exist, as we did at Yellowstone.

You can do the same with showers if you are in a campground where they are available. Some people use the campground shower religiously, because they don’t fit in the small travel trailer shower, or because they just prefer the “home style” shower when it is available. Personally, I like my Airstream shower and I hate using the campground showers, so I’ll go to some effort to be able to shower in the trailer.

This means the “navy shower” is essential. It’s a simple technique: turn on the water, get wet, turn off the water. Then soap up everything, and rinse off quickly. Get really good at it, and you’ll find you can take a complete shower in about three gallons, or about 90 seconds of running the water. That makes you an Admiral in the Navy Shower Fleet.

Even an Able Seaman should be able to do it in less than six gallons (just over two minutes). Get it down to a flat two minutes (five gallons) and you’re a Lieutenant, or four gallons (a minute and a half) for the Commander’s rank. This assumes you have a typical RV showerhead that lets 2.5 gallons per minute through.

If you blow it, the Airstream has a built-in warning sign. The hot water tank is usually six gallons. If you start feeling cold water, you’ve used all six gallons plus a bit more (because the tank is constantly re-heating) and you’ll soon be walking the plank when the rest of the family finds out.   Even in a full hookup campground where you don’t have to worry about running out of water or filling the gray tank, the six-gallon limit still applies.

The other thing you need to know is the size of your gray water holding tank. Ours is a fairly roomy 39 gallons, which means all three of us Admirals can take showers in a total of less than 10 gallons, giving us three showers each plus some tooth brushing and dishes, before we run out of holding capacity.

It’s really not hard to learn the navy shower technique. Camping without a full hookup does require some small sacrifices, but you can still have a satisfying shower. The inability to stand under a spray of hot water for ten minutes is nothing when you realize that small sacrifice enabled you to walk out your door into the landscape of a great national park, or a quiet beautiful place far from crowds.

2 Responses to “Navy showers”

  1. Barry Says:

    I wondered how youall did the shower thing. We use the same technique, but had never heard it called Navy showers, as we are landlubbers, coming from a long line of landlubbers! We are investigating a way to pump some gray water in the blackwater tank, to be able to extend the tank even more. I’ll let you know what I discover.

  2. Ralph Says:

    As Clancy readers learned in Red October. Long showers are “Hollywood showers”.

    Also in Popular Science this month grey water used in regular houses for flushing to Black tanks… Any of that in the Silver Staterooms?