Thursday, March 6, 2014

Cloth Diapers on a Boat

*Disclaimer: This is post describes an adventure in old school domesticity. If such throwbacks don't interest you, please feel free to read other, less poop-filled items.

While strolling the docks with Jari, I have had multiple people come up to me and say, "Oh, a baby on a boat. You're so brave!" I'm never quite sure how to respond to this since living on a boat with a baby doesn't seem much different from living in a house with a baby. Sure, it's smaller and a bit more wobbly, but it's just as much a home. What they should say is "Oh, cloth diapering on a boat. You're so crazy!" And that is pretty much how I feel every time I'm scrubbing a load of inserts.

Some of my earliest memories are of "helping" my parents fold my little brother's cloth diapers, and I always planned to use them when I had a baby. They are, after all, more economical, and they don't fill up landfills like their disposable brethren. I did not plan, however, to have a baby on a boat, a boat without a washing machine and with only a 50 gallon water tank. A limited water supply was never a factor I considered.

But to my surprise, I have been cloth diapering like a madwoman and have developed a daily washing ritual, despite my undying hatred of doing laundry on a boat unless it's up a river in the Kuna Yala with plenty of crocodiles to keep things sporting. Not only am I doing it, but I actually get a strange sort of satisfaction out of seeing those diapers fluttering on the lifelines in the afternoon breeze, like, yeah, I've actually accomplished something. Would I trade that feeling for a washing machine? In a heartbeat. But it's nice to know that I have the capability to not completely hate this often times gross daily activity.

So just in case there are other crazy people out there who want to cloth diaper on a boat (you maniacs!), here's my daily recipe for poop stew, as I fondly call it.

First, I rinse the diapers in fresh water, though you can easily use salt if away from the dock. Then, I soak them in diaper detergent and boiling water for a couple of hours, and just to make it even more old school, I scrub them in the sink using a small washboard that my mom and Bob found for us. This surprisingly removes most of the stains (Did you know that baby poop is a bright 1970s mustard yellow? Yeah, neither did I.) and I rinse them a couple of times in fresh water, wringing them out each time. And finally, and this is the best part, I hang them up in the sun, which magically bleaches out any leftover stains.

I use two types of diapers: the old, old school flat kind that your grandma probably used and microfiber inserts. Both have their ups and downs. The flats don't hold as much pee, which means more washing, but they dry super quickly in the sun and catch the more liquidy poop better. The inserts take forever to dry and aren't so great in the poop department, but they are super absorbent.

Here's Jari sporting a flat diaper with an origami fold.

Of course, washing diapers has upped our water use, but I think you could use salt water for most of the process except the final rinse. When underway, people also throw dirty diapers in a mesh bag or tie them to a line and drag them behind the boat. We will have to experiment further once we get off the dock, but we plan to use gDiaper disposable inserts while underway. They are biodegradable, contain no plastics and can be tossed overboard. That means you don't have to use fresh water for washing diapers while away from land, and you also avoid arriving at your destination with an extra special present for the local populace. Nothing says "hello" quite like a trash bag or two full of poop and plastic.

I've also been trying out a fancy, hand-cranked washing machine that Jess and James on Adamastor gave us. It's gotten mixed reviews from other cruisers, and Jess didn't like it much. However, I'm enjoying it at least at the dock, and if it works better than the washboard, I'll let you know. For further reading on this utterly engaging subject (c'mon, you know you liked it), please check out these sites.

Jess, James and Rocket got an awesome sponsorship with gDiapers. Check out their adventures in cloth diapering here, here, here, herehere and here. And here's a link to their Mothership page, which details other good baby-on-a-boat products.

Once Upon A Time has a nice description of washing diapers while sailing the South Pacific.

And a special thanks to Terra Tots, the baby store in Fayetteville, AR. They convinced me that flat diapers would be where it's at on a boat, and they were so right. Thanks for all the advice, guys!


  1. When Jari gets a little bigger, get a couple of Good Mamas. Yes, they are pricey but they are the absolute best for over night. You only need 2 and even the heaviest of soakers are no match for them. :)

  2. Oh yeah, I remember doing this! I used the old cloth diaper routine with my son. It was lots of work, but during that time in my life, it really didn't seem too bad. You just did it, and dealt with it. I loved any close time I had with my son. And I wasn't working at that time, so it wasn't a big hassle for me.

  3. Thanks for the recommendation, Cidnie!