Waterbearing Administration: Or How to Run Waterbearing for a Large Event

Written by HL Aoibheann ingen Taidhg. Originally appearing in the Online Bird of Prey, Vol 9, 2003.

From the outside, Battlefield Waterbearing appears to be a simple operation. Jugs are filled with water or Gatorade and distributed to those who need it. In reality, orchestrating the waterbearing for even one day of battles requires significant amounts of planning,
tactical sense, charisma, tact and the ability to change the plan on the run. Some of these skills can be taught in a classroom, others are learned through experience, still others, unfortunately, can not be taught.

Firstly, by Battlefield Waterbearing, I mean getting water to many hundreds or thousands of fighters. Many of the things in this article will apply to smaller or tournament events, but are not necessary for them to run smoothly. Much of this information is based upon personal experience at wars such as Lilies War, Estrella War, Gulf Wars and Pennsic.


Why Waterbear?

Waterbearing can be very rewarding. You get to meet lots of people, watch the battles from a closer vantage point, and have huge amounts of fun. While all these things are nice, the main reason that we waterbear in the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) is to prevent heat related injuries. With that in mind, we are trying to get as much water into fighters as they can hold. If the battles are two or three hours long, the people on the field should have to pee at least once.

Advance Planning

It is much easier to plan waterbearing for a battlefield if you have knowledge of the battlefield site(s) and your resources.

  • Where are the water sources? 
  • Are those water sources close enough or should you plan other arrangements to get water on the field? 
  • How many fighters are expected in the battle?
  • What is the expected forecast? 
  • Will there be tables and shade flies available for the waterbearers’ exclusive use?
  • How will water be stored?
  • How many waterbearers do you have to rely upon?

Some of these questions should be answered by communicating with the Battlefield Marshal and the Chirurgeon in Charge1. Other answers are at the discretion of the Waterbearer in Charge.

Sanitization & Storage

The key thing that we are trying to do is to prevent people from getting sick. We are working with the Marshals and Chirurgeons to make sure that everyone on the field is as hydrated as possible. The last thing that we want to do is make them sick. We could contribute to sickness by not sanitizing our equipment, or on the other extreme, feeding people bleach water. Either could have disastrous consequences.

To lessen the chance that people will get sick, we need to sanitize intelligently. Bleach should be used in a 3% solution. Each gallon of sanitizer solution should only have about a ¼ cup of bleach. If bleach is the sanitizer of choice, make sure that all the bleach is rinsed before sending the bottle, cooler or hose back into service. Better yet, let the item dry completely. As it dries, the bleach will evaporate, leaving something that is clean and not bleachy.

Food grade sanitizer can also be used to similar effect. It can be bought in tablet form or liquid form. Either is mixed with water to produce a sanitizing solution. It is not as likely as bleach to make people sick if it isn’t completely rinsed. However, I wouldn’t want to drink it. Read the directions on the bottle for quantities to be used.

For either type of sanitizer, set up a five gallon bucket or other container to sanitize items as they get dirty. Clean up at the end of the battle will be easier if you sanitize as you go along.

At the end of the battle, everyone will be tired, but it is much easier, and sanitary, to clean up and put things away at the end of each day. The person who is in charge of the next day will love you for it.

Changing the Plan

It is tempting for all decision making to be made by some central authority, however if you have multiple water points on the field, each must have someone who is knowledgeable and officially in charge of that point. As the Waterbearer in Charge, you need to be able to give those working for you a general sense of what needs to be done and allow them to implement it for themselves.

Different people organize things very differently. What works for one person could turn out disastrously for another. If you have given your crew all the information you have, then they will usually do what works best for them. You will still need to be available and
approachable if people have questions; encourage those under you to use you as a sounding board for ideas if they aren’t sure. During a battle, you will notice that some things are working, and others are not. Take some time to figure out how to tailor your
efforts to the situation you are in. 

Here are some things that can help:

  • When there are not enough jugs, and at the end of battles, have someone “glean” the empty jugs,
  • After all the jugs have been “gleaned,” if there still are not enough jugs, send some runners out to switch full jugs for partials and to consolidate the partials. Empties will be filled faster, getting more water on the field.
  • Set up the table(s) to allow for traffic flow, so that waterbearers can trade empties for full jugs on one side of the table while the filling happens on the other side.
  • Encourage the use of interchangeable containers and straws/lids.
  • Send water into battle with “dead” fighters. Remind them to return the jugs.
  • Be open to different waterbearing equipment and techniques. Fighters will drink more water when they are comfortable with the system. Allowing multiple options on the field does not hurt.
  • String clean jugs together and hang them up from a sunshade or other structure to dry.
  • Use FRS radios to communicate quickly between different sides of the field, and/or resurrection points. If other departments on site are using these radios, clear the channel with the event staff.
  • Mark containers that have strong Gatorade or pickle juice.


As far in advance as possible, find out what the scenarios will be. This includes finding from the Marshals where waterbearers will be allowed during resurrection battles, wood battles, fort battles. Confirm with the Marshals that waterbearers are desired at all the resurrection points (put someone in charge of each point). It also includes knowing what direction the battles will be fought, how the fighters will be leaving the field and what the expected timetables for battles will be.

If you have not experienced a resurrection battle at this war, find out from others what to expect. Some 45 minute resurrection battles take 45 minutes, others take two and a half hours.

Use this information to determine where the best place would be for field water points. Remember to keep in mind safety for the fighters (what is the closest place to have a point) and waterbearers (Is the terrain safe? Is it too close to the field?). Often times the Marshals’ will have a specific plan in mind. Please consult them. Arrange to be in on the Marshals’ meeting at the beginning of the day.

Having an idea of how many fighters are expected will determine how many full jugs of water are needed to start the day. You will rarely have more full jugs at any time than you did at the beginning of the battle. It is better to estimate high than to estimate low in your planning, because it will be nigh impossible to make up the difference. Plan on ten jugs (5 water, 5 Gatorade) for every 100 fighters. If you are using containers smaller than 1 gallon, increase that number proportionally.

Sometimes, it helps to draw a diagram of the field and detail a plan of attack. On the diagram, list:

  • water points
  • water sources
  • resurrection points
  • fortifications and other landmarks
  • where will the fighters congregate when they come off the field
  • inspection and muster points

This diagram will give you a clear idea of where inefficiencies are in your plan.

  • Where will the fighters gather before the battle?
  • Is there a better place for a temporary point during this battle?
  • Where should resources be focused after the battles are over to catch fighters as they return to camp?

Useful Equipment

Each person or group may want to have a kit of waterbearing equipment. Some indispensable items are:

  • sunscreen
  • funnel
  • knife
  • scissors
  • extra straws/tops
  • vinyl tape for marking
  • permanent markers
  • trash bags
  • duct tape
  • towels/wash cloths
  • spray bottles
  • string
  • aprons
  • five gallon or larger storage containers that do not require thumb pressure to operate
  • cutting boards
  • containers for fruit and pickles
  • sanitizer (or bleach)
  • radios
  • batteries
  • folding tables
  • Gatorade
  • hand sanitizer
  • paper and writing implement

Interpersonal Relations

Many of the below items are common sense, pointing them out can’t hurt.

  • Make sure that the people who are working with you know that you appreciate their efforts. Try to learn their names. Say “thank you” often. 
  • Offer criticism constructively; do not make people feel stupid for their mistakes. 
  • When someone has a complaint, listen. Sometimes what they are really complaining about has nothing to do with the first words out of their mouth. 
  • Try to handle complaints, and criticisms out of the public eye. Do not allow a spectacle to erupt; if everyone is watching you, they will not be getting water onto the field.
  • Remember you are dealing with volunteers.
  • Waterbearing is not baby sitting. If children are not being helpful, send them back to their parents or camp.
  • No one has the right to waterbear. Keep an eye on those who are on the field. If necessary, ask anyone who is being consistently irresponsible to leave the field (after talking with them).
  • No one has the right to yell at you or those who work for you. If someone isn’t being constructive, tell them you will talk with them later. After they calm down, talking will be much easier. Bring a third party to the meeting.

Multiple Day Events

During multiple day events, you will need to constantly reevaluate your supply needs. Make sure to send people off site for supplies before you need them. Running out of Gatorade on the last day of battles is disastrous. Powdered Gatorade stores reasonably well. Purchase more than you need and store the rest for next year/event.

While it usually is not necessary to spend every waking minute on the field, check with the person in charge each morning to make sure they understand what is expected of them. If there are not enough people volunteering, they may need your help as another pair of hands more than as an organizer.

I cannot teach everything that is needed to run waterbearing successfully. Each Kingdom,  event, site and individual will have their own quirks; not all this information will apply to every situation. Hopefully this has given you a better idea of some of the things that need to be considered when running waterbearing.

[1] Kraus, Cindy (SCA: Tamara Tysjachyvolosova) “Re: Food for Thought” Online posting, 11 Mar. 2003.  9 Apr. 2003 FourthCompany <http://groups.yahoo.com/group/FourthCompany/message/177&gt;