When you live on a boat, you have five choices for a toilet:
1. A macerating toilet – After you do your business, you push a button or a knob, just like on a regular toilet. Water fills the bowl while it flushes. Yesterday’s lunch then goes through a macerator (think poop blender) and the watered-down remains are pumped through hoses into a holding tank. If you are in international waters, you can let your day-old corn flow right into the ocean, and the fish will thank you!
If you are near shore, you must empty your tank at a pump-out station at a marina, or pay someone to come to your boat once or twice a week to pump it out for you. It goes into a really large, extremely stinky tank on the pump-out boat. Our pump-out guy is named Carl. He’s super nice and he gets the most amazing Christmas bonuses from marina residents each year…for obvious reasons. We can’t live without him!
2. A manual marine toilet – It has a hand lever that you move up and down to pump your doodie through the hoses, and into a holding tank. Carl takes care of those boats, too.
3. A composting toilet – Your waste goes into a reservoir where it mixes with something like sawdust. People who use these can have very stinky boats.
4. A bucket out on the deck.
5. For those really adventurous souls, you can simply stand on the edge outside, aim at the water (or settle your haunches over the side for #2), and let loose. This option is not very popular if you have next-boat neighbors at the marina.
For our sailboat, we have choice #1. Here’s the problem. Macerators can barely handle toilet paper. If anything, and I mean ANYTHING, goes down other than digested food or really thin, cheap toilet paper, you’ll find yourself utilizing # 4 or #5 above until the local marine plumber has time to come by, wag his finger at you for being stupid, and spend a couple of hours literally removing your toilet from the floor of your boat, and fishing in the macerator to see what you dropped in there.
Our old neighbor, Stan, loved to tell the story about the scrunchy (hair tie) that his wife dropped down theirs. One of our boys put a single baby wipe down ours once and it was out of commission for several days. Luckily, we have two potties on board.
The other day, while our Managing Editor, Brian Whiddon, was hard at work on the WritersWeekly issue, I was in the “head” (boat bathroom) after lunch, flossing my teeth. I am an avid flosser. In fact, I think I floss more than anyone I’ve ever met. Yes, I brush my teeth quite a lot, too. After completing my post-lunch oral hygiene regimen, I sat down to do #1 (and only #1 – I swear!). When I started to flush, I could have SWORN I saw a cotton ball in there. Yes, a cotton ball. Once inch wide. One inch long. Round. White. Fluffy. A teeny, tiny little thing. I asked myself, “What could possibly go wrong?” I kept flushing. And….that’s when the water stopped going down.
I kept pushing the button and the water kept swirling around and around in the bowl, but it wasn’t going anywhere. I figured, “Hmmm. Needs more water!” So, I pulled down the shower head, turned it on, and shot a strong stream of water into the toilet while still holding the flush button. The macerator kept grinding and the water kept swirling….except now there was a lot more water in the bowl.
I opened the door, and whined, “Briiiiiiian! The toilet is broken AGAIN!”
After a slew of profanity punctuated the atmosphere of the floating home office, Brian came up behind me to look.
I said, “I think it was a cotton ball.”
He replied, “A cotton ball?! Why were you wiping with a COTTON BALL?!”
I snapped back, “I didn’t PUT it in there! Maybe it fell off the shelf…”
We both looked up. Sure enough, on the shelf above the toilet was a bag of cotton balls. Brian said, “I have to get the issue out today. I’ll take a look at it tomorrow. You’ll need to use the boys’ head.” (NOBODY wants to use the teenage boys’ bathroom – trust me on that!) Brian chuckled and walked back to his computer.
The nice thing about having a boat captain as your Managing Editor is that he doesn’t mind being called upon to do quick repairs on the boat. Well, except for toilet repairs. He doesn’t like those at all.
The problem with repairing an electric macerating marine toilet is that it is three times more complicated than the average toilet in your house. 1) It’s electric. The flushing control is an electric switch. Proper flushing requires an electric fresh water pump AND an electric waste water pump. So you have to have some electrical and wiring knowledge to make sure it works. 2) The hose that takes the waste water to the holding tank can build up back-pressure. So a Shop-Vac is required to remove all of the smelly stuff from the hose while disconnecting it to avoid a horrific mess that NO ONE wants to have to clean. 3) The toilet has a macerator, which is sort of like a blender that liquefies everything while pumping it back to the holding tank. The entire toilet AND macerator must be removed and disassembled to be able to remove an item stuck within its blades.
However, Brian also has to use the head on the boat when he’s working. And he knew it would take days for our plumber, Freddie (the one who had a seizure on our boat), to put us on the schedule. So he was stuck with the job.
Fast forward to the next day. I was at a doctor’s appointment with one of the boys when my phone rang. It was Brian. Before I could even say “hello,” he bellowed, “I found the problem!”
“You found the cotton ball?! GREAT!”
“Yes, I found the cotton ball but that wasn’t the only problem.”
“Yes, really. I just spent 20 minutes on the macerator…untangling a piece of dental floss.”
- The Portable Toilet Explosion!
- Seizure on the Boat!
- Sitting on a Bucking Bronco Toilet!
- Our Calendar…That Hangs by the Toilet
- What Did Mason Drop In The Toilet?!
- Nothing Says Love… Like A Warm Toilet Seat
Angela Hoy lives on a 52' Irwin Center Cockpit Ketch (sailboat) with her family and pets. She is the publisher of WritersWeekly.com, BookLocker.com, and AbuzzPress, and the author of 19 books. Keep up with her family's adventurous liveaboard lifestyle at GotNoTanLines.com.
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