The 30-year-old Raritan PH II head on our Pearson 39-2 project boat still worked, but reluctantly. The marine head on the boat had sat on the hard for two years and if there’s anything marine toilets need, it’s regular exercise to stop rubber or leather parts from hardening and cracking. I could have stripped the venerable Raritan down and rebuilt it, since a parts kit is not expensive, but aside from the fact that it looked its age, it was obvious that more than just the toilet needed attention; the waste discharge hoses were also way past their best, as evidenced by the slight cloacal reek that manifested itself whenever I opened the cockpit locker.
This, in turn, led to some head-scratching over the various options for upgrading or replacing the blackwater system. I planned to spend extended periods of time on the boat, so I’d have to live with the consequences of the decision.
More of the same?
An upgrade would involve purchasing new hoses, Y-valves, macerator and anti-syphon fittings, and either repairing the PH II or replacing it with a new unit.
Advantages: familiarity—I’ve replaced such systems before; reliability—a new soup-to-nuts system would be odor-free and should last me for the rest of time I own the boat; inexpensive compared to other alternatives.
Disadvantages: annoying to use, especially for guests; I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with manual toilets—no one ever seems to pump them enough to clear the hoses, and there is often a smelly backflow through the traitorous joker valve.
The joys of compost?
Advantages: simplicity—such toilets require no plumbing, therefore no holes in the hull, no macerator and no holding tank (hallelujah).
Disadvantages: grossed-out non-sailing guests; issues with bugs if the proper composting medium isn’t used; pee tanks need constant emptying; the “compost” must eventually be disposed of, either legally or illegally (though I’m sure no one reading this would ever do such a thing); cost.
Your boat toilets experts talk about how these latter points were enough to turn me in the other direction; as awful as holding tanks are, plenty of harbors have pump-out vessels that will come to your boat and empty them whenever you like, and in most marinas you can pump out at the fuel dock.
Power to the people
So it was that I decided to replace, rather than eliminate, my existing blackwater system. In the process of measuring the hoses for their replacements, I began to recall all the boats I’d sailed recently that were equipped with electric heads. After 35 years of hand-pumping, perhaps it was time to push a button.
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Not so long ago, electric marine toilets were a bit of a joke; power-greedy, noisy and unreliable. I recall using one that sounded like a blender had mated with a concrete mixer. It put me off the idea for years. But then again, those I’d experienced recently had been relatively noiseless and oh-so-efficient.
The pros and cons were both fairly obvious.
Advantages: compact—macerator built into toilet; typically use less flushing water; push-button convenience; landlubber-friendly; often bigger bowls/seats than manual toilets.
Disadvantages: power draw; noise; complexity (some have two motors); higher cost.
Most manufacturers have several models in their lineups, aimed at either the RV or marine market. These are of varying sophistication, ranging from manual models with electric motors bolted on, to purpose-designed units with single or twin electric pumps—on some models one pump both draws water in and expels waste, while others have a dedicated intake pump as well as a discharge pump.
Look before you buy
Boat shows are the ideal venue to check out this bewildering assortment of thrones, which vary in size from household to midget. You’ll want to make sure that it is feasible to install such a head and its associated plumbing and wiring in your boat; intake and discharge hoses may need to be re-routed, it may be difficult to find a suitable place for one or two remote pumps, and so on.
All else being equal, here are some factors to bear in mind.
Efficiency: the integral macerator pumps in these toilets deal with waste quickly and efficiently. Units with dedicated intake pumps that deliver pressurized water as the macerator pump handles the waste tend to flush more efficiently.
Reliability: in an attempt to find a reason not to go electric, I polled fellow sailors online. It soon became apparent that many commenters who argued against electric toilets had little or no actual experience of them, and were merely parroting the prejudices of others.
The Bottom Line
Winter is the ideal time to embark on such a project. After looking at all the models on offer I went for the Raritan Marine Elegance, which combined a number of desirable features: a near-household-sized bowl with soft-close lid, saltwater intake (freshwater is an option), a powerful macerator concealed in the toilet base, a water trap to prevent holding tank odor from sneaking back through the discharge hose, and quality construction.
The toilet came with the mounting lugs pre-mounted on a sticky template; all I had to do was position it, once I’d confirmed the toilet location, and drill the holes to bolt the lugs down. Then, using the guide supplied in the instructions, I drilled the new holes for the inlet and discharge hoses. This took some concentration, as plumbing and wiring on the other side of the bulkhead had to be moved out of the way.
With the first press of the button, the toilet filled and flushed. The noise was nowhere near as bad as I feared it would be, certainly less intrusive than the sound of midnight pumping; about a 5-7-second press of the button flushes and clears the bowl, which then refills with clean water, whereas the manual toilet needed about 20 pumps to ensure the deposit had cleared the uphill rise of the discharge hose.
So don’t forget these pros and cons you need to consider before buying your next marine toilet. Here are some of the cons: power draw; noise; complexity (some have two motors); higher cost; but don’t forget these pros: compact—macerator built into toilet; typically use less flushing water; push-button convenience; landlubber-friendly; often bigger bowls/seats than manual toilets.
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via Know How: The Marine Head