DIY: In Search of a Push-button, Freshwater Flush - Sail Magazine

DIY: In Search of a Push-button, Freshwater Flush

As part of a general refit of the boat, I wanted to install a toilet that was somewhat more streamlined and—more importantly—used fresh water for flushing. Boat toilets have a reputation for being smelly with a tendency to clog.
Author:
Publish date:
Social count:
0
The new throne, in all its glory

The new throne, in all its glory

The Groco sea toilet on Seaglass was state of the art when the boat was manufactured, but that was 25 years ago. The venerable Groco had started its life as a manual toilet, but at some point in the past it had been upgraded to electric operation by a previous owner. The head still worked, but there were a couple of things I didn’t like about it. All the pipework, for example, was on display below the bowl, giving the installation a rather industrial look and making it hard to clean.

As part of a general refit of the boat, I wanted to install a toilet that was somewhat more streamlined and—more importantly—used fresh water for flushing. Boat toilets have a reputation for being smelly with a tendency to clog. There’s a reason for this bad rap, but it’s not all the toilet’s fault. Correct use and maintenance are critical for the proper operation of any sea toilet. The plumbing hoses must be top quality and yes, nothing should be flushed down the toilet that has not been eaten first.

Nonetheless, the sulfurous smell that is found in many heads and often mistakenly attributed to waste in the tank and pipework, is usually caused by the seawater used for the flush. Seawater contains millions of tiny micro organisms, and as these die and decompose they start to give off that rather evil smell that, sadly, is all too often considered a unavoidable part of life afloat.

Walking the aisles at the Miami boat show earlier this year, I spent some time looking at the offerings from various manufacturers, but one caught my eye. Raritan is well known to many boat owners for its water heaters, but the company also manufactures a range of toilets. After some deliberation I settled on the Elegance model, which can be flushed with seawater, freshwater or a combination of the two. Other options include a straight or sloped back, high or low seat height and a choice of white or bone color. As these toilets are electric flush control there are options here too, from a simple push-to-flush switch to a programmable control. All these options mean that there are few vessels where these toilets could not be used. The macerator pump is built into the back of the toilet, concealed behind the china, and as if this were something from a Star Wars movie, it has what Raritan calls “Vortex Vac flush technology,” which chops up waste and pushes it into the holding tank more effectively. Who knew sea toilets had become so sophisticated?

After some careful measurements—electric toilets usually take up more room than manual versions, and you want to make sure they’ll fit—I opted for the white low-seat model with freshwater flush and programmable control. The other thing that I had not considered until my wife pointed it out to me is that the toilet looks and works just like the one at home and does not require an engineering degree to flush—it’s great for non-sailing guests, because you simply tell them where to press the button. The electronic control takes care of the rest, and there is no more “move the little lever to this position, give five strokes, close the lever then pump 10 more times.”

The installation took me three days in total which included stripping out the old head and pipework, making good the fiberglass pedestal base that the head sits on, and then installing the new toilet, plumbing and electrical connections. This is a fairly advanced DIY project, and you need to be confident of your skills. However, providing that you have a decent tool kit, patience and a methodical approach, it is within the reach of a skilled amateur. Every boat is unique of course and circumstances differ, so although the final result may be similar the method may be slightly different to what you see here. Here’s how I did it. (Many thanks to the folks at Raritan, especially Dale Weatherstone.)

The old head worked, but it leaked, was noisy, used sea water for flushing and I disliked the exposed plumbing, so it had to go.

Step one was to turn off the power and close the seawater intake. As I was installing new plumbing and electrical wiring, I simply cut these out of the way. The raw-water intake pipe was cut off adjacent to the intake seacock, which was later repurposed for an anchor seawater washdown.

I disconnected the waste pipe from behind the bowl. Although this was being replaced, I did not want to simply cut it as I had no idea what treats might be lurking inside!

With the bowl free of all connections, I unbolted it from the pedestal and removed it from the boat.

I now had a free space, and although the new head would be going into the same position as the old toilet, the holes through the fiberglass for the water intake and waste hoses were in the wrong place. They had to be filled and gelcoated and this was done later. The new toilet was placed into position so I could check that there was proper clearance for the seat to open correctly.

Once I was confident the toilet was in the right place, I made a pencil mark around the perimeter and at the centerline of the bolt holes to correctly align the stainless steel mounting bracket.

After double-checking my measurements I bolted the bracket in position in accordance with the instructions. The pencil line previously drawn around the base and at the hole centerlines is required for this step as a setback measurement is required from these marks.

I had to drill extra holes for the water intake, waste and electric wiring. Sizes are given in the instructions, and a sharp hole saw makes short work of this job. If the pedestal is close to the hull be careful not to drill too far and go through the bottom of the boat!

Connecting up the electrics is straightforward, but you must follow the instructions with regard to wire sizing. I installed the electronic relay in the locker behind the head. This black box is wired differently depending on how your particular toilet is configured. There are connections for a tank level monitor and automatic start for a Lectrasan or other sanitation treatment tank if your vessel is so equipped.

As I was installing the fancy programmable control I chose a position on the side of the vanity. A 11/2in hole was needed for this, so I drilled a 1/16in pilot hole first to give the the hole saw’s guide drill something to follow. The vanity is very slippery and drilling a pilot hole ensures that the large drill will not slip and mar the finish.

I mounted the control using the supplied mounting screws and then ran the cat 5 cable to the black box and plugged in. I was careful to ensure that all wiring connections were secure, using crimped connectors where appropriate and neatly clipping back cables to prevent them from sagging.

With the wiring complete I turned my attention to the plumbing. As I was installing a fresh water flush I had to tee into the cold water feed to the heads faucet. My boat is plumbed in PEX style semi-rigid piping so this was a fairly easy job. Had I been using a raw-water flush model I would have simply replaced the hose that runs to the seacock.

I had to wrestle the waste hose down through the pedestal and through a bulkhead into the engine bay before finally connecting it to the waste holding tank. A helper would definitely have made this job easier, but I finally prevailed. I used new sanitation hose from Raritan, which I ordered with the toilet—do not be tempted to use flexible corrugated hose made for water tanks. It may be easier to run in, but it will smell and trap waste.

I connected the hoses to the back of the toilet using new pipe clamps, then turned on the water and checked for leaks. You can just about make out the screwdriver tightening up the water supply hose clamp. At this stage the toilet bowl is also finally bolted to its bracket, but you need to be careful as over-tightening will crack the china. Now turn the power back on, and if all is well the toilet should flush.

The finished job, neat and tidy with no ugly pipes on show.

RESOURCES

Raritan raritaneng.com

Jabsco xylemflowcontrol.com

Dometic dometicsanitation.com

Thetford thetford.com

Related

180615-01 Lead

A Dramatic Comeback in the Volvo

After winning three of the last four legs in the Volvo Ocean Race (and coming in second in the fourth), Dutch-flagged Brunel is now tied for first overall with Spanish-flagged Mapfre and Chinese-flagged Dongfeng following the completion of Leg 10 from Cardiff, Wales, to ...read more

MFS-5-2018-Propan-SP02

Tohatsu LPG-powered 5hp Propane Motor

Gassing it UpTired of ethanol-induced fuel issues? Say goodbye to gasoline. Japanese outboard maker Tohatsu has introduced an LPG-powered 5hp kicker that hooks up to a propane tank for hours of stress-free running. Available in short-, long- or ultra-long-shaft versions, the ...read more

TOTW_PromoSite

SAIL's Tip of the Week

Presented by Vetus-Maxwell.Got a tip? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.comThink Deeply When chartering, I am always maddened to be told that the echo sounder is calibrated “to depth under the keel, plus a bit for safety.” Such operators seem to imagine that the instrument’s sole ...read more

180612-01 Landing lead

Painful Sailing in Volvo Leg 10

It’s looking to be a case of feast or famine for the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean fleet as it continues the epic struggle that has been Leg 10, with it having been all famine thus far. Painful is the only word to describe the light-air start in Cardiff, Wales, on June 10, as the 11-boat ...read more

01-13_07_180304_JRE_03695_4605

Tips From the Boatyard

Within the Volvo Ocean Race Boatyard sits a communal sail loft which provides service and repairs for all seven teams sailing in the 2017-18 edition of the race. The sail loft employs only five sailmakers who look after 56 sails in each stopover. If you’re thinking, “wow, these ...read more

sailCarwBasicsJuly18

Sail Care for Cruisers

Taking care of your canvas doesn’t just save you money, it’s central to good seamanship  Knowing how to take care of your sails and how to repair them while at sea is an important part of overall seamanship. The last thing any sailor needs is to get caught on a lee shore with ...read more

Ship-container-2048

The Danger of a Collision Offshore

This almost happened to me once. I was sailing singlehanded between Bermuda and St. Martin one fall, and one night happened to be on deck looking around at just the right time. The moon was out, the sky was clear and visibility was good. Still, when I thought I saw a large ...read more

New-MHS-Promo

Multihulls on the Horizon

Fountaine Pajot New 42The French cat powerhouse has been on a roll these last few years, cranking out new models that not only replace their older line but take a step forward in design and user-friendliness. The New 42’s “real” name had not been revealed as we went to press, but ...read more