29 December 2006 | Normans Cay
So I'm sitting on the beach at Normans Cay and I started thinking about toilets. Marine toilets in particular. Having nine people on your boat can bring these sorts of reveries about.
When we were looking at boats, one of our "nice to haves" was fresh water toilets. We have chartered a fair amount and sailed in a lot of friend's boats and one of the most disgusting parts of the experience is the smell of a nasty marine sanitation device. The explanation routinely provided for this maleficent odor is that the many critters suspended in the salt water bite the big one when left floating in the bowl or stranded in the hoses. The human waste is long gone (and frankly much more fragrant in most cases) when this aroma takes over. Now, to paint a picture, take someone with a tad less than an iron stomach, send them to an enclosed space below decks in rough weather, and for the topping, throw in a few whiffs of stock marine sanitation device. The reaction is swift and violent. Who wouldn't want fresh water toilets?
Toilets are yet another item on my full circle list. First let me debunk the most important myth: salt water marine toilets do not have to smell bad. It is true that all salt water marine toilets that sit and brew dead plankton for two months before anyone opens the lid stink to high heaven. Stop brewing the plankton and you stop the smell.
I am incredibly glad that we did not get fresh water toilets. If you are cruising, you live on your boat. If you live on your boat, you use the heads regularly. If you have nine people on your boat, you use the heads non stop. Not one of the four heads on our boat smells. They all get used constantly so there is never a problem with stinky fermented sea water.
On the other hand, I shutter to think of the fresh water that would be wasted if we had switched our configuration. Fresh water is expensive out in the wide world. Few islands have natural sources of fresh water and it is still relatively expensive to make these days. Most places in the Bahamas want $0.50 per gallon. Worse yet, what happens when you're out of fresh water!?
Our boat has a Spectra Newport 4000 which makes about 16 gallons of water an hour. It's a DC unit which is the only way to go IMHO. Everything critical on a boat is (and should be) DC. Your batteries are DC, diesel auxiliaries output DC, solar and wind output DC, even your charger makes DC out of shore power or genset AC. I can't imagine firing up the genset while underway to use the water maker. It is also such a power hog that I can't imagine adding the inefficiency of an inverter to the power toll. Our Newport easily draws 20 amps of DC and it has a Clark pump. So while we have plenty of fresh water when it is the two of us, and we have enough when it is nine, I certainly don't want to flush it down the toilet.
If you're cruising, get salt water toilets! If you use them there will be no smell. When only Hideko and I are aboard, we use a different toilet every time to make sure that they're all circulating (we don't have a checklist or anything). I suppose it is nice to have four heads but two would be fine I think.
Now if you are going to buy a boat and leave it in a marina all its life, or just take it out on weekends here and there, by all means go with fresh water if you like. The heads will smell great when you return to the boat and you can stick a hose in the water tank every time you get ready to go out.
My final thought here has to do with power versus electric. We have electric salt water heads. This is a nice combination. It is not quite so alien to guests as the big pump handle, although you still have to brief them on the fill/use/flush/empty routine. That said the macerators on our heads draw 10 amps. They aren't used that often (unless you have nine people on board) but it is one more thing that needs power and wiring and I'm praying every day that they don't break down! I certainly wouldn't get anything exotic in this arena.
Are electric toilets worth it? I'm still on the fence here. I think if I had only one toilet I would have a manual one. If you have one head, it needs to be very reliable. A good manual toilet is hard to beat there. On the other hand we have four toilets. If one breaks I have three to go. Hard to imagine we'll ever get that unlucky. I think in retrospect that I would have rather had our day head be manual and the ensuite heads power. That way we have a work horse around for hard times and the luxury of power when appropriate. It is not a big enough deal that I am going to change anything however. It is nice to have everything the same from a spares and maintenance stand point.