Marine Toilet Maintenance Tips
Nobody really wants to get too involved with servicing a toilet (or ‘head’ in nautical speak) on a boat, or indeed any toilet for that matter, but a few simple steps can give your toilet a whole new lease of life. There’s also some preventative maintenance that you can do without even getting your hands dirty, so here’s our simple guide to looking after your heads…
SIMPLE TIPS FOR PREVENTING ISSUES
Here’s a few DOs & DON’Ts that should help with preventing issues with your toilet, as prevention is better than cure, right?
- DO Use toilet paper designed for marine toilets. This breaks down easily and prevents blockages.
- DO Put some fresh water in the bowl and flush a bit through the system when leaving the boat - seawater is full of organisms that will start to smell over time.
- DO Check seacocks and pipes when the boat is out of the water - calcification can narrow these, increasing the chances of a blockage in the toilet.
- DON’T Use bleach - this will break seals down inside the toilet and lead to them failing prematurely. Use a dedicated marine toilet cleaner instead.
- DON’T Try and force the handle if you have a blockage - you will more likely crack the toilet base than fix the problem.
- DON’T Leave water in the bowl over winter - if it freezes it can crack the porcelain.
A BASIC SERVICE
A basic service on a manual toilet generally takes about 20 minutes and can be completed with basic hand tools. A service kit will have replacement seals and valves, and this combines with cleaning the components as you go along will keep your toilet working well for years. You will normally need a screwdriver, adjustable spanner, a bowl of warm soapy water to give everything a clean, and don’t forget a pair of gloves. Service kits are available for most brands of toilet, and normally include a diagram and instructions specific to your toilet.
A FULL SERVICE
A full service on a marine toilet generally involves replacing the entire pump unit. This is often actually easier than a basic service as you aren’t really taking anything apart, you just replace the complete unit. This is something that we recommend doing every 5-10 years, or when the pump is showing signs of cracking or scoring on the inner cylinder.
As part of a full service we normally recommend replacing your hoses too - low odour hose can be bought from any Force 4 store by the metre, and is normally ¾” on the inlet and 1½” for the outlet, but measure just to be sure. If your toilet is looking a little tired at this stage too, a new seat and lid can really give it a visual lift, making the whole heads compartment look better.
Many components on a marine toilet can also be bought individually, and if one should fail due to damage or blockage, it’s often useful to know where to start when trying to identify what’s broken. Here’s a few symptoms, and likely fixes:
- Handle won’t go down - This is likely a blockage on the outlet side, check your outlet valve and outlet pipes for a blockage. If this happens on the wet bowl setting, but not the dry bowl, it could be a blocked inlet.
- Handle won’t raise - This is likely a blockage in the base of the toilet, between the bowl and the pump. Remove the pump and inspect. If this happens on the wet bowl setting, but not the dry bowl, it could be a blocked inlet.
- Handle moves, but water won’t drain - This is likely an issue with either the joker valve on the pump exit or the base valve at the bottom of the pump.
- Handle moves but no water comes in - This is most probably an issue with the valves in the top of the pump, remove the top of the pump and inspect the large flat rubber valve/gasket.
- Water comes out of the top of the pump when the handle is raised - most likely the ‘o’ ring seal at the top of the cylinder.
- Toilet fills with water over time - The most likely culprit here is the large flap valve at the base of the pump, but check the joker valve on the pump outlet too.