There are two types of toilet you can use on your narrowboat; there’s the pump out toilet and the cassette toilet (sometimes referred to as a “Porta Potti). Each has advantages and disadvantages but which is best for you?
The Narrowboat Cassette Toilet
The cheapest to buy and maintain is the cassette toilet. It’s basically a toilet seat on a frame secured over a detatchable waste tank. They are compact and reasonably pleasing to the eye. The toilet pictured is the model that I have on my own boat. I inherited one when I bought the boat. I liked the design, capacity and ease of use but I didn’t like the fact that it had been used by someone else so I replaced it with the same model.
This particular model has a 15l flush tank, a 21l waste tank and is roughly cube shaped and 400mm on each side. There are cassette toilets that you can plumb into your boat’s water supply for the flush water but this one has a self contained manual flush.
The advantage of using a cassette toilet is that you don’t have to move your boat to a service point in order to empty your toilet. This needs to be a consideration if you intend to spend much time on your boat over the colder winter months. This winter (2011/2012) has been very mild to date but last year the whole canal system was frozen for six weeks so boats with pump out toilets only had a bit of a problem. There is also the cost element. You can usually empty your cassette free of charge.
The disadvantages of cassette toilets on narrowboats are:
- The weight of the waste cassette: My water tank holds 21l so, when the tank is full it weighs roughly the same as a bag of coal. maneuvering a full cassette around the narrow confines of a narrowboat trying to avoid touching curtains and seat covers is hard work.
- Capacity: If there are two or more of you on board you will probably need to empty your cassette at least every other day. It’s a bit of a pain
- Flushing: The manual flush of most cassette toilets is a bit of a weak affair. In fact, if you don’t mind me being quite candid here, I tend to just use my toilet for having a wee. Flushing anything else along with wads of paper is a bit unpleasant.
The narrowboat pump out toilet
It looks and acts just like a normal toilet. At least the better ones do. All of them have a plastic or stainless steel waste tank very close to the toilet. The tank is often stored in the space under your bed (so when you’re laying in bed on a windy night being rocked to sleep by what you think are waves outside the boat… maybe it’s not waves you hear). Many of the basic pump out toilets simply have a flap at the bottom of the bowl which, when opened, allows the waste to drop straight into the tank. The good thing about this design is that it’s a very simple setup so there’s very little to go wrong. The bad thing is that you can see into the tank and its contents every time you flush the toilet. Handy for checking when the tank is almost full, but not very pleasant.
The more sophisticated toilets may have electric pre flush and post flush plus a macerator for chopping up your unmentionables (which can sometimes get clogged up with dried out toilet paper).
Because pump out toilets have a large waste tank they don’t need emptying so often. A family of four eating and drinking on board all the time though will probably have to empty the tank once a week at a cost of about ?15.
The disadvantages of a pump out toilet are:
- You have to take your boat to a service point so if you can’t move your boat because of bad weather and/or canal or lock restrictions you have a problem
- The cost: Anywhere between ?10 and ?20 each time you want to empty your tank
- Potential for problems: The cassette toilet is a very simple affair with few mechanical parts. The basic ones rarely go wrong. The more high-tech your toilet, the greater the risk.
Whichever toilet you choose, you’ll get much closer to the contents of your toilet than you ever do at home, but you’ll soon get used to it.