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Life on a narrowboat can be as peaceful as it is idyllic BUT you need to understand the pros, cons, highs, lows, and day to day logistics in living on England's inland waterways. Let me help you find out all you need to know before you commit to what could be a very expensive mistake.

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How Do I Pump Out My Narrowboat Toilet

Living on a narrowboat draws you closer to nature and the pleasures of a simple uncluttered life. Unfortunately the simple life also brings you closer to your toilet and its contents. It’s one of the few unpleasant aspects of life on board but you soon get used to it. Here are a few tips to make sure that emptying your toilet tank goes according to plan.

There are two types of toilet on a narrowboat. The cassette toilet (often referred to as a “Porta Potti”) and the “pump out” toilet.

The cassette toilet has a conventional toilet bowl where you sit or stand to deliver your waste and a removable container beneath the toilet which collects the waste. With this type of toilet you simply keep an eye on the level of the waste in the container and then remove it to empty the contents in a dedicated disposal point either by the side of the canal or in a marina or boatyard which offers waste disposal.

The pump out toilet is more like a conventional house toilet. The liquid and solid toilet waste is stored in a large (sealed) holding tank on your boat which requires emptying every two to three weeks depending on how much you use it.

Most marinas offer a pump out facility and will charge from about ?10 for a self-service pump out to ?15 or more for a pump out by one of their staff.

The process is straightforward but must be adhered to. A hose attached to a powerful pump is attached to draw the waste out. A hose is also attached either to an external rinse point or directly into the toilet bowl if there is no external point. The rinse water is introduced to help swill out the holding tank but MUST NOT be turned on until the waste removal hose has started drawing out the waste. If your tank is full to start with and you turn on the rinse hose before the pumping out has started, you will flood your boat with waste. You have been warned!

There is a sight glass on the pump out head hose which allows you to check whether waste is still being drawn out of your boat. As the hose draws the waste out faster than the rinse water goes in, you will eventually see through the glass that the liquid has ceased flowing. At this point you turn off the flow on the waste hose but leave the rinse water to flow into the holding tank for a few minutes. If you rock your boat gently at this stage you will swill the rinse water around the holding tank. Turn the flow on the waste hose back on and check the sight glass. If the liquid is clear the tank is clean(ish) and you have finished. If the liquid is still dark, repeat the rinse process several times.

The whole process should take no longer than 10-20 minutes depending on the volume in the tank. You’ll soon get used to it. Just remember to wash your hands when you’ve finished!

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Paul Smith

After six and a half years living on a narrowboat on England's inland waterways, Paul and his wife Cynthia now wander Europe by motorhome during the winter, and on the Dutch and French waterways in the warmer months on their 32' Dutch motor cruiser.

  • megsally Monday,6 February, 2012 at 7:19 pm

    We do self pump out, with a kit obtained from Chandlery, a bit expensive but has been very useful as where we ar moored at the moment it’s a 4/5 hr trip to empty it

    • rosebud Friday,13 April, 2012 at 10:29 pm

      Where do you despocse of the waste then if not at a proper site?

  • pantramp Friday,8 June, 2012 at 10:08 am

    i am just wondering where do you empty your self pump out waste if you are 4hrs from a station

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