Marine Toilet Systems: A Deep Dive into Function, Pros, and Cons

When setting sail for a seafaring adventure, one factor that's often overlooked until it's too late is the onboard marine toilet system. Choosing the right system for your vessel is a vital aspect of your voyage's comfort, efficiency, and sustainability. In this post, we'll explore various types of marine toilets, assessing their advantages, disadvantages, maintainability, and user-friendliness. Let's flush out the details.

First things first - maritime toilets use saltwater. That means salt is everywhere, and when the pump and valves are too clogged, flushing gets - literally - harder! Service the system regularly every 4 weeks with white vinegar. Now let's check the different systems, and have that in mind when you shop your next Yacht. We are fans of simple things, means we use manual toilets in the cabins and a electric one in the owner's suite. Why? No electricity, no flushing - than we use the cabin ones ;) 

Toilets on yachts

Manual Pump Toilets

A time-tested favorite among seasoned sailors, manual pump toilets use a hand or foot pump to flush the toilet.


Simplicity: These systems are straightforward in their operation, making them easier to repair when something goes wrong.

Independence: Manual pump toilets do not rely on electricity, a factor that can be crucial on long voyages or in emergencies.


Physical Effort: The need to manually pump the toilet can become tiresome, especially in rough seas.

Maintenance: They require regular servicing, including replacing seals and valves.

Electric Toilets

Electric toilets are a common choice for modern sailors looking for convenience. They operate in a similar way to home toilets and can be flush or macerator types.


Ease of Use: The push-button operation makes these toilets easy and convenient to use.

Better Waste Management: Macerator types grind waste into slurry, making it easier to pump out or process further.


Electricity Dependent: They rely on the boat's power system, which could be a problem if there's a power failure.

Complexity: The electric mechanism can be more complex to repair compared to manual systems.

Vacuum Toilets

These are similar to the toilets you'll find on airplanes and some modern RVs. They use a small amount of water and a vacuum pump to flush waste into a holding tank.


Water Efficiency: Vacuum toilets use a minimal amount of water per flush, which is beneficial on a boat where water supply can be limited, as example on RIB's or motor boats.


Complexity: Vacuum toilets are complex systems, and repairing them can be difficult.

Power Consumption: They use a fair amount of electrical power, which may be a concern on energy-conscious vessels.

Odors: The vacuum seal mostly help to prevent odors from spreading into the rest of the boat, but most vacuum toilets have vacuum holding problems, that stinks!

Composting Toilets

Composting toilets are a newer, more eco-friendly solution. They separate solid and liquid waste. Solids are mixed with a composting medium, like sawdust, while liquids are typically held separately for disposal.


Eco-friendly: Composting toilets are environmentally friendly as they produce compost that can be disposed of onshore.

No Plumbing Needed: They require no water or complex plumbing for installation and operation.


Maintenance: Regular maintenance is needed to remove waste and replenish the composting medium.

Space Requirements: They can be larger than traditional marine toilets, potentially posing an issue on smaller boats.

Waste Disposal: The Reality of Untreated Sewage

One inevitable aspect of life aboard is the handling of untreated sewage. Contrary to what you might initially think, marine toilets don't just flush waste out into the sea. In fact, there are strict rules in place when it comes to waste disposal at sea to protect marine ecosystems.

So, when can you legally and responsibly dump untreated sewage? According to international maritime law, you can discharge untreated sewage when you are more than 12 nautical miles from the nearest land and in water deeper than 100 meters. This ensures that the waste is sufficiently diluted and dispersed, minimizing its impact on the environment.

How does the process work? Most marine toilets flush waste into an onboard holding tank. When you're at the appropriate distance from shore, you can open a valve to empty the tank directly into the sea. Remember, though, that the regulations can vary depending on your location and the type of boat you have, so always ensure you're up to date with the laws that apply to your circumstances.

But it's not just about legalities. As sailors, we have a responsibility to protect the oceans that provide us with such incredible adventures. This includes managing our waste in the most environmentally friendly way possible. By following regulations and using the most suitable marine toilet system, we can help maintain the health and beauty of our seas for future generations to enjoy.

Toilet Paper: The Thin Line between Convenience and Chaos

When it comes to using a marine toilet system, there's one detail that often slips under the radar, with potentially messy consequences - the toilet paper. This household essential can lead to a string of issues if the wrong type is used on a boat.

Unlike at home, where you might prefer the plush comfort of luxury, triple-ply toilet paper, on a boat, less is definitely more. That's right, the thin, cheap stuff is the best bet for a marine environment. While it might not feel as indulgent, the benefits far outweigh this minor inconvenience.

Why Thin and Cheap?

Quick Dissolving: The greatest advantage of thin, cheap toilet paper is that it dissolves quickly. This drastically reduces the risk of clogs and other problems.

Reduced Waste: Less substantial toilet paper also means less waste to manage, which is always a plus on a boat.

Of course, everyone has different preferences when it comes to toilet paper, but keep in mind, the potential for clogged pipes and the nightmare of mid-voyage repairs. A bit of discomfort is a small price to pay for the peace of mind of a smoothly functioning marine toilet system.

Marine toilet systems are an integral part of the design of your vessel. Understanding the pros and cons of each system can help you make an informed decision and ensure smooth sailing—literally!

Stay tuned for more tips and insights into the sailing lifestyle. Until next time, may your seas be calm and your toilet paper thin!

Fair winds and following seas, until our next post!