Water Works and Waste Management 101

In keeping with this past weeks bathroom humor, I thought I might describe one of the other routines that one has to endure while living aboard especially in the winter in Canada: water and waste management.

If you want have water available at the sink and if you want to be able to use the John in the middle of the night, you will have to figure out a way of filling the water tank and emptying the holding tank. Once every 7 to 10 days I haul in about 20 gallons of water and haul out about 17 gallons of waste. I use the two wheel cart supplied by the marina and fill the water tank using two five gallon jugs. I fill them in the laundry room and drain them into the deck fill hole to fill the tank. Others at the marina here run out water hoses to fill their tanks, but I believe that they have much bigger tanks. Its Ok filling a 20 gallon tank by hand, I don’t want to imagine filling a 200 gallon tank.

The waste is another issue. We decided to keep our head working for the winter. Other live aboards here do not – they use the marina rest room exclusively. That means, in the middle of the night, in the middle of a snow storm, they have to troop out to the bathroom. Not for me. We use the head for liquid waste only so that limits some of the odours.

Our boat originally came with only a deck mounted pump out hole. This is no use in the winter as we do not have a pump to pump it out there, nor do we have any way of collecting it on deck even if we could. Instead, I installed a diverter switch and a hand pump on the side wall of the head that allows me to pump out the holding tank by hand into a jug. I then lug the jug up to the restroom in the marina and pour it down the toilets. It takes four trips to empty the tank completely (5 gallon jug loads at a time).
Here is a picture of my set up. As you can see, the diverter switch on the left allows me to switch between the deck pump out and the hand pump. The hand pump is attached to about a 4 foot hose that I put into the jug and then pump the handle. This type of pump will pump solid waste as well as liquid so, if we ever have need, we can use it for that as well. We add waste tank deodorizer stuff to the toilet every couple of days to keep away odours which also helps during the pump out. With fans running there is very little smell during the procedure although I usually still have A. and the boy go off for a walk while I take care of business. The first time I did this, I really wondered to myself about why I was in the situation where I had to haul crap by hand, but now it is just one of the things that has to be done to live the life we live. It doesn’t bother me a bit now.


  • Strathy

    Thanks for the comment.

    Sounds like you guys might need to keep your heads above water too – if the Red River keeps rising. (40 Ford is from Manitoba where the Red River is rising to flood stage.) You might need to buy a sailboat too. Remember, everyone laughed at Noah – you would be in with good company.

  • Grammy's roses

    Just think I have lived?? all these years and not had all these experiences. Oh well, I’ll be content to let you live it and I’ll read about it!

  • Anonymous

    Your hauling crap sort of reminds me of the ol’ cabin days – when we used to empty the portapotty and dig a hole and bury it in the bush…why was it that all three of us headed into the bush to take care of business?? hmmmmm…..the ol’ anal fixation we are famous for?? ha ha !

    We may flood out here and it is raining as I write this….luvderubbla…glub..glub

  • Strathy

    Dear S. Blew,

    Really the only reason I was there was to see how it looked when we poured it out. What was your excuse? I was always amazed at how tall and lush the grass was there. Wonder how that spot in the bush looks now.

    Anally yours,


  • Tillerman

    After reading this account of the joys of living aboard I am finally beginning to see the attraction. All these years I have been missing such pleasures …

  • Joey M

    I’ve wondered before what happens to waste on a boat. So you pump it out at dump it at a facility, like a RV. Are the rules different if you are out at sea? Is it considered littering if you have to get rid of waste in the middle of the Atlantic?

  • strathy

    Hey Joey,

    My understanding is that if you are out in the Atlantic, once you are
    a certain distance from shore (I’m not sure how many miles it is…)
    you can dump your waste overboard.

    I’ve never sailed the Atlantic, but would love to someday. Here on
    the Great Lakes it is definitely not OK to dump waste overboard.

  • chuck

    well to say the least iam very impressed with everything you have to say about living on a boat….that is just where i,m headed in the next few months , just have to sell the house…having said that maybe you can give me an idea of other marina,s that you can stay at all yr.? any help would be great and trust me when i say i,m going to take alot of your advices..
    thaaks chuck

  • Jerry

    Most of the marinas state side will not let you pour waste into their toilets do to all the spillage and splashing that never gets cleaned up.

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