“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

Winter Liveaboards – Water & Waste


There is one subject that seems to come up in conversation whenever cruisers or liveaboards get together: poop.  More maturely known as the blackwater systems on boats or marine sanitation system.

For those not familiar with marine sanitation systems, there is a bowl (similar to that in a house but much smaller) that is typically connected to a hand pump that will pump the waste through a 1.5-inch diameter hose into a holding tank.  These systems are subject to clogging, odors and other problems if not properly installed, maintained and operated. So much so that a few boaters I know have removed the systems from their boat in favor of just using a bucket.

bucket toilet

Photo from here.

The holding tank can be emptied by another pump, typically a macerator pump that grinds up the contents to less than 1/4 of an inch, that discharges into the water around the boat.  It is illegal to discharge that tank within three (3) miles of shore.  You can also empty the tank by pumping out the contents using a pumpout facility at a marina.  In some areas there are mobile pumpout units on boats that will come to you, making it convenient and easy to legally manage your waste.  Sadly, there are many boaters that don’t follow this rule and will illegally discharge their waste wherever they are. This in one of the main reasons I won’t swim at marinas (stray current from incorrectly wired boats and dock power is the other reason).

When we looked at marina options as winter liveaboards, how they handled the waste was one of the factors we considered.  Many of the marinas that offer winter liveaboards don’t have a plan for the management of waste.  When we looked at Constitution Marina this was a question we put to the management.  They have a pumpout boat that operates year round.  During the winter they come around every Monday and Friday to pump you out.

One problem with winter pump outs is the shrink wrap.  In most cases the wrap will prevent access to the deck plate for the holding tank.  Constitution Marina offers an attachment that will move this point to the outside of the shrink wrap.  You can simply purchase the connector from them, for around $100 IIRC. I made my own since I have easy access to the materials from work.  The adapter is really just a 1.5″ MNPT by 1.5″ barb that threads into the deck plate for the waste pump out, some 1.5″ hose (enough to get outside the shrink wrap), a 1.5″ barb by male CAM fitting and a cap.  It cost me about $25 and took maybe 10 minutes to assemble.  Now the pumpout guy can empty our tank with the shrink wrap in place.

For water, Constitution Marina winterizes their normal water lines on the dock.  They would freeze and burst if they tried to keep them open. So to keep water flowing in the winter they run new water lines that they sink into the water.  The water down at a depth of 6 feet doesn’t get cold enough freeze.  They place “Y” connectors every slip so you can connect your hose.  They tie a line around the hose at the connectors and you can haul the hose up onto the dock to connect to it.

There are two ways to get the water from this submerged hose to your boat.  The route most of the power boaters go is to run a hose from the “Y” connector into their boat, cover the hose with insulation and some heat tape to keep the line from freezing.  They now actually make a product all setup for this that you can just buy but it’s not cheap, a 25-foot hose will cost you about $100.  The downside of this approach is that if your system fails or the marina loses power, you could end up with a frozen line.  Worse yet, the frozen water can creep down the hose to the main line and freeze the line on everyone else on your dock.  This is added to the potential to flood your boat should the line ever burst.  I am not a fan of what is know as city water connections on boats.

The second way is to attach a hose to the “Y” connector and on the outlet end of the hose put a valve and a cap.  Tie a line around this end of the hose and then sink it.  When you need water you simply pull up your line, connect it to your tanks and fill.  When your done, sink the line again to avoid freezing.  This setup is a little more work but worth it in my opinion.  To make this easier I took another cue from Andrew on Solace.  I ran a hose down the boom and front support beam inside of some PVC pipe.  The purpose of the pipe is to have the hose maintain a constant downward slope without having any dips where water could collect and freeze.  The hose crests at the mast with the forward section being pitch towards the tank fill and the aft section being pitched towards the stern.  There is enough extra hose to get out onto the dock and reach the line that is in the water.  We are actually sharing a line with Andrew for the winter.  Andrew put quick connectors on the end and we have some of the same brand connectors so we can just attach our hose.  We use the Camco TastePURE water filter as a prefilter for what goes in our tank (something I was able to introduce Andrew to for once).

A bit of a tangled mess.  I fixed that after taking this photo.

A bit of a tangled mess. I fixed that after taking this photo.

IMG_2722For the deck plate side, I made a direct connection.  Using a 1″ by 0.75″ plastic bushing and a 0.75″ by garden hose bushing I made a direct connection to the stainless steel deck plate.  I drilled a hole in this connection to allow for air to escape while filling and as an indicator.  When the tank is fill water pours out the hole.  One downside to this system is that you have to turn the whole thing on very slowly or you get too much cavitation in the inlet and water starts coming out the air hole immediately.  But if you turn it on slowly you can eventually get it up to full force.  The other downside is that the pre-filter is really in the wrong place.  It should be right before you go into the tank but the filter says to protect from freezing.  By the way, one way we protect from freezing is to blowout the filter after each use.

IMG_2724It’s not a bad system.  It takes a few minutes of extra work to connect the hose and fill the tank but it’s not bad.  Way better than lugging jugs of water down to the boat.



3 thoughts on “Winter Liveaboards – Water & Waste

  1. Been thinking about you guys in this cold….brrr!

  2. I think all your recent posts have convinced me not to live aboard where the water can become a solid. 😉 Interesting to read about the processes though.


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