Smell Free, Low Maintenance Sanitation System
Updated: Jun 11
Note: I/we are not sponsored by any companies mentioned in this article. We cruise full time on our test bed, SV Confianza, and we enjoy sharing our tests and opinions to give back to the community.
I have been chasing the perfect marine sanitation system for over 10 years.
I did it. I finally achieved a toilet system that has almost no maintenance and no smells!
For those who want the meat without the potatoes, here's what we upgrade to:
Raritan Marine Elengance Toilets with Sea Fresh Option
Groco/Apollo Bronze 3 way valves
If there's one thing that I've put the most time into and made the most mistakes on, it's definitely the sanitation system on S/V Confianza. I don't think there's any other system on the boat that we crave, nay, beg for sound solutions that will give us no fuss and no...smell.
Original Jabsco Toilets Required Constant Fiddling
As a 2004 blue water sailing catamaran, she came with the common Jabsco manual toilets in each of the three heads.
The Jabsco manual heads seem to have a similar reputation among boaters and reviewers. They work, they break, you fiddle with them, break open the rebuild kits, and they soldier on. They are a cost effective option, it's easy to buy spare parts many places in the world, and you will surely need those spares. The rebuild kits aren't terribly expensive, but I have at least 3 open ones with different pieces used.
But with three heads on Confianza, the constant fiddling, leaking, clogging, squeaking, getting stuck, backfilling, and just general gross-ness was wearing my patience for the whole boating experience.
I can understand why they were employed in the first place on a yacht that's meant to cruise the world. In addition to the cost effectiveness and availability of parts, they require no power, which can be of short supply on long passages.
Admittedly, probably half the problems, were my own fault. I installed a joker valve backwards once. I left a seacock closed on the master outlet then ran the tank discharge pump (blew up the discharge pump in the process), let the tank get all the way full too many times (I really need to fix the darn tank monitors), left restricted sanitation lines in service way too long, and many more novice errors and blunders of laziness.
And what it all comes down to, is that I just don't like working on the sanitation system! I don't like maintaining it. I don't like taking it apart when it clogs. And I especially don't like the, "hoooney, I think there's a problem with the toilet again."
Rethinking the Blackwater and Sanitation System
So I had decided to look at the system as a whole and try to solve three main problems:
My first was to replace the toilets with the Raritan Marine Elegance. I had installed one on my last sailboat after seeing it at a boat show, and we used to call it the best upgrade we ever made. It never had issues, the built in macerator helped us never get a clog, and the "household" size bowl felt like a luxury compared to smaller marine heads. For weeks, Angie would say, "You push a button, and it goes away! This is amazing."
Being that I already had a successful experience with the Marine Elegance, it seemed like a good start to our system. I sprung for the SeaFresh option. While it's definitely pricey, it checks a lot of boxes. Using fresh water over salt water will eliminate the sulfer / rotten egg smell that can be created by salt water systems.
I also researched vacuflush systems. But I was fairly quickly disuaded based on the amount of modifcations I would have to make to our own system and the frequent complaints of reliability issues.
Time for New Sanitation Lines - Raritan SaniFlex
Then there's the lines themselves. Confianza has seemingly miles of blackwater lines. And they were all starting to stink. If we were going to change them all, the new lines better be bullet proof.
After guidance from Practical Sailor (additonal update), and, of course, Peggy, we considered the Shields Poly-X and the Raritan SaniFlex. I ultimately chose the Saniflex because I could not fathom all of the heating and bending required for the Poly-X and the extensive blackwater lines system on Confianza.
I did a few of the hoses myself before I ultimately hired someone to finish the job. It ultimately ended up too time consuming. But in the few that I installed myself, the hose was remarkably flexible. Still no smells to this day.
Update: the Jabsco Y valves seem to just not be meant for the pressures of big hoses on bends, and have slow leaks. Even using brand new valves. Will be replacing with the Groco/Apollo Bronze to see if we can eliminate all smells once and for all.
Update #2: We found another source of smell and eliminated it. Our TankWatch 4 holding tank monitors were original to the boat and almost 20 years old. Not only were they no longer functioning, but the gaskets were losing their seal. We replaced the tank monitors for new ones, and we have noticed another improvement.