Toilet paper is shown with a question mark beside it in this file image.

Can You Flush Toilet Paper On A Boat?

So, you’re going out on a boat and you really can’t hold it.  There’s a small bathroom but can you flush the toilet paper? How do these things work on a boat anyway?  Can you flush toilet paper on a boat?

Most boat’s marine toilets, also called a ‘head’, are able to take small amounts of toilet paper.  It is best to use thin, biodegradable paper to help avoid the possibility of clogging the system. After all, calling a plumber out to a boat can be costly.  And fixing it yourself can be kind of gross to say the least.

Let’s take a look at the different kinds of toilets that are found on boats and a little about how they work.  That way you know what you’re getting into if you happen to be looking to add, replace, or upgrade an existing head.  But, more than likely you’re just curious, as I was, about how these things work. So, join me on this journey into the loo, as they say in jolly old.  Let’s chat a bit about how the toilet on a boat is going to differ from your boat back home.

How A Marine Toilet Differs From Your Toilet Back Home

The whole concept with any marine toilet is that they are not hooked up to a sewage system or a septic system like a house is.  You have to be conservative with its use and with flushing anything you don’t have to. If it’s a portable (cassette) toilet, you’ll need to empty it by carrying the tank on shore to be dumped at the approved site.  You don’t just flush and walk away like it was someone else’s business, not like you can at home.

The other consideration with marine toilets is that they can not only get clogged easily, but they also use considerably less water than your toilet at home.  That means two things. First, it won’t be as much stored in the waste tank. Second, there won’t be as much water to clean the bowl with every flush. So, that means you have to clean it more than you would your toilet at home.

The takeaway here is that if it’s a portable (cassette) toilet, then use as sparingly as possible as it needs to be emptied by hand.  

Pump-out toilets are a bit better, but the tank will still need to be emptied at some point.  This is usually done by the boat captain or owner, and not as frequently as a cassette toilet.  But, we should jump into what each of these toilets is and a bit about how each works.

Different Types of Marine Toilets

On most smaller vessels which have an onboard toilet, there are only a few common types that are readily available.  I’ll go over a few of these, but if you want a really in-depth look down the pipes, take a look at my article on catamaran bathrooms.  

With all the toilet paper craziness as of late, I felt it fitting to write this boating article. #summer #boating

Posted by Jeremy Shantz on Monday, April 6, 2020

To give you the basic run-down, there’s two major groups of washroom toilets you’re going to find on a boat.  The first is called a cassette toilet. These have a removable storage tank that you have to physically remove and haul onshore to empty.

The second type is known as a pump-out toilet.  Just as the name sounds, these toilets have a holding tank of some sort that requires either manual or powered emptying.  There are some oddball new recycling types as well, and I’ll get into each a bit more. Here’s a run-down of the types you might run into on your journeys out on the water in a smaller boat.

Cassette Toilets

Cassette toilets are small toilets that have a removable tank under the bowl where the waste is stored.  They are small, usually relatively inexpensive with the bulk of models coming in at between $100 and $300 dollars, with a few coming in at closer to $1000.  Take a look at the recommendations page for some models I recommend. I also added a few to this page, so you can see what each looks like. Here are a couple of examples from Amazon and eBay.

A top-rated portable toilet from Amazon is shown in this file photo.

Here’s the top-rated portable toilet from Amazon.  The price fluctuates but it usually comes in at around a hundred dollars.  It’s fairly comfortable and easy to use. This particular unit is pretty good at holding the smell back, but be sure to bring some air freshener just in case.

A portable cassette toilet as found on eBay is shown in this file photo.
A portable cassette toilet as found on eBay.

Here is another portable cassette toilet.  This model is found on eBay and although I don’t own one myself, I have used this model while on a boat and found it to be quite effective.  Again, you’ll want some air freshener, but that’s the case with any portable toilet. This one is pretty decent though, as far as portable toilets go, for holding back the smell.

Pump-Out Toilets

Pump-out toilets use a separate holding tank that does not get removed like the portable toilets waste tank does.  The pump out toilet is set up in conjunction with a waste tank and a water tank. The water tank adds water for the flushing mechanism and the waste tank holds the waste.  The toilet is ‘flushed’ by operating the pump feature either manually or electrically. Most pump-out toilets are set up directly above the tank so gravity and a small pump for the water is used.

These types of toilets are typically permanent installations on boats. The pump-out toilet is the most common type of permanent toilet solution found on most boats with an equipped washroom.

The toilet itself is relatively inexpensive, but the installation including the tank can be much more money due to being fairly labor intensive.  You want to make sure it’s installed correctly, for obvious reasons. Here are a few models from Amazon that rate well with those who have purchased them.

Manual Pump Toilets

There are two types of pump-out toilets, or marine head as they are often called.  The first is the manual pump-out. This type uses a manual pump to provide the flushing action.  The toilet is easy to use and pumps the waste either into a holding tank, or overboard (depending on how it’s setup, and where the boat is located, of course).  You can see a few of the manual models in the Amazon strip above. They are the ones with the black handle to one side of the toilet bowl.

Electric Pump Toilets

Electric pump toilets are just like the manual toilet with a big exception.  They use an electric pump in place of using your own power to pump a handle up and down to flush.  In essence, the electric pump toilets are the most similar to your toilet back at home in that they provide a minimal amount of work to operate.  

These toilets again dispose typically into a holding tank, but can also discharge overboard, just like the manual pump toilet.  Make sure you abide by dumping laws though, it’s a huge fine if you dump overboard in inland waters or within several miles of the coast, if memory serves.

Composting Toilets

Nature's Head composting toilet is shown in this file photo.

The above picture shows my personal preference for a composting toilet for a boat.  Nature’s Head Self Contained Composting Toilet (from Amazon) with close quarters spider handle design is perfect for an environmentally conscientious boater.  These toilets are easy to set up on your boat and there’s no problem running a vent off the side to keep the smell down.  

Here’s a few more composting toilets from Amazon that are also highly rated.

Summary

That’s pretty much it for the three main types of marine heads you’ll run into on smaller vessels.  And yes, you can flush toilet paper on a boat, just don’t go crazy on the amount.  But, there are a few things you’ll want, even if you are going on someone else’s boat.  Take a look at a few of the things I recommend for your bathroom adventures.

Recommended Additional Gear

Using a portable toilet when you go camping?  Make it a portable outhouse with one of these pop up privacy portable outhouse or shower tents.

“I recommend these tents.  I’ve used both of these models and they work great, especially in bug season.  Just one catch. Bring an Air Freshener.” Farmer Jer

Portable Bathrooms

There’s nothing like bringing along a portable toilet on a small boat and there’s no bathroom.  Well, fear not because you can bring a pop-up tent bathroom with you!

Wolfwise portable bathroom tent is shown in this file photo.
The Wolfwise portable bathroom is a fantastic idea.

The WolfWise Pop Up Privacy Shower Tent Portable Outdoor Sun Shelter Camp Toilet Changing Dressing Room as found on AmazonWhat a great idea.  Just pop up your own personal privacy shower or bathroom anywhere you want.  Bring your portable toilet and you’re all set.

The Wolfwise portable bathroom tent with full sun view roof mesh venting system.  A highly reviewed and accomplished tent is shown in this file photo.
Wolfwise has wise venting.

Talking about ventilation, no need to worry about keeping the air flow going.  The venting on the Wolfwise Pop Up Privacy Tent is fantastic to say the least. I really like this tent.  It takes my top pick for a privacy tent for a portable bathroom. And it’s so quick to set up, you can bring your bathroom anywhere you can carry it.

Features:

  • Portable and lightweight at only 4.8 lbs
  • UPF 50+ & Water Repellent
  • Spacious at 47.2” x 47.2” x 74.8” tall.  Plenty of room.
  • Comes with a side bag and even a clothesline.

Another fine portable bathroom tent as found on eBay, is shown in this file photo.
Another fine portable bathroom tent as found on eBay.

The other portable bathroom tent that I’ve also tried I found on eBay.  It’s another good quality, easy to assemble and lightweight portable bathroom for the discerning adventurer.


Air Fresheners For Portable Toilets

Yeah, these are a good idea with any of the models of boating marine heads you go with.

Marine Grade Toilet Paper

Whether it’s your boat, or someone else’s, be a good traveler and bring some dissolving RV & Marine Toilet Tissue from Amazon.  This stuff works well and helps keep the boat from getting clogged up pipes. And, it’s soft. That’s the important thing, that it’s nice and soft.  

Marine Grade Ultra Soft Toilet Paper from Amazon is my choice for toilet paper when I go boating or RV’ing. The last thing you need is to be out on day one or two with clogged pipes. There goes your time out on the water when that happens. Trust only marine grade toilet paper and keep your pipes clean and clear.

For more recommended gear, take a look at my recommended boating gear pages.

Take a look at the Boating Guide Magazine’s

RECOMMENDED Boating Gear

You’ll find everything from Fish Trackers and GPS to anchors and tow ropes. We have either owned and tested or have a close friend who owns and has tested the products and services we recommend. There is no crap recommended on Boating Guide Magazine, we stand by that.

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