How Do Houseboat Toilets Work? | LakeWizard

Houseboats are cool, but what if you have to go to the bathroom on one? How do houseboat toilets work?

Houseboat toilets are very similar to regular toilets. The difference rises in the sewage system. A houseboat has its own system for water and sewage, and gets it from an onboard holding tank that contains freshwater.

While you can get fresh water from the water source, given houseboats are usually in the water, there is always the question of: what happens to the waste?

We’ve lived on houseboats for as long as we can remember. Some were short stints; others, extended periods. Therefore, we know all about houseboat toilets and how they work (someone’s gotta make sure things are in working order). In this article, we look at all the aspects of houseboat toilets to get an understanding of how they work.

Table of contents


Freshwater Holding Tanks

A freshwater holding tank is just what it sounds like: a tank that holds freshwater. These usually have a hose connection that can be reached from outside the boat, and used to fill the tank with water. One end of the hose is fitted to the tank and the other is attached to the water source for the city. If the boat is parked for a long period of time with the hose connected, the source of water can be unlimited.

These tanks are used to get the water needed for all your washing up, cooking, etc. Regular bathrooms in on-land homes will have their own tanks that are connected to the city’s supply, and this is exactly how houseboat tanks work as well. When the tank has water, you can use it just like you’d use water in a regular toilet.

Sewage Holding Tanks

The difference between on-land houses and houseboats comes here. In toilets on land, the sewage system takes the sewage from your home directly to the sewage processing plants, but in a houseboat, there is often no way to do that.

Depending on the location of the boat, you also cannot empty your sewage in the water the boat is in, for the purpose of sanitation and to avoid pollution. So where does the sewage go?

Houseboats have sewage holding tanks that are located on the boat itself. The sink and shower will empty into a gray-water holding tank, whereas the toilet will empty into a black-water holding tank. These are kept different because the water from the sink and shower will not be as contaminated and dirty as the water from the toilet.

Chemicals for the holding tank are put into these tanks through the sink and the toilet to avoid the tank from spreading bad smells and odors.

Holding tanks are usually emptied out at the harbor, if it’s close, or at sea, depending on the location.

At a harbor, the tank is emptied by connecting the holding tank with the harbor sewage system through a sewer hose. The valve is opened when the connection is complete and the tank is empty.

Sometimes, the tank has to be emptied at sea, but this depends on the location of the boat. Different countries have different regulations for how far a boat has to be from the shoreline before it can empty its sewage into the sea.

Boats that have to do this usually have a button on the inside that can empty the tanks.

Other Types of Toilets

Though most houseboats have holding tanks for sewage, some houseboats have different kinds of toilets that get rid of the need for black water tanks. The two main types are composting and incinerator toilets.

You may have heard of composting toilets on land, and this is exactly how composting toilets on houseboats work as well, though they are much smaller so that they take up less space. These toilets use little water. Instead, they have dirt and dust that is kept inside. The waste here mixes with the dirt and decomposes to form compost.

Incinerator toilets, on the other hand, are made of steel, and these toilets operate by burning the waste – just like the name suggests.

Another type of toilet that is less frequently used is the cassette toilet. This one has a removable cassette container where the waste is collected, and has to be emptied out. While these toilets are easy to work with, they do cause a bad odor and you’d have to wait till you are close to land to be able to empty it out.

Things to Remember About Houseboat Toilets

Houseboat toilets function similar to normal toilets, but you have to be more careful with them.

For one thing, the sewage system in houseboats is very delicate, and can cause clogging if you’re not careful. You should avoid putting anything in the toilets besides bodily wastes and toilet paper.

You should also take care to empty out the waste tanks – both, black-water and gray-water – frequently. This is to prevent bad odors and to avoid them from getting too full.

When the weather is warmer, smells and odors can develop much faster, so you should take extra care to empty them more frequently.

On top of the smell, since the tanks have limited space, if you don’t empty them on time, they can start leaking which is extremely unsanitary.

In houseboats that aren’t linked to the harbor for a permanent water supply, you should be careful about your water usage, since water is limited. Most houseboats come with large holding tanks – some larger than others, depending on the size of the boat itself – but there is still a limited supply and you should remain conscious of that, especially if you’re on a long trip away from the harbor.

Most houseboats will have gauges to show how full each of the tanks are.

Depending on the type of houseboat you’re in – stationary or in motion – the water and sewage system will differ. When it comes to usage, though, houseboat toilets are exactly like regular toilets.