Toilet paper, Vacuflush, and a search for PS testers

Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 09:23AM - Comments: (11)


Last month’s report on fast-dissolve toilet paper took on a new significance this past week as we began testing Sealand’s Vacuflush toilets, toilets that literally suck waste into the holding tank. The chief advantage of the Vacuflush system is that they need less water for flushing. These units require very little water to flush, but this makes it harder for some toilet papers to dissolve. The two units that we tested both came with vehement warnings against using Charmin Ultra Soft toilet paper, which has been proven to cause problems with Vacuflush systems. Readers can see a full report on this topic in the August issue.

Dave Gill tests the Vacuflush. Note the masking tape over a hose-clamp wound on the right index finger. Testing toilets is a full-contact sport.

Our point man in this project is Dave Gill, an avid sailor with a background in construction and electronics. He’s too modest to claim to be a plumbing expert, but his experience with boats, buildings, and homes—not to mention several weeks with marine toilets of all make and brands—has given him some unique insight into the range of marine toilets on the market today.

As we work to expand our testing program, we will be looking for more people like Dave, people with long boating backgrounds and expertise that can be applied to our work. It is unglamorous work—as Dave, now a master at installing and unclogging plugged marine toilets, will attest—but if you have a sincere desire to help other boaters make the right choices when outfitting their boats, it can be extremely rewarding. We are particularly interested in working with more people with strong backgrounds in science, engineering, marine electronics, and other marine trades.

If you think you might have what it takes to be a PS tester, please send your CV or resumé to


Comments (11)

I have two Vacuflush toilets on my 4788 Bayliner and have been advised to use only single ply toilet paper after both were stopped up on a recent cruise.

Posted by: johnsje | June 27, 2011 5:14 AM    Report this comment

I have a Vacuflush on My Bristol 45.5 which I cruise on full time (currently in Bodrum Turkey). It has been nothing but TROUBLE! First, when I first bought the boat in 2006 it wouldn't hold a vacuum, so I bought a rebuild kit and the vacuum test gauge and got it working again. Then it wouldn't shut off until it popped the breaker on the switch panel requiring me to monitor it and shut it off manually (standing over the bowl for a full minute)! I then diagnosed that the vacuum switch on the top of the tank needed adjusting (but it can't be adjusted *#?:X!) I then tried to buy a new vacuum switch which the Turkish distributor wanted 400 Euro's for! Then, while back in the USA I tried to buy one from the Mfg. only to get shuffled around to a couple of distributors and in the end getting the wrong switch (for $150). Finally, I just wired around the automatic switch and just hold in a button for a minute. It is our forward guest head so we don't use it much (or I would replace it). When I do, it will be with a Raritan which has worked perfectly for 5 years

Posted by: KENT B | June 16, 2011 10:57 AM    Report this comment

We cruise extensively with our Trintella 47. We have two electric heads, one of which is a Vacu-Flush. The only "clogging" problem with the Vacu Flush ocurrred when a guest put a Bounty towel in it. However, we have repeated problems with seals. As a result, because of seal problems, which, in turn cause the system to lose pressure, we are VERY disatisfied with Vacu Flush and would not install one again.

Posted by: paul n | June 2, 2011 1:40 PM    Report this comment

I've had a Vacu-flush on my Buccaneer 40 trimaran for the 12 years I've owned the boat (the previous owner installed it) and in 5 years living on it and 3 Bahamas cruises I have never had a scintilla of trouble either, water, electrical or sewage. A 15 gal holding tank can last 2 people 2 weeks.
Sealand claims the pump will handle tampons (not tested) but I could safely let landlubbers use the head unsupervised.

Posted by: CREIGHTON S | June 2, 2011 12:36 PM    Report this comment

I'm a relatively new subscriber to Practical Sailor. I'm increasingly influenced by the well researched articles and professional evaluations of various products and maintenance issues for not just sailors, but boaters. The above report that speaks to various kinds of heads ability to deal with toilet tissue had never occurred to me. I am currently sans boat with a head, but I will certainly keep marine toilet tissue as the kind to use as a result of the article. Thank you PS and those experienced sailors who comment.

Frank D.

Posted by: Aging Pilot | June 2, 2011 10:06 AM    Report this comment

I too have had great success with my 2003 installed VacuFlush on my (then) new Catalina 36. I only use marine TP, no clogs ever. Not sure what previous posts reference a "duck valve"? Maybe I need to replace them?

Posted by: Unknown | June 1, 2011 8:22 PM    Report this comment

Our 6-year old Nordic Tug, ours since late 2007, has a Vacuflush head that has worked perfectly through three seasons of extensive summer cruising. We've replaced the duck valves once and replaced the seal under the hinged closing plate at the bottom of the bowl.Othervise no malfunctions and no odor. And of course we use proper marine TP.

Posted by: WALLACE F | June 1, 2011 7:19 PM    Report this comment

I have had a great deal of experience with a variety of marine sewage systems in different boats and most of it not by choice! I now have a Vacuflush toilet on my C&C41 and I love it, for all the usual reasons. I have had no problem with any kind of toilet paper, however, despite the official warnings. How is this so? Quite simple, really. Many years ago I went on a crewed charter boat in the Caribbean and we were informed at the start of the voyage that it was not permissible to flush toilet paper down the toilets in the boat (the usual cheap Jabsco hand pump units). Instead, we were told to put the used toilet paper (etc.) into the small 'doggy poop' bags supplied and knot the end to prevent odor dissemination. "Gross" we all cried; "we can't do that!" Well, we did and it not only proved to be quite easy and inoffensive but it had completely prevented the usual clogging issues on that charter company's boats since they instituted that practice. On returning to my home waters, as skipper of my own vessel I commanded all those using the on-board facilities to follow the same practice at all times (with the same shouts of horror in protest!). But I have stuck to that practice and never had a problem with my Vacuflush toilet despite the variety of materials and objects that my family and guests have disposed of into the doggy poop bags. I supply the kind that tear off a very long roll of bag material (with a supplied cutter device) so they last a long time and are very cheap to buy. In this case, each end is tied by the 'operator' so that the bag size can be tailored to the anticipated quantity of material to be disposed of. It works well and all of my guests have quite easily managed to overcome their initial "gross" reaction. It also, of course, keeps the holding tank macerator pump in action much longer since it has no real solids to cut up during the pump out. And it makes it much easier to rinse out the holding tank after each voyage. I'm anticipating that my long-term intimate relationship with marine sewage systems is finally coming to an end. And none too soon!

Posted by: Christopher S | June 1, 2011 4:18 PM    Report this comment

We've had 2 Vacu Flush toilets installed for almost 20 years on our Tayana 55 in the Great Lakes. We now have 3 kids (7-13 years old), so the system has seen a lot of usage over the years. We have never used anything but marine or RV toilet paper, and have had no difficulties whatsoever. If I had to do it again, I would not hesitate to install them again.

Posted by: PAUL K | June 1, 2011 2:59 PM    Report this comment

You have raised some very interesting issues that relate to Toilet Paper and choice of Heads. On our Outbound 46 we have two Raritan PHII marine toilets. I personally,wouldn't leave home without my Charmin Ultrasoft. It's been standard issue on our boats for years. There has never been a plumbing issue that involved the use of the Charmin. I have considered installing a Sea Land Vacu Flush in the belief that it is by far the best electric toilet avaialable ,leaving no waste in the hoses , using minimal fresh water and greatly eliminating odor. Your pointing out of "vehement warnings against using Charmin Ultra Soft" in the Vacu Flush has just killed that idea! I pulled out the PHII installation and maintainance instructions and see no like warnings. So for me,"in the end", the true test of a good marine toilet is ,can it handle the Charmin?

Posted by: Toni G | June 1, 2011 2:29 PM    Report this comment

I've had a Vacuflush toilet on my Sabre 362 since 1995. I sail on the Great Lakes and it has functioned very well. I do use marine TP and try and rinse the holding tank after pump-outs. Be prepared to change the "duck valves" after a few seasons but this is a small price to pay for a happy first mate who appreciates a sweet smelling head that is easy to use.

Posted by: BRUCE M | June 1, 2011 1:55 PM    Report this comment

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