Need A COVID-19 Toilet Quick? Try This Small-boat Sailor Trick

Portable Toilets for Covid-19


COVID-19 has made it harder to find a clean toilet these days. This is a tiny inconvenience compared to virus’s terrible impacts in the hardest hits areas. But whether you’re in a big city on lockdown or rural town that’s not yet felt the disease’s impact, our normal bathroom routines are anything but normal these days.

Maybe you have some essential errand to run—as I did last week—and discovered that the number of available bathroom stops along the highway has sharply dwindled. Or maybe your boatyard or yacht club keeps public areas, even the bathrooms, locked. Or maybe you are an essential worker who is strictly self-isolating in your tent, trailer sailor, or camper van where bathroom facilities are not easily accessible.

Sanitary Sanitation Comes First

Whenever possible, to prevent the spread of COVID-19 it is safer to use a sanitary, plumbed bathroom that is disinfected regularly (taking all precautions for washing hands, etc.) and used by as few people as possible. However, for situations that demand a portable place to poop, a waste alleviation and gelling bag (WAG bag) can help solve the bathroom problem.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The CDC has reported that 2019 novel coronavirus has been found to persist in feces (even long after some patients have tested negative), so a WAG bag—as well as marina and campground waste-pumpout hoses—should always be handled with proper protection (gloves, at least) followed by a thorough sanitizing hand and glove-cleaning (or disposal) afterward. (The CDC offers complete guidelines on donning and doffing gloves.)

Need A COVID-19 Toilet Quick? Try This Small-boat Sailor Trick
The Reliance Double Doodie will fit a 5-gallon bucket.

WAG Bags

Our tester, Technical Editor Drew Frye’s first introduction to WAG bags was a spring ice climbing trip to Grand Teton. The hike-in to the base of the climb takes all day, the camping area is relatively high-traffic in season, and waste doesn’t decompose efficiently above the treeline.

Park rangers there give you a heavy duty bag with a little absorbent gelling agent in the bottom, and a warning to hang it away from the marmots, because they will make a mess of it and you have to pack it back out.

Our boating introduction came when we realized that lugging the porta-potty on and off the boat and across icy docks during the winter season was going to be a big pain. You can flush with antifreeze solutions, but overall, it’s a problem. We also realized that we practically never use the head in the winter, because our outings are shorter, but that we needed something for emergencies.

Need A COVID-19 Toilet Quick? Try This Small-boat Sailor Trick
The Cleanwaste Toilet in a bag will fit into a portable toilet or a bucket. It comes with toilet paper and hand cleaner. They cost a little over a $1 a piece.

There are a few brands of WAG bags widely available at outdoor retailers like Cabela’s and REI, as well as Walmart and Amazon. They are also sold through some military surplus houses. We tested at two different products — the Cleanwaste Toilet in a Bag and the slightly more expensive, Reliance Double Doodie Bag.

The bag vendors recommend using one of their purpose-built seats or a bucket with a seat, and say that they are incompatible with a portable toilet.  Strictly speaking, that’s not true. Although a bucket will give more capacity, simply laying the bag in the dry bowl of a portable toilet worked fine for a single-use. On a long back country rafting trip I once took on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, the WAG bag was fitted like a garbage bag over a metal Army ammo box. Several of these portable commodes followed us downstream, each one nicknamed “The Groover,” no doubt because of the lasting impression they left . . . on your derriere.

Portable Potty Odor

We found the absorbent volume to be rather limited if much urine is introduced. We can only assume that the makers expect most users will make other arrangements. (Some makers sell separate urine bags.) If that is not the case, be sure to use an extra scoop if you need to pee.

Don’t believe the “neutralizes odors” claims; poo stinks bad until you seal the bag. That done, you can go back to sailing; it’s much better than sweating out the long ride back to the marina.

You can buy WAG bags as a complete kit (with hand wipes and toilet paper!) or alone. We think buying the bags separately makes more sense for sailors, since they likely won’t need these extras.

For more on WAG bags, contact information and pricing, see our report “Controlling Porta-potty Odor.” For more information on how to protect you, your family, and your community from coronavirus and answers to common questions, visit the Coronavirus Resource Center, brought to you by Harvard University and Practical Sailor‘s parent company Belvoir Media Group.

Practical Sailor has been independently testing and reporting on sailboats and sailing gear for more than 45 years. Supported entirely by subscribers, Practical Sailor accepts no advertising. Its independent tests are carried out by experienced sailors and marine industry professionals dedicated to providing objective evaluation and reporting about boats, gear, and the skills required to cross oceans. Practical Sailor is edited by Darrell Nicholson, a long-time liveaboard sailor and trans-Pacific cruiser who has been director of Belvoir Media Group's marine division since 2005. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license, has logged tens of thousands of miles in three oceans, and has skippered everything from pilot boats to day charter cats. His weekly blog Inside Practical Sailor offers an inside look at current research and gear tests at Practical Sailor, while his award-winning column,"Rhumb Lines," tracks boating trends and reflects upon the sailing life. He sails a Sparkman & Stephens-designed Yankee 30 out of St. Petersburg, Florida.


  1. Articles like this are why I still subscribe to PS even after descending to the powerboat ranks. Timely, informative, and a well needed touch of humor.

    And aside from the current Covid-19 issue, this tip will meet my search for an emergency toilet if our vacuflush system should crap out in mid cruise (sorry, couldn’t resist…).

    Thanks, PS.

    • Exactly!
      I find over half the articles useful for my vintage motorboating; electrical; hull fittings, paint and other finishing; cleaning etc etc

  2. Standard four-tailed 7 gallon trash bags with some kitty litter work just fine in a five gallon bucket, either with a seat or a piece of foam pipe insulation around the rim (to prevent denting your butt!) tie the bag up tight and dispose in some unchaperoned dumpster.
    BTW: I got this notion from a van-life site.

  3. On rafting trips we are told to separate the urine from the shit to reduce bulk and odors. The urine is dumped in the river.

  4. It gives new meaning to “bucket and chuck it” but here is about the cheapest way to go. Get it? These prices are at Dick’s Sporting goods, but other sporting camping stores also off it.

    Reliance Double Doodie Waste Bags with Bio-Gel $17.99
    Reliance Luggable Loo Seat and Cover $12.99 \
    You can get the bucket to go along with the seat as a package for pennies under $20. Or use one of your own. You could also throw the bag over your own marine head and save the pump out fee.

    My concern with the covid19 is using unfamiliar facilities as I travel. I drive a semi and while I am personally isolated for about 99% of the time, nature does call. This is my alternative to swabbing the seats and taking a chance.

    • I was introduced to the humbling WAG Bag at FOB Zeebrugge in Afghanistan back in 2012. The bags were not all that bad actually, however the burn pit had a lot to be desired. The burn pit was in the foundation of a building that was partially destroyed when the Russians occupied the Kajaki Dam back in the 70’s.

  5. for all practical purposes, urine is sterile. If it is not, you will have symptoms.
    Covid-19 attacks the respiratory tract, not the urinary or bowel.

    • Urine is not sterile if you have a Urinary Tract Infection, Bladder Infection or Kidney infection. A UTI can lead to a kidney infection quickly without treatment. It is important to stay well hydrated as dehydration can lead to a bladder infection. You do not want to be several days from medical care and come down with a bladder infection. You will be disabled.

      While healthy clear urine is likely to be sterile, it is still a bodily fluid and should be treated as sewerage.

    • Reading the New England journal of Medicine article about the First COVID19 patient, They stated that a bowel sample was taken and it tested positive for COVID19. This was several days into his hospital stay, and was only done after he developed what they referred to as loose stools.

  6. The primary reason for this tip was not so much sanitation, but that with closures, just finding a toilet can be challenging. That’s why we carry a few on the boat. Just in case.

  7. My post was not to discuss the covid19 or other nasty stuff.
    It was to inform others as to what I found, that would allow for safe dumping, for around $20.

  8. The reference to the stool and sanitation is important.
    The Corona virus is a relatively hardy virus living 3 or more days in a suitable environment hence the contagiousness. Yes it is passed through the respiratory system but the stool is also a transmitter of the disease.
    This is why bathrooms are closed.
    All good info


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