Toilet Paper and Potty Onboard

An Unusual Topic

I know this is a strange topic for a blog.  If you are part of any of the sailing groups on Facebook, you know this is a hot topic.  Women go on for days about what to do with toilet paper and how to go to the bathroom onboard.   I am going to be writing about options others have discussed on the forum.  Yes, a little crude at times.

Types of Bathroom Systems

Some larger sailboats have a storage tank that needs to be emptied at a marina.  The cost is minimal at about $10.00.  If you are going to be doing a crossing and have a small storage tank, this will be an issue. With this type of system you have to worry about wipes and toilet paper clogging the plumbing.  When it comes to the job of cleaning out the plumbing, I am going to be very busy that whole day.

Others have composting toilets that you don’t have to deal with very often.  The downside of these toilets is the smell, especially if you are not living aboard.  The odor builds up when the boat is closed up for any extended time.  So if you are a weekend sailor, your might not want to install this type.  Or you might need clothes pins for your nose or maybe stock in Glade plug ins.

Our boat is smaller so we have a portable camping type toilet.  It holds about 5 gallons of waste. This type needs to be emptied quite often.  Toilet paper is a problem because it fills up the tank quickly.   Women are also a problem because we use the bathroom more than men. But then again men don’t want to sail without women so it is a catch 22.

You also want to pay attention when you buy the holding tank chemical packs.  You want to be sure to get the ones that specify they contain an enzyme or waste digester.  If you get the little packets called deodorizers they will not help break down the waste.  They will only make the waste smell better.

What To Do With the Toilet Paper

Many have suggested that you don’t put your paper in the toilet.  They suggest that you put it in a Ziploc bag and throw it away.  Others, use bathroom wipes and put them in Ziploc bags.  Never put the wipes in any onboard toilet.  They will  NEVER break down.

I have to admit I don’t have a problem with the plastic bags idea. What is the difference.  I change my grandchildren and throw their diapers and wipes in the garbage.  Then again I am from the generation that used cloth diapers.  Not a pretty picture.

When we retire to Georgia and sail for weeks on end putting our TP in plastic bag will more than likely be the plan for us.  But until then I will throw it in the toilet.  Our longest trips right now are 5 or 6 days.  Our onboard toilet can handle that.

The TP Test

Some have suggested that all toilet paper breaks down.  Well I tried the experiment below.  I am here to tell you this is not true.  Our home is also in the country with a septic tank so I found this experiment interesting.

I purchased a package of each of the following toilet papers:

  • Camp-Chem in the camping section of Wal-Mart
  • Scot Rapid Dissolve RV paper in RV section of Wal-Mart
  • Scot One ply (this was suggested as a good alternative to camping tp)
  • Angel Soft
  • Great Value the Wal-Mart brand (note to self hurts the  behind)

The experiment was to  put one piece of each in a cup and add really warm water.  Wait and see which dissolved the best.  Full disclosure the Great Value was still pretty much whole the next morning.  So not only is it scratchy, it doesn’t dissolve at all.  You will empty it out of your toilet pretty much in the same condition your put it in there.

The moral of this story is that if you are really concerned about your toilet paper breaking down then you should use the camping toilet paper. It started to break down almost immediately.

There are things that other women are doing on board to remedy this problem.  I hope you find these useful and somewhat comical.  I will admit I have used some of these while kayaking and camping. 

Other Options

So let’s talk off shore long distance sailing trips and crossings.  You can’t risk filling up your head while in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.  The easiest ways to prevent this are:

  • Not putting toilet paper in it
  • Nothing but solid matter goes in. ( I was trying to reference poop nicely)
  • Using another means while under sail on long voyages. ( I am not here yet.  I am not even close.)  In my family I was the only girl and I had older brothers.  Can you spell princess?  Well, this royalty, does not go poop in a bucket and throw it overboard.

The Yellow Stuff

Many of the women on the sailing forum use other methods to get rid of the yellow stuff.


I do own one of these and mostly use it while kayaking.  In the Great Lakes a crossing may take 4-8 hours.  You can’t just flip the kayak and go.  The water is too cold and the waves make it harder to re-enter.  With a Freshette, I can move to the front of the seat and use this device with an empty water bottle.  All while under my kayak skirt so nobody sees.  When we get where we are paddling, I get rid of it.

Other women use this as a stand up device over the side of the boat. Some even use an empty milk jug with a lid.  I have used it while hiking.  Because of the way it is made there is no need to lower your pants, so nobody can tell what you are doing.

Hint:  I have tried to use one of the devices called a Go-Girl.  I like my shoes too much to use that one.  It is so flimsy it goes all over the place.  The Freshette has a nice tube so you can use it with a bottle or aim it away from your feet if hiking. It is also stiff enough not to collapse.

Travel John

For me this option is too expensive.  I have used these on camping trips.  There is no way you will convince me to leave the safety of my tent to pee in bear country after dark.

I also keep them in the car for those times when the grandchildren just can’t wait.  Plus, they are great when you live in Illinois and get caught in a blizzard.  My brother was once stuck on RT 80 for 10 hours after a blizzard with accidents closed it.

Travel Johns are disposal urinals that contain the same gel as in  diapers.  When the urine hits the gel it expands and hardens.  It can’t spill and you just throw it away.

If you are just a weekend sailor you can get away with using camping toilet paper with a portable toilet.  What you do with your toilet paper, well that is between you and whoever has to empty the toilet.

Oh No, We Have Mold!!

Mold is not only disgusting,  it is unhealthy.  It has been linked to multiple health issues. My father in law started having lung issues.  The doctors seem to think it was due to some type of mold or bacteria in his house .  He was breathing it in on a daily basis.  He passed away from lung issues two years ago.

Mold has also been linked to joint inflammation diseases like Fibromyalgia, allergies, headaches, and extreme fatigue.  It is nothing to ignore or try to cover up. If you can smell musty,  you have a problem.

Mold Must Go

I hope I just scared you enough to think about preventing mold on your boat.  Unfortunately, mold is a fact of life while living on a boat.  Boats give it a very happy home.  For your health and sanity you need to get rid of it and keep it away. It is easier to keep it at bay than it is to get rid of it.

You can’t see the spores before you see the mold growth. It is important to treat everything as if it is mold contaminated.

What is Mold?

Mold is a fungus that smells horrible, especially in a small closed up boat. Mold and or mildew can seem to  pop up literally overnight.  It loves dark damp areas.  A sailboat  in a warm high humidity area is the perfect place for mold to happily thrive. The problem is unlike mosquitos and bacteria it is not killed by freezing, it just goes dormant till spring.

Mold can take on many different appearance depending on the type.

What Causes Mold

In a sailboat the temperature inside and out changes constantly. It is this difference in temperature that creates the dampness that make mold happily grow.  Have you ever noticed after a chilly night that things inside feel damp or maybe your walls are slightly damp?  This is condensation from temperature change and because you are breathing inside. Now, you can’t stop breathing but, you can use a heater to minimize the temperature difference and dry the air. You can also use a dehumidifier but they take a considerable amount of electric.  Unfortunately, electric unlike mold is in short supply on a sailboat.  We will cover the non-electrical remedies to this problem.

Stop the Source of Moisture

When we bought our boat it had many leaks.  They were not major issues.  They were small leaks around stanchions, chain plates, screws that had worked loose, and around our rub rail.  You can see how this water created the perfect mold environment. It is important to rid the boat of any moisture sources and or leaks.  If you  have a shower, run a fan to clear out the steam and moisture.  If you boil water open a window and blow out the steam.

How Not to Get Rid of Mold

They are no longer recommending you use bleach to remove mold. It may remove the discoloration but it does not kill the spores. It can actually cause them to divide and come back when conditions of dampness returns. I have also read that when the bleach comes in contact with the mold it becomes toxic.  Not to mention it also takes the color out of everything it touches. Let’s not forget the dangers of inhaling bleach on a small boat.  Bleach should not be used in any small confined area.

Washing the surface with soap and water may get rid of the discoloration but it won’t kill off the spores.

Do not just try to brush it off or vacuum it off. You will just make the spores airborne.

How Do You Make it Go Away

If you have mold, it’s not necessary to dress like this to clean up your sailboat.   With that said,  you don’t want to clean it up without a face mask and gloves.  Scrubbing the effected area causing some of the spores to go airborne and you don’t want them in your lungs.


First, take everything you can out of the boat.  You need to be able to access all corners.  Since we are still living in our house we do this every fall. We take everything out and store it in the house.  While the boat is empty we wash everything with a mixture of borax and water.   This will remove any stains if you have mold.  We turn a heater on to dry the boat faster.

After, the borax cleaner dries,  I wash thing off with 1 part white vinegar and 2 parts water.  I let this dry thoroughly.  Once that is dry I spray Concrobium

Mold Control spray in the corners, under the sink and in the back of the lockers. You can buy this on Amazon, Home Depot, or Menards.  It sometimes leaves a  white film but, this is easily wiped away.

Concrobium kills the spores and prevents them from coming back.  I don’t start with Concrobium because it only kills it.  You will then be stuck with the stains.   You want to remove the staining, then kill the left over spores. I use the aerosol spray not the pump.  The spray gets into the corners better.  If you can’t remove everything you can fog.  Home Depot rents the foggers.  it does leave a slight residue in areas where the fog settles wet.  This is not toxic and easily wiped off.  It is nothing like the residue from bug bombs.

Just make sure you open up all the doors, lockers, and closets to keep air circulating all winter long.  Another important item I use consistently is the DamRip hanging moisture absorbers.  They come in boxes of 3.  I  use one box around the boat in the fall and I don’t need to replace them until late winter. So two boxes will do the job until we are ready to go sailing again. That is about a $20.00 investment.  Do not get the cheaper brands at places like the Dollar Store.  They do not work as well. I put one in our boat, it didn’t collect even half the moisture the Damprid brand collected.

Treating In the Spring

In the spring before we put everything back in its place, I wash all the winter grim off with 3 parts water, 1 part vinegar solution.  After that dries I spray the Concrobium in the back of the closets, cabinets, and lockers.

I have noticed that moisture collects between the vinyl on the back of my seat cushions and under the mattress.  To keep the fuzzy stuff from growing, I spray Concrobium on the fiberglass before we install everything.  I called a chemist friend to make sure this stuff is non-toxic.   I did not want to use something dangerous in my bed.

Cleaning In Your Boat

To clean in the boat I use a spray bottle with vinegar and water.  I also use vinegar and water wipes.  It is important not to use furniture polish.  Mold loves to grow in furniture polish. If you don’t believe me spray some in a petri dish.  Wiping everything with vinegar prevents mold from returning.  If I get a greasy mess or something is really dirty, I will use dawn and water first. But, I rinse with vinegar water.

To make the vinegar wipes you will need 2 pop-up containers from either diaper wipes or wet-ones wipes, a roll of Brawny paper towels, vinegar and water. Cut the paper towel rolls in half with a hacksaw.  Take out the cardboard center.  Now place each half in a container and cover with vinegar and water.  Leave it sit overnight then drain off the extra liquid.  Feed the middle piece through the pop up and there you have them for quick cleanups.  Hint:  I have tried cheaper brands of towels and they fall apart too easily, use the Brawny.

We haven’t had one spot of mold since I started doing these things faithfully.

Material Loves to Grow Spores

I don’t want to find mildew on clothes and towels we don’t use very often. To prevent this I seal them up in large Food Saver bags.  This not only prevents moisture from entering and causing mildew, it shrinks them down so they take up less space.

When we put towels and clothing out on the lifelines to dry, we make sure they are in the sun and fully dry before we store them away.

Cardboard and Paper

Cardboard and paper hold in moisture and become a friendly environment for that fuzzy stuff and bugs.  I hate both, so we try to keep cardboard and paper off our boat.  All our manuals are laminated and in a notebook.  We take labels off cans and write the name in permanet marker on the top of the can.   Any prepared foods come out of the box and are stored in Ziploc bags or Food Saver bags.

Sails, Canvas and Cloth

Chances are your sails were originally sprayed with  a  similar chemical to Wet and Forget.  We plan to re-treat ours every 2 or 3 years. We treat our bimini every fall.

If you see stains on any of your fabric items or sails you can clean them with a mixture of borax and water.  If it is a large item such as a tarp or sail,  you may want to soak it overnight in a big tote with borax and water. This should remove the stains as well.  It is probably a good idea to spray them with Concrobium after they dry out.  Make sure they are fully dry before you fold them back up for storage.

If you see anything that looks like mold, treat it as if it is a full blown mold outbreak and clean clean clean.

Our Get Away Plan

I like the sound of that title.  It makes us sound like we are being sneaky and getting away with something.  But seriously, people keep asking us what we have for a plan and a timeline.  I decided to dedicate this blog to “our get   away ”  plan and timeline.  The actual goal is to be moved and settled in either Georgia or South Carolina by the summer of 2019 with Dave retiring in  2021 or 2022.

We have talked to others who have sailed away.  For many of them, things fell into place quicker than they expected.   We will keep you posted as to how things play out for us and where we are in the timeline.

Our Plan

See his smile. He is like that the whole time he is on Seabreeze.

I probably should start at the beginning.    Dave has always loved the sea and sailboats.  For as long as I can remember, his idea of the perfect life was to buy a sailboat, live by the ocean or on a boat, and sail.  Of course,  part of that dream was actually learning how to sail.   After owning Seabreeze for two years,  I am convinced that Dave is his happiest onboard.  That only confirms for me we are making the right decision to sail away.

Step One

Step one of the plan was a success when I purchased Seabreeze for our anniversary two years ago.  Seabreeze is a 26ft MacGregor sailboat.  I had no idea we would plan to move and remodel her to be more like a home.  Just a small disclaimer.  When you buy a sailboat and put a ton of money into it, don’t plan on getting that money back out of it.  More than likely, the changes you are making are for your own comfort and pleasure.  They will not significantly increase the value of your boat.  What we did to enhance Seabreeze was 100% for my comfort.  We could have sailed around the Bahamas for years just the way she was when we bought her.

Step Two

So we successfully completed step one, we bought a boat.  That was great but neither one of us had ever sailed before.  We took lessons, joined a sailing club, bought books and videos.  Taking courses on sailing, navigation, and weather have just been added to our to do list.  Of course, my first thought was first aid and safety.  My husband would have skipped that topic without a second thought.  Dave is one of those nothing will go wrong type of guys.   I am the one always adding the,  “but what ifs”.  After almost 40 years together we have learned each others strengths and weaknesses and delegate accordingly.  So we are working together to make sure we are both fully prepared to go.

There really are so many things that can go wrong while you are out enjoying the salt and sun.  We needed to be prepared and have the knowledge to handle those issues.  Everything from weather, tides, illness, injuries, mechanical problems and even leaks and mold are but a few of the issues that could come up.  For this venture I am sticking to the Boy Scout motto of “Be Prepared”.  For me things are less scary,  if I at least have an idea of what to do.

Step Three

Where and when came next.  Florida sounded perfect to me.  However, Dave had more of a Georgia or South Carolina picture in his mind.  After a long debate Dave won.  He always wins, there is something wrong with this picture.  I agreed that the idea of sailing and kayaking the intercostal areas and down the coast, sounded wonderful.   Besides, I am a sucker for the wild horses in the Cumberland Island area.  All Dave had to do was promise me I could go see them once a year or so.  He knew  dangling that carrot,  I would following him wherever he wanted to go.

So Georgia won.   Dave works for Old Dominion Freight.  Our plan is to transfer to a terminal in either Charleston, SC or Savannah Georgia.  He will work a few more years until he retires and then sail full time.  We will rent an apartment or small house near a marina so we can sail as much as possible.  Since neither one of us have sailed on an ocean.  Cruise ships don’t count right?  Didn’t think so.  We want to get some experience before sailing off to the Bahamas after retirement.

We will be working toward step three very soon.  A vacation to Georgia and South Carolina is planned for this month.  Top on our list is to visit  the terminals he would like  to transfer to and meet the terminal managers.  Then we can explore the area to see where we might want to settle and which marina we will call home.

Step Four

Once Dave has his name in at the Georgia and South Carolina terminals, we wait.  That sounds a lot easier than it is. We have to wait for any opening so he can move in to it.   It could be a year or two but, we have plenty to do here.  Ideally, we would like to sell our house this spring and move into something smaller with less up-keep.

Our house is 1900 square feet, four bedrooms, two bathrooms and almost two acres to mow.  Our kids are grown.  We need to simplify and spend more time enjoying ourselves instead of maintaining a house and yard that is way too large for us.   Did I mention it is also located in the middle of a cornfields.  We are 2  1/2 hours from any water you can sail on.  Not good for a sailboat owner.

With step three  in progress we need to work on step four.   Dave has been working really hard at getting things done.  He insulated the attic better, replaced the roof and is now doing some painting.  We redid the kitchen last winter and will paint the outside trim this spring.  Then the realtor can come back and put it on the market.

Step Five

This actually goes hand in hand with step four.  It is of course necessary to agree not to buy anything unless it is for the boat.  We are working to downsize.  Adding more stuff is not an option.  Keeping each other on track may be a problem.  Good deals will have to be passed up for practicality.

We want to leave for Georgia with as little as possible.  If it is not essential it cannot go.  Someone gave me a great idea.  I am sorry I don’t remember who it was.  They talked about if your house was hit by a tornado today.  Would you replace that item in your hand with the insurance money.  If the answer is no,  it goes.  If you simply can’t live without it, it stays.   That includes our kayaks and bikes of course.  They will be a must in Georgia.

Downsizing is Code For Throwing Away

Keep in mind we have lived in this house for over 30 years.  Our kids were using the empty bedrooms to store their stuff.  Yes, I did say were.  I made a loud declaration this past summer, ” everything upstairs was going one way or another….come and get your crap.”  In going through the stuff  of ours and theirs we have used the box method.

One box for:

  • Each of our kids, so we can return their junk to the rightful owner.
  • Items we want  bad enough, we will pay to store them.
  • Things we need to take with us.
  • Items we are donating.
  • Things we haven’t seen or used in years and can sell.
  • Lots of large green garbage bags for things we were throwing away.

This step is much harder for Dave than it is for me.  Some of it was best done while Dave was gone.  Trust me,  he will never miss any of the stuff I threw away.  Heck, he didn’t even know he owned half of it.  He has a hard time throwing away an old stained t-shirt.  Although, I have to admit that the threat of we can’t take all this with us,  has been a good motivator for him.

We have gotten rid of all the things that we don’t use.  The kid’s are now in possession of their own junk.  I have given  much of the stuff to my daughter-in-law.  She is just beginning to store stuff.  I pretty much have the house decluttered.  There will  need to be some sort of  a sale before we leave.  I don’t want to take all these beds, 3 TVs, and furniture with us.  I do feel good that most of the items we have  just stored for 30 years, are gone.

What to Do With Good Stuff

We had to decide how to get rid of things?  First if the kids wanted something they had to come get it.  If none of the kids wanted an item,  I advertised it on craigslist or local garage sale sites on Facebook.  If they didn’t sell then I  advertised them on Ebay.  This was a last resort because shipping is a pain.  The things we donated like clothes and blankets I took to Lily Pads, a place that helps the homeless and veterans.

The last part of this step we still have to tackle this winter.  Dave’s garages are a major problem.  They are full of,  I have no idea what, but they are full.  We can put out 6 garbage cans a week of trash.  With all the cleaning out we have been reaching our maximum every week. When we start the garage we will need all 6 and then some.

Many of the tools in the garage will get moved to a new home at our son’s house in Michigan.  He is just beginning his family and house remodeling journey.  There are so many things in the garage that we keep just because we may need it someday or have the room.  All this will need to go before we can sell.  I just have to keep reminding Dave we can’t go until  it is all gone.  We have a one car garage and a detached 3 car garage. Neither one of them house a vehicle.  They are too full of stuff.

Once the house sells we will move into something small without a yard to care for.  This is where we will stay until Dave can get the job in Georgia.

Step Six

Once Dave gets hired on at a terminal in Georgia, we can pack up what little we have left.  The plan is to take only the essentials to the apartment.  Then it is a matter of moving to Georgia. There will be stuff we want to take to Georgia ,  but won’t have room for.  We can get a storage unit in Georgia for that stuff and our kayaks.  Then start our new life of sailing away.

Dave will work a few years in Georgia before he retires. This way we still have an income while we are getting settled and learning about ocean sailing.  It will also give us time to establish a home base to sail from.   After he retires we plan to sail all around the Caribbean and have the time of our lives.   I will probably try to get something part time so I don’t go crazy.  I have tried staying home full time, it wasn’t pretty and only lasted two months.

After we return from Georgia later this month, we will be well on our way to completing the hardest parts of the plan.