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Just the other day, while discussing various repair jobs with our friend Kirk, I was struck with the realization that, outside of two sail-repairs, we have yet to pay a single contractor to do work or to fix something on our boat. This is not to say that we haven’t had assistance from a number of friends because we certainly have, but rather that we have not turned over any repairs to professionals. In my mind this is no small feat because I would not describe myself, or Rebecca for that matter, as being overly handy. We are however pretty determined, and frugal, and at least near the beginning of most projects, fairly patient. Which brings me to the following.

In the recent post I made about our new Granddaughter, who is doing wonderful I should add, I hinted about a head-repair job that we had to tackle. Specifically we were faced with the intermittent problem of our toilet being unable to pump in any water. Jabsco manual toilets, as we have on our boat, are pretty simple devices with few moving parts. Because the toilet seemed to have no suction when attempting to draw in water, we initially guessed that the issue was being caused by the large O-ring around the plunger failing to make good contact. Rebecca, who is always game to help with boat maintenance, volunteered to install the spare O-ring that we had purchased for the job. After doing so though we were both disappointed to find that the problem persisted.

The large O-ring in the pic was purchased specifically for this repair. In fact, we purchased two just so that we’d have an extra one on hand for future jobs.

Even though what we were experiencing was much different than what is typically caused by a clogged intake line, we still explored that possibility, including examining every bit of hose right from the toilet to the intake thru-hull. The next step in our troubleshooting was to remove the intake hose from the back of the toilet and, placing our hand over the intake, attempt to pump the head. Doing so demonstrated that the pump was in fact creating excellent suction. Our assumption at this point then was that there must be an air leak into the system. Once again we checked the hoses leading to the toilet, including removing each connection and placing it into a bucket to see if the toilet could draw water. It did, and so we were still perplexed.

Note: This is just like a murder-mystery novel were the identity of the killer is about to be revealed. Pay attention!

As we had now checked each of the hoses and connections, and were reasonably confident that there were no air leaks leading to the toilet, we decided to check to see if we could get water to come in through the thru-hull by running our watermaker (the watermaker’s intake is T-ed off the same thru-hull). Before we could do so though we needed to replace the watermaker’s pre-filter as we had it out for cleaning with the filter housing removed. Once we replaced it and fired up the watermaker, the unit functioned just as it always does, drawing sea water in and spitting drinking water out. Satisfied with that, I went back to check the toilet one more time and was surprised to find that it was working again. Hmmm!

Have you guessed the problem yet?

I didn’t right away. In fact, it took me another 20 minutes or so, spent putting away stuff that we had displaced during our repair procedure, before I ultimately figured it out. We had been looking for an air leak and OF COURSE there was an air leak… the watermaker’s filter housing had been removed and that is connected into the same intake stream! With the housing (and filter) replaced, the air leak was removed and the head’s pump functioned as it should. Doh!

Of course removing this filter housing allows air into the system!

This entire thing, while it took me a while to type out, took significantly longer to work through in real time. Would a professional have been able to do it any more quickly? Perhaps, but I tend to doubt it. I can tell you that I definitely would have been seriously POed if I had been required to pay someone to fix that silly error.


  1. You did good, Homer. Go have a beer! Ha! Ha!

  2. Perhaps a check valve in the water maker supply hose (and one in the toilet supply as well) would eliminate this problem? As a matter of fact, how do you know that the water maker isn’t drawing from the head while making water?

    • Well that’s a pleasant thought. Thanks a bunch πŸ™‚

      The length of the run to the head is only 3 feet so even if it were drawing from there, that water, which would only be sea water anyway, not waste, would be pumped out in the first minute or so. You’re right that a check valve may deal with the problem although we now just make sure that the housing is left on, guaranteeing the lines remain free of air leaks.

  3. Dismantling the system is a valid price to pay for identifying and resolving the problem. By doing your own repairs you’ve obviously learned how to maintain your boat properly as well as diagnostic techniques.
    Any embarassment would only have been valid if you’d paid a professional to check your head, only to identify the real problem.

    You’ve obviously earned yourselves a couple of congratulatory beers. Or something treat-y if you’re detoxing…

  4. Excellent post – and hysterically-gross comments (thanks for the visual, Kirk). πŸ™‚ Timely, since we’re trouble shooting our Raritan now. Started as (our diagnosis) a pump assembly replacement, and before the end of the pump swap-out day, the whole unit was apart/out. Doing so revealed the real culprit (mineral build-up in the hoses), but we have to confirm we’ve fixed it with reassembly, after a day in a vinegar bath.

  5. How many days have you been hanging your butt off the back?

  6. We looked at a boat where the head and watermaker shared the same thru-hull… they used a y-valve to ensure they wouldn’t contaminate the drinking water with head “water”.

    • A reasonable, although in our situation, inconvenient solution to a problem which does not exist. The water can not get “contaminated.” It can not draw water from the head and even if it did (which it can’t) the watermaker would remove any bacteria anyway.

  7. Some of us in our marina shared this story to day. What we never thought is you would give us an idea . I found myself looking at the neighbours water maker set up .Turns out they did the same thing using the through hull for two items as well. They how ever stopped using there water maker as it would plug the pre filter every time they wanted water. No they are not making water t in a dirty marina. Turns out they put the pre filter in ahead of the head and are now using filtered water for the head and water maker. Problem fixed thanks for the insite to check it out. Reading this story allowed me to show off in the engin room for 1 hr 30 mins at 96.4 degrees.

  8. Why is it that heads stories are always compulsive reading?

    Don’t worry. I will my stories to myself. They are all horrible! πŸ™‚


  9. … Then there was the time I had both engines die while in the middle of a rock-lined channel. Got the anchor down REALLY fast, ending with the transom ~ 3 feet from a big steel daymark.

    I had closed the fuel line at the tank while removing a redundant filter housing. It took about 10 minutes to figure that out, even though I had closed the valve only 20 minutes before. There was just enough gas in the carbs and primer bulbs to get me that far.

    It happens….

  10. Hi Guys
    I just returned from another fantastic weekend on the boat. Were really enjoying our new slip at PECC in Picton. I thought i would catch up on the last few posts that I missed. While we were away we had some issues with our toilet. Jabsco buy the way. It won’t draw in any water. Sound familiar!!! I have not attemped any repairs yet. I figured that it must be an o ring and was going to pick up a kit at pride marine and replace it next trip to the boat. The thru hull is for the toilet only. I hope that the o ring is the issue. If not?????
    Miss you guys!!!
    Anneke & Terry

    • First test: Remove the input hose from the rear of the toilet, place the palm of your hand over the input and attempt to pump it. If the pump is creating suction you WILL feel it. If not, I’d try the O-ring around the plunger first. The gasket which has 2 flaps also plays a part in that I believe.

      If there is suction, then the pump is OK. I’d then trace the lines back away from the toilet as we did, checking for air leaks. If you put the hose into a bucket and the pump will draw in water, you know that section is OK.

      All of the above is based upon your feeling no resistance when you try to pump water into the head. If you feel a lot of resistance, it is either a blockage in the line/thru-hull (anything can get in there and block it) or perhaps that flapper gasket that I mentioned.

      Have fun, Kids!

  11. That kind of reminds me of when I was changing the struts on my old TR7. I jacked up one side and fought like hell to get the the sway bar loose. finally frustrated I set that side on blocks, jacked up the other side and proceeded to loosen, as the nut came loose the sway bar swung down without a problem (because there was not any more pressure on it! D’oh). Couldn’t see the tree for the forrest.

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