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Home » Product & Planning Guide » Toilets » Cassette Toilets on
Narrowboats & Canal Boats


With the days of the bucket and lid long behind us, modern canal boat cassette toilets are sophisticated and hygienic units.

Here we discuss what is available and review some considerations towards fittings and use.

Variations in Canal Boat Cassette Toilets

Many older boats started out with the trusty cassette camping toilet. With the growth of the leisure industry and overlapping motor home and caravan markets, the choice for boaters is now pretty sophisticated.
Very basic cassette toilets have a separate reservoir tank below the bowl for collecting waste. Flushing fluid is contained in a reservoir around the bowl and flush is activated by either pushing on a bellows type button or twisting a lever.
The reservoir is separated from the bowl for emptying. These basic units are self contained, require no plumbing, very little space and are fully portable.

The other end of the spectrum are the fully plumbed in electric flush units that can even be specified with ceramic bowls for easy clean and a “homely” feel.

Installation of even the most sophisticated units in this class is simple, requiring a water supply from the on-board pump and a 12VDC feed of the appropriate size cable to prevent volt drop. They can be retrospectively fitted with relative ease but it is better to plan the system so services can be laid in during the first fix.

The majority of these units will have cassette access to the rear, being designed for caravans and motor homes where an access door can be externally mounted. This is the principle consideration when planning the position of the toilet.

Make it easy for yourself if possible and have the back of the toilet mounted against a side wall or into a corridor. The standard 17/19 litre capacity holding tank of the most popular units can be removed out into most narrowboat walkways. With wider canal craft this is obviously not an issue, although do plan for walkways to accomodate cassette removal. A neat door can be used to cover the access hole. Alternatively use the access to a vanity cupboard.

Please visit our Scaled Drawing Downloads pages for approximate dimensions for use when planning your design.

Don’t worry too much about the position of the bowl, good quality units are available where the bowl can swivel round on the fixed base by 180’. Check individual toilets from suppliers in our Specialist Products directory pages.

Spare Cassettes and Treatments

Something to bear in mind if you have this system is that it is well worth investing in 2 or more cassettes. In general terms, two people will fill a 17/19L cassette in around 2 days. Some more, some less. When travelling and stopping to sight-see/relax there may be the odd occasion when it becomes tight on capacity. Having a spare cassette eases the issue as it is in no way acceptable to dump the contents either into a bush on the towpath or into the cut!

For the disposal of toilet waste, the Canal and River Trust provide sanitation stations at well marked locations along the inland waterways.

One brand of chemical treatments, Elsan, has become synonymous with chemical waste disposal points in the same way Hoover is synonymous with vacuum cleaners! Therefore you will often find sanitation stations or chemical disposal points referred to as Elsan points.

As the waste doesn’t stay in the cassette very long before it is disposed of it doesn’t have the time to start to break down. Therefore cassette toilets rely on chemicals to deodorise/ breakdown the waste and for cleaning purposes. 

Be very careful what you use. Household cleaners such as bleach will destroy plastic seals and tanks pretty quickly so use only products formulated for the purpose.

For the more environmentally conscious, there are products available that offer a greener option to the traditional formaldehyde based waste tank treatments. Check with your local chandlery, caravan store or use our Specialist Products directory for options regarding treatment and cleaning chemicals.
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