There’s a television commercial that still plays occasionally in which a very honest-looking woman says “It’s time to get real about what goes on in the bathroom.” I like it because it’s probably the most truthful line in advertising to hit mass media in a decade.
You can ask Mrs. $tingy. Discussions around what goes on in the bathroom are near the bottom of my list of topics to discuss in polite company. Or rude company for that matter. I find them all to be pretty juvenile and worthless. But I’m usually a pretty serious guy, so there you go.
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Upgrade your toilet tech
So for me to write a review about a portable toilet, there has to be a good reason. The reason is that I was fed up with replacing the portable toilets on Summer Dance and I found a better product. I’ve shared this with enough other skippers going through the same thing that I want to write about it here to hopefully save some of you that frustration as well.
Summer Dance came to us with a classic, bellows-style portable toilet. The only good thing about it was that it had a 5 gallon capacity. Not that we needed that much capacity, but because the base of the toilet was bigger than most and fairly stable since it wasn’t attached to the cabin floor. It sat between four teak cleats screwed to the cabin floor. If it had a smaller footprint, it would be easy to tip over, especially before it’s been used much. That’s when most of the water is in the upper tank and makes it top-heavy. The bellows on that toilet started leaking by the end of our first season with it.
The classic style portable toilets work by you pumping the bellows by hand, which shoots clean water from the upper tank around the bowl and down into the bottom tank when you open the valve to flush. The biggest problem with these is that the soft plastic bellows dry out with age and crack so that they don’t wash the bowl anymore, not a pleasant prospect. The cost of replacement bellows is ludicrous, $30-40. There’s simply no good reason for that part being that expensive. Planned obsolescence is what it is, combined with price gouging if you ask me.
I replaced that first portable toilet with a similar type from a respected brand – a SeaLand SaniPottie 960 to be precise. The SeaLand brand is now owned by Dometic. I expected it to last long enough to earn its reputation. Oh, no. The bellows on the second toilet didn’t last the next season before it gave out.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
There’s no shame in having a push-button pottie
I was not going to buy a third toilet with the same design and invite even more shame. So I did a little research and found a portable toilet that uses a different flushing mechanism. Instead of a bellows to pump the clean water into the bowl, the Dometic 970 series toilets use a tried-and-true piston style pump to pressurize the clean water tank with air. It’s the same principle as your pressurized alcohol stove. Then all you do is push a button to discharge water into the bowl.
Depending on how long you press the button, more or less water discharges, so you can get multiple flushes from one charging. The result is a more reliable mechanism and a more forceful flush. That was all the proof I needed but the real test was up to the first mate who uses it most.
I purchased a 5 gallon capacity Dometic 975 last year and both the first mate and I have been happy with the choice. It sits taller than the 2.5 gallon toilets, which is more comfortable in the little head compartment of the C-22 and it just fits under the V berth boards.
The 974 and 975 models include floor mounting brackets so you don’t have to worry about the toilet sliding around or tipping over. You can remove the entire toilet easily by pulling out a large, sliding tab in the lower tank that engages the front bracket. The rear brackets engage with slots in the rear of the lower tank. This design also lets you remove just the upper tank while leaving the lower tank fastened to the brackets, something you cannot do with most other toilets.
The toilet I purchased also included a Marine Sanitary Device (MSD) fitting kit, coincidentally. It replaces the pour spout so that you can plumb the lower tank up to the deck for dockside pump outs. I don’t plan on doing that but it’s nice to have the option for the future.
The Dometic 970 series toilets are like other portable toilets in most other respects, which is fine. The two tanks separate easily for loading and dumping. There’s even a convenient sight window in the lower tank so you can easily see the fluid level before it gets too full.
Material quality, construction, and finish are excellent. The plastic is thick and glossy, making the Dometic look more like a proper marine head than an ice chest for a hobbit. There are no metal parts to rust or corrode. After a year of use, the toilet has had no problems and still looks new.
There are four models in the 970 series. To help you choose the one that’s right for you, I’ve summarized the differences between the models in the following table. All models come with either a gray or tan bottom tank.
An MSD fitting kit for the 5 gallon toilets is available separately.
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