The toilet is clogged or the boat needs a pumpout . . . but you need to go. What do you do?

Emergency Toilet: The Wag Bag

One of the less appealing aspects of owning a boat, I know. The toilet’s clogged, the pump is broken or you need a pump out and there isn’t one available. In short, the toilet can’t be used.

What do you do?

If you’re at a marina, you can probably run ashore and take care of business in the bathrooms there.

Otherwise, we laughingly refer to the “bucket and chuck it” method. But have you really thought through how it would work? In most coastal waters, you have to be at least three miles offshore to “chuck it” overboard. In the Florida Keys and other designated areas, you have to be 12 miles offshore.

Either way, your bucket is likely to get stinky before you can get rid of the contents. Lining it with a plastic bag to take ashore has other problems as the bag can leak. Your bad day of having to repair the toilet or search for a pump out just got worse.

Friends on another Gemini catamaran — Katie Rose — told me of a much better solution that they knew of from their RV adventures: the Wag Bag. Once they mentioned it, I remember that a couple of commercial wilderness trips I’ve been on have used them as an emergency toilet as well. DUH! Never occurred to me to keep a few on the boat.

Several different companies make wag bags, also known as “pocket toilets” or a “bathroom in a bag.” Okay, the basic feature is a plastic bag. But it’s not just a trash bag.

  • First, it’s thicker, puncture-resistant plastic . . . and it’s a double-bag system.
  • The system is designed for backpackers and adventurers who have to carry their waste out, so it’s quite well engineered.
  • The fact that it’s for backpackers also makes it very small to store. Takes up about as much space as a washcloth.
  • It contains “Poo Powder” that gels and deodorizes the waste (developed by NASA for the astronauts!). It may not make it 100% odor-free, but close.
  • It also contains a bit of toilet paper (not much!) and hand sanitizer. Not really needed on a boat, but makes a good emergency toilet for other adventures although you’d want to take an extra roll of TP.
  • Bags can be disposed of in regular trash.

NOTE: these are often marketed as “refill kits” for a portable toilet. They can also be used without the seat part, which makes them perfect as an emergency toilet on the boat.

To use Wag Bags on a boat, either put the bag in a 5-gallon bucket (I think every boat has one or more!) or line your toilet with it. The bags are large enough for either one.

The Poo Powder’s gelling action makes taking the bags ashore much easier (and the bags are opaque), not to mention way less stinky.

One bag can be used two to four times — there is enough Poo Powder in a bag for 32 ounces of waste. While you could add more powder (you can also buy it separately), you don’t want to fill the bags too full. Note also that it’s a two-bag system with a larger bag that you “go” into (so it fits into a bucket or the toilet) and then that folds down into a small heavier-duty bag with a zipper seal.

These take up very little space (key for boaters!) and could just make a bad day a little better . . . yeah, you still have to fix whatever’s wrong but at least you can use the toilet in the meantime!

Camping and backpacking stores carry these and you can find them at many wilderness outfitters, too. The ones we used on our Grand Canyon rafting trip were the Cleanwaste Wag Bags and they worked just fine. There are several brands; I think that they’d all be satisfactory. Amazon sells several brands but I’ll go with the Cleanwaste system that I have experience with . . . and I’d sure think that six bags would get anyone through most “toilet emergencies”!

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10 Comments
  • Kristina Vonsel
    Posted at 18 April 2017 Reply

    In sweden i know some, who have a dry toilet with a compostable bag, that decomposes in 6 months, but is sturdy enough to hold a weeks worth of dump… I would, taken into account that many places have poor facilities, prefer that kind of plastic; maybe one can be lucky to bury it somewhere if trashfacilities isn’t an option.

  • Cheryl Geeting
    Posted at 18 April 2017 Reply

    Yep, these have been on my “to buy” list for a while! Glad to hear you’ve had good experience in the past!

  • Frank Kleinburg
    Posted at 18 April 2017 Reply

    Love your blog and from it, harvest sage advice.. When I saw your post about the emergency toilet, this attached picture came to mind.. Enjoy.. flk k

  • Cathleen Speaker Holzknecht
    Posted at 18 April 2017 Reply

    Cat litter in a garbage bag set in a bucket works excellent.

    • Mike Gannon
      Posted at 18 April 2017 Reply

      Sure does the trick! No head on my boat.

  • Jane Overbeck
    Posted at 18 April 2017 Reply

    Had to laugh. We used these for years on our Catalina 22s cruises instead of a portapotty. They work great!

  • Cindy Balfour
    Posted at 18 April 2017 Reply

    We have on occasion used a large coffee filter in the bottom of the pumped out head and picked it up using pet poop bags then just double bagging that. I like the idea of a power that dissolves the poo. I will look into the wag bags too.

  • Kathryn MacDonald
    Posted at 20 April 2017 Reply

    To go along with this post…..a sliced pool noodle mounted around the edge of the 5 gallon bucket and you have a fairly comfortable throne to sit on!!
    Love The Boat Galley!! Never leave home without you!

  • Beth Burlingame
    Posted at 21 April 2017 Reply

    We just had our (land) septic system back up over Easter weekend and I managed to dig up four precious wag bags from boating supplies stored at home for the off-season. They helped us survive until Monday.

  • Jim and Barbara Shell
    Posted at 29 April 2017 Reply

    We use a basic “sawdust toilet” ( http://humanurehandbook.com/ ) as our spare/emergency marine head. It is a basic 5 gallon bucket with several gallons of pelletized horse stall pine pellets in 1/2 to 1 gallon sealed jars. We use this in the marina to avoid having to go to the pumpout station. We also use it on our cruises when the holding tank needs to be emptied and we are not near a convenient pumpout station. If our existing marine sanitation system has a major breakdown, we are considering making the sawdust toilet the only toilet aboard.

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