18 Apr 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”!