Elsans and holding tanks

Published: Sunday, 03 April 2016

BEING somewhat of a newby to the narrowboat game, I thought that narrowboats were the same as caravans as far as toilet facilities were concerned, and that they all had the Elsan toilet that needed emptying periodically, writes Adrian Fellows.

My partner and I looked around a few narrowboats, but not taking a lot of notice of the toilet facilities and not realising there were those with holding tanks, we finally settled for one with an Elsan as had our previous static caravans.

Cruising to fit it

These work with such caravans, as every site has its facilities, which over 15 years we have had no problems with, but what a difference with a narrowboat in which we spend three or four months a year cruising.  We thought that disposal points would be fairly frequent and reliable but they are not, though we have managed to make a map of where they are, but have to plan our cruising days to fit in with them.

We were in Braunston earlier this week as we know there are two such facilities, but both were out of order, and talking to someone in Midland Chandlers discovered that one particular one is out of action as much as it is working, which shows to me that it is not fit for purpose and should be replaced with a facility that is.

Holding tank as standard

But back to the purpose of my writing, which is the way narrowboats are built I feel they should include a proper holding tank as standard, as those I have made a point of seeing are all along the base of the boat under a cupboard or sink, tucked well out of the way, out of sight out of mind, with of course a pipe leading to the outside of the boat to connect to a pump-out, of which there are many along both canals and rivers, and not unreasonable prices.

Looking into this I discovered that there is the 'cheap' method of a plastic tank measuring 4ft x 2ft and fairly high, and the other built-in type I mentioned earlier that is bigger and holds a great deal more, but both of which hold many, many times the amount of the normal Elsan, and there is no bother of carrying it around to empty and no bother of finding a disposal place that is in use, but best of all it lasts much, much longer before it needs emptying.

Should be compulsory

I expect there are certain regulations regarding the building of narrowboats, but one that is lacking for owners who do a deal of cruising is a proper toilet holding tank, and I believe they should be compulsory, if only to stop Elsans then being emptied, no doubt in cases of urgency, in towpath hedges, as I have seen.

Had I known what I know now when buying our narrowboat I most certainly would have made sure it had a proper holding tank, not the humble Elsan, that is okay for time at a caravan site that also has its own toilets, but certainly not for when cruising, when the cruise depends on not only knowing where the next facilities are, but if they are working or not.

Happy ending

A happy ending however for us, as over the winter I managed to get a plastic tank across the width of the toilet compartment and under the sink and connected to the outside, with a flush toilet fixed on top, though the drilling of the two holes in the hull I left to the local boatyard.  But what a difference now.