Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Macerator Failure - you know what that means...

Our Macerator Pump Failed 

After a great cruise down to Biscayne Bay over the Memorial Day weekend, we headed 4 miles offshore so that we could do a black water tank PumpOut. It didn't work!

Our normal procedure is to unlock the Thru Hull valve and turn on the Macerator pump. Peggy would watch lookout over the stern for our dirty trail and as soon as it stopped she would give me the signal that it was ok to shut the pump off and relock the Thru Hull valve ( a Federal requirement that we take seriously ) 

Well, Peggy didn't see the trail! Nothing was being pumped out despite the open valve and the Pump running. I thought that perhaps it was taking it's time to prime so I left it running for another minute. Nope! that didn't work either. Then the Macerator Pump just stopped. Didn't blow the circuit breaker, it just stopped. It wasn't even hot.

After a few calls and advice from several sailing buddies, I was able to connect with a Mobile PumpOut company ( We've used them before, small business, they were having a day off and so didn't return my call till Tuesday ) 

Yesterday the truck pulled up and Chris ran the hose from the street down the side of the house to the dock and got us setup for a PumpOut. I asked if it was ok if I cleaned the tank out when it was empty, that was fine. It was not so pleasant but it was fine!

Just over a year ago, I had installed an 8' inspection plate on the top of the Black Water tank, sure glad I had now!

The tank was only about 1/2 way full measuring from the top of the tank, but it's probably less than 1/3rd full as the tank gets very narrow at the forward end. 

We use 'Oderless' after every PumpOut and it works, the stench from the tank was almost zero, but I'm guessing one quickly gets used to it.

As the PumpOut progressed, I could see pieces of calcium scale collecting near the exit point ( that would be the bottom aft port side of the tank) and guessed that was what prevented the pump working and it's ultimate demise. The pieces of scale varied in size from dust up to about 4" by 2" and about 1/16th of an inch thick

I had setup a hose and spray nozzle so that I could rinse the tank sides down. That successfully detached even more of the scale from the sides of the tank.

Wearing nitrile gloves, I scooped out the scale by the handful, there was enough to fill a 2 gallon bucket. Rinsing and repeating and then Chris helping by moving the PumpOut hose from the deck connection to down in the cabin. He was able to suction out almost all of the grot in the bottom of the tank. A few more washdowns with fresh water and a few more scoops of gross scale and stuff. The tank was as good as it was going to get.

Next step. Order new hoses to replace the hose connection from the head to the tank and from the tank to the clean out on deck. Got that! 14' of 1/2" sanitation hose $297.80

New Macerator Pump. Ordered from Amazon, got it.

New 8" access panel, ditto. I just hope that the removable lid fits the old plate holder. If it does not, then I'll remove the old and install the new.

We now have all of the pieces to complete the project. Need a few extras to make the job easier to manage:- Puppy Pads to put under the hose ends when they are removed from the Head and from the Macerator Pump.  A new box of Nitrile gloves. New hose clamps - got them, I always have spares. Finally, new Electrical Butt connectors to connect the new Macerator Pump to the power supply.

My plan is to disconnect the old hose from the head, apply some liquid soap to the outside of the hose where it passes into the forward bulkhead of the head and into the void below the Hanging locker and then the void beneath the floor of the Nav station and into the Holding tank locker area.  The tough bit is getting the new hose to follow the old.

To get the new hose from the head to the holding tank area, I'm going to join the old pipe and the new pipe with a few pieces of wooden wedges and then push the old pipe with the new pipe so that we don't lose the end of the old pipe.  Sounds awkward, probably is but I don't see any other way to get the new pipe through the bulkheads.

I'll take the opportunity to clean up the grotty area that is currently under the pipe from the tank that connects to the Macerator Pump

So, other than dealing with grot and the challenge to get the new hose from the head to the tank, I think it should be a quick job, maybe 3 or 4 hours.  But---- it is a boat!

Well, it took 3 1/2 hours just to remove the hoses. The good news ( I hope ) is that where the hose from the head passes forwards under the floor of the Nav Station is not a blind space. The hose exits forwards by the Starter Battery and then it's a clear run towards the holding tank area. That means we don't need to use the old hose as a messenger. That's good news, because it was a beast getting the old hose out without anything on the aft end! 

The hose from the tank to the Macerator pump includes a 90ยบ elbow connector, that piece of hose was about 90% occluded. I was able to remove the entire hose assembly from the tank to the pump in a single piece and wash it out with fresh water, it came clean. We're going to replace the piece of Sheilds Hose from the tank to the elbow, but from the elbow to the pump is a rubber flexible connector. It's now clean and should ( !!!! ) be easier to install.

--- The pic shows the Connection from the tank to the elbow connector ( double clamped at each end ) it also shows the Tank Sensors that are adhered to the aft end of the tank. ( at the bottom of the picture. )

This pic shows the disconnected hose from the head that goes to the top port side of the aft end of the tank ( that Elbow connector ) I had to snip the wire reinforcements of the hose to get it off of the Elbow Connector.

I spent quite a while trying to clean the hull beneath the hoses. The pic above and the pic here show how bad it was and how well it came up.

Not sure if scrubbing it with something to see if it will come up any better, but it worth the effort

One thing I'll have to make sure to do is to clean the connections on the tank. This pic shows the build up of grot on the end of the connector.

Another thing to note is the thru hull for the pump output, the white hose is connected to that thru hull. I was very careful when easing the hose connection there. I do not believe that that particular thru hull has a suitably sized backing plate. 

Plan is to put the boat on the hard later this year, so I'll add replacing that thru hull and incorporating a decent backing plate.

Here's a close up of the tank fill connector ( for the hose that is connected to the head's Pump )

Should only take a few minutes to clean that up.

Note, I put a wadding of paper towel into the ends of the tank connections just to try and reduce the odor coming from the almost empty tank.

Next job is to finish cleaning out the tank. We put a flashlight in there this afternoon and could clearly see about a quart of grot - effluent and scale at the far end, forward, of the tank.

The opening in the top of the tank is an 8" access plate, I'll be able to get a small shovel to scoop out the goop.  Definitely going to suit up for that project.

That brown mark by the tank's connection to the Macerator Pump is the left over from a corroded Jig Saw Blade. I was able to remove the blade but need to do a bit more cleaning.

The picture is taken from above and aft of the Holding tank.

I used Spray Nine solution to try and clean the area. I'm taking some more aggressive scouring pads with me next time down at the boat.

The easiest hose connection to remove was the one in this photo. That black connector is at the aft, bottom, inboard corner of the tank. It connects to a piece of hose about 6" long. That connects to an Elbow. The elbow is connected to the Macerator Pump via a short rubber hose.

So that will be the last connection to make when I put it all back together.

So next steps are:-
  • Clean out the inside of the waste tank.
  • Clean the inside of the hull just aft of the black water waste tank.
  • Clean the ends of the tank connectors
  • Remove the toilet for easier access to the head bulkhead.
  • Use a dremel to clear out the area just inside of the bulkhead on the forward side of the head and then seal the area with epoxy. I hope to expand the hole by about 1/8" of an inch, that should leave a little room to add some caulking around the hose.
  • Install the hose from the lower outboard tank connection up to the deck pumpout plate.
  • Install the hose from the lower inboard tank connection to the Elbow for the Macerator Pump connection.
  • Run the hose from the head into the storage cabinet ( by the Starter Battery ) thru into the Tank area and connect that to the top outboard connection on the tank.
  • Replace the tank access plate as the old 'transparent' plate has broken down probably due to the chemicals we put  in the tank to reduce odors.
  • Connect the power supply cables to the Macerator Pump.
  • Give it a test and check for leaks.
Probably another 3 to 4 hours of work.. but, don't forget - It's a Boat !!!!

Well we blew through 7 hours and it's still not finished.

Removed the toilet and cleaned that up.
Cleaned up the hole in the head's forward bulkhead
Installed the hose from the tank up to the waste clean out deck cap. That actually went pretty quickly.
Installed the hose from the head area forwards thru two bulkheads. It took an hour and then a small amount of liquid soap eased the rest of it in a few minutes.
Got the tank connections made for the pumpout hose and the fill hose.

Then, I thought it a good idea to test the new Macerator Pump. The old wires had been joined with solder and liquid rubber insulation, mucky stuff. Stipped the supply wires back and found they are not Tinned, Not Thin Stranded and of course, not labeled. So add an hour to replace those two wires with 10AWG Tinned Thin Stranded copper wires, new terminals and labels. A couple of butt connectors to join the supply wires to the Pump - Turn the breaker on and WooHoo! It works. Quickly cleaned up the connection and applied heat shrink.

Next job, mount the pump and connect to the waster tanks pump out connection. That took another hour of sweating and swearing but finally got it done.

All joints now have hose clamps, two where they fit.

Only thing left to do is to secure the Macerator Pump to the bulkhead, check tighten all of the hose clamps in the tank area, then reinstall the toilet and secure the hose with a couple of hose clamps.

Another visit to the boat and we have finished the project. The toilet is secured with new Stainless Steel lag bolts, the bulkhead forward of the head has been cleaned and caulked, the hole with the hose through that bulkhead is also neatly caulked.  We flushed a gallon of water with some Oderless and watched it as it poured out of the filler inlet into the tank - watching with the tank access panel lid removed.

I also ran a wire snake up the Vent hose from the tank to the elbow just below the Port side clean out and did the same for the Midships water tank vent pipe. That midships vent has proven an issue as the tank expands when we fill with water unless the fill cap is removed in the cabin.  

I'll probably replace the entire toilet in the next few months but meanwhile I need to run a bead of caulking along the base of the head's forward bulkhead and around the hole that the new hose passes through.

Things learnt that could be shared.

I could have used a pair of snips that were ground down so that it would be easier to cut the reinforcing wires of the new hose.

Apply liquid soap to ease the hose passage through the bulkheads.

Get larger size rubber gloves to make it easier to change them more frequently.

Plan on it taking a whole lot longer than anticipated.'

Measure the length of the hose removed before buying the replacement hose. I have 4' left over and at $20 per foot, that's $80 :(

Plan to replace all of the hose clamps, luckily I had enough.

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