Ask Warren: Maintenance Tips for Winterization

November 2016 Feature Warren Childers Web Exclusive

In almost 23 years of being involved in the houseboat industry, Warren Childers of Sunstar Yacht Sales & Brokerage has traveled 28,000 miles on the inland rivers and Intracoastal Waterway and from Canada to Key West, Fla., by houseboat. He’s seen and fixed about anything you could ask about. Here are some questions folks have asked him recently.

Question: I have a 2001 Sumerset houseboat that has a bad odor when the toilet is flushed. We have tried different products but nothing has worked. We pump it out a lot and flush it. Do you have any suggestions?

Submitted by John Eckenrode, Lake Raystown, Pa.

Warren: Without a little more info as to where the odor is coming from, I’ll just make some suggestions on the two most common areas.

1. Odor coming from the tank vents outside the boat.

You can add charcoal filters to the tank vent lines running to the outside of the boat. These lines run from the top of the tank to the outside of the hull just below the rubrail. This is now done on newer boats. The filters do need to be replaced seasonally to be effective, but work amazingly well.

2. Odor coming from inside the boat.

Check to make sure you don’t have any lines leaking. I imagine you have done this already. The sanitation hose used in the marine industry will absorb odor over time. If the hoses have absorbed odor, they will need to be replaced from the head to the tank.

If this does not help, please give me a little more info as to where the odor is coming from and I will try to expand on the subject.


Question: I read your response to the gentleman asking about a Mermaid AC losing its prime with much interest. I too have had that problem with both of my units ever since I installed them.

I basically built my boat, a refurbished 1972 55-foot Kingscraft. I installed two King reverse cycle heat pumps. I have had the losing prime issue since day one. I changed one of the pumps to a recommended larger, more expensive one, but it was no help. I have large in-line strainers; they usually end up with a large air pocket after driving the boat.

The rearmost unit exits only about six inches above the waterline and is the worst to have this prime issue. I even shut off the intake water gates valve before a short cruise, but the strainer was empty as usual as was the pump. I think because I have heat pumps with the coil package, using a water hose isn't a viable fix, but I've toyed with the idea of placing a second self-priming fresh water pump parallel in the line that I can operate with a switch to get the air out before starting the unit itself. Any thoughts on that? 

Submitted by Rolland Bartle, Decatur, Ala.

Warren: If you can get the pump and strainer below the waterline of the vessel, your system should self-prime when you shut down. Make sure there are no low spots in the lines between the pump, strainer and seacock. I have seen cases that this was either not possible or does not work. Some boats are just stubborn.

It shouldn’t hurt anything to add a flush valve between the pump and the AC. Just be sure that the water pressure is low. High pressure can do damage to the system. However, I would try this first. You can add an anti-siphon valve/check valve between the pump and the AC unit. This should prevent water from being siphoned backwards in the system while underway between the pump and AC, preventing air from getting into the pump. I have used this method with success on one of my personal boats in the past. Also, be sure to double hose clamp everything in the system. You do not want an AC line coming loose. Please let me know if this helps.

If you have a question about houseboating, shoot Warren an email at

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