Showers Coming Soon

No not rain showers. Although the boat is now 28 years old, apparently none of the previous owners ever showered aboard. There were no drains or plumbing to allow anyone to shower in either head and since we seldom use marinas when we are cruising, and quite often spend our time in remote areas, the ability to take a daily shower is important to us, and important to morale. We knew from the beginning that we would need to install a shower but since we are tied to the dock with showers close by, other more important items on the to-do list took precedent. But the project finally came to the top of the list and the time is now. One of the things we always stated as a requirement for a boat was a separate shower stall. Our last sailboat did not have one and the new trawler does not either. But this time we did have a good alternative. Beach House has two heads, one in the main stateroom and the other in the forward cabin. We seldom have guests aboard for long periods so having two heads is not important to us. The forward head is also small, having the head, a pull out sink and the beginnings of a shower pan. From the beginning, we planned to convert this smaller head into a dedicated shower.

It is important that the shower not leak. either into the bilge or into the woodwork in the surrounding cabin. The first order of business would be to re-fiberglass the shower pan using cloth and West System Epoxy. I chose West System because of past good results and the fact that epoxy will adhere to whatever was used on the floor to begin with. A thorough sanding, a coat of epoxy, then two layers of cloth gave the floor a little additional strength and waterproofed it well. Special attention went to the edges to be sure they were well saturated and the pan was sealed. Additional coats of epoxy went on before the preceding coats set up with a final coat which was thickened slightly and tinted using epoxy tint. This eliminated the need to paint, which usually does not last long in a shower, and also "fared" in the rough spots . The results were a solid, smooth, waterproof surface that would be easy to clean. Getting the pan to direct the water toward the drain is also important so you don't have water collecting in the corners. As the pan was finished, we installed a new drain that would be connected to the sump. Most of the drains we found at the marine supply were just too small and usually raised enough around the edges to create a problem. We found that an standard sink drain was larger, giving us a faster drain, and could be installed in a beveled hole to give us an almost completely flush installation. We also found a fitting that would screw on to it that had a hose barb the correct size we needed to connect an 1 1/8 inch hose to the sump. This would give us a complete drain without backing up while we were showering.

Which brought up the next issue, where to drain the shower water. Allowing it to drain into the bilge was never an option. It causes the bilge to smell worse that it normally does and allows all kinds of bacteria to grow down there, not to mention hair and stuff that will clog up the bilge pump. Since the shower pan is below the waterline. a direct discharge was also not an option. That pretty much leaves a separate shower sump. We could either build one or purchase one of the already made up units. We chose the latter and started researching which to buy. I am not a big fan of either Rule or Atwood products. Over the years I have seen too many failures in a very short period of time by either. But they are the dominating manufacturers in shower sumps so I began to consider building my own. One day at West Marine we looked at the West brand sumps and I inquired as to who makes the pumps. They are manufactured by Johnson Pumps which has a fairly good reputation, so we purchased one. I wanted it as close as possible to the shower drain and there is plenty of space in the forward bilge just below the shower. But this is not a flat area so a shelf needed to be fabricated to mount the sump. Using a piece of 1 by 12 oak and wrapping it in fiberglass, and of course epoxy, cutting it to fit and epoxying it to the hull in the bilge worked out to be perfect. The sump was attached to the shelf and the hose run from the drain to the sump. These boxes have several size hose barbs on them and it is just a matter of cutting off the sealed end of the barb you need.

Once the sump was secure and the drain attached, discharging the water from the sump overboard was the next step. This particular sump has a 3/4 inch attachment on the pump that sticks out the forward end of the sump box. Running the discharge hose from the box to a new thru-hull fitting was a simple task. We chose to put the thru-hull next to the discharge thru-hulls for the two bilge pumps on the starboard side of the boat.The thru-hull was installed in the boot stripe, just above the waterline so that it would not be running down the hull when it pumped the water overboard. A 3/4 inch bilge pump hose was run from the sump to the new thru-hull with a section looped higher than the water line even when heeled, to prevent backflow into the sump. This particular unit has a built in check valve at the pump to keep water from flowing back in, but this is just a good added safety measure. In a sailboat a vented loop would be needed to prevent backflow when the boat is heeled over. We always install our thru-hulls using 5200 for bedding and a marine grade plywood backing plate on the inside. In all of our years of boating we have never had a thru-hull we have installed fail or leak. At this point the project was moving along nicely.

Even though the pan was thoroughly sealed with epoxy, there are other areas that can leak into the adjacent woodwork. The inside of the head is covered in a Formica like material but the corners needed a bit more work. All corners, around the trim on the door and a few other places were thoroughly caulked. Taping off the edges to be caulked and using a curved plastic spatula to finish the corners, etc. make a clean professional finish. Just prior to caulking, all of the wood in the head that would be exposed to water received four coats of a gloss floor finish. This is much tougher than varnish, seals and waterproofs the wood better and stand up longer to constant exposure to soap and water.

All that is left is to connect the sump pump to the 12 volt DC system. It is a matter of running the proper size wire from the wiring that comes on the pump to the boats electrical panel. Using the proper size is important based on the voltage and amps the pump requires and the total distance the wire must run to the panel and then back to the pump. In calculating wire size, the round trip run must be used. Fortunately we have several spare breakers on the panel to use, and again sizing the breaker to the pump is important. To small a breaker will constantly trip and too large will not trip when you need it to and could be a fire hazard, especially on a pump. Once all of the wiring is run it needs to be secured well along its route to prevent chafing from constant movement. After all of the hoses are connected and the wiring run, the sump can be tested. Try to keep the discharge as close to the sump as possible as these pumps are usually small and don't push water for long distances well.

The final touches are connecting and running the shower head. We like the small hand held unit made by Scandivik as they can be used by holding down a lever when you need to rinse and then shutting off completely when you let go. This saves a lot of water and that is important to us when we are away at anchor for weeks at a time with no source for water close by. The shower hose is attached to a diverter on the faucet of the pullout sink. Since this sink will be used very little it will not be a problem. We have set up the shower curtains so they completely cover three sides so only one wall in the head will actually get wet. We will see how this works out since there are ways to be able to cover all four sides. There is always room for adjusting.

Oh, and did I mention we are working on the teak? We are finally at a point where there is less left undone then what we have finished. We love the Cetol, especially with so much wood to do, it makes the work go much faster. The forward windows at the lower helm were one of the larger sections to do and turned out quite well. Once the wood was refinished, the bronze hardware was cleaned up and reinstalled and looks great. New weather stripping was installed around the opening center window to keep the rain out. We found replacement wiper blades that fit perfectly and new cloth covers will be made soon. The window frames on the starboard side are done and really make the boat look good. All that is left on the lower deck is the window frames on the port side and the brows. Then we get to start the flybridge. So that is about it for now and we look forward to starting the work on the upper deck. Once the exterior is done the mechanical work can begin. The list is long.


  1. Fascinating. I had to wonder as I read this, do you have to have some kind of "building permit" to do extensive work on a boat?

  2. Not at all but it does help to have a working knowledge of the systems you work on. Doing things incorrectly can devalue the boat and especially electrical missteps can be dangerous. Improperly done electrical can cause fires and that can be a catastrophe in a marina.

    1. Older post, but I sure could use your help! I too am re-doing my bathroom and after seeing what you did, I chose the same drain as you, and epoxied the floor with white pigment also. The one thing I cannot figure out is what you bought to attach a hose to the 1-1/2" drain.... I have come up with some ideas, but I don't trust them. Thanks.

    2. It has been a while but if I remember correctly, we got the drain from Defender and it has a hose barb connection on the drain that is 1 1/2 and the other end connects to the 1 1/2 fitting on the shower sump box. Hope this helps. Chuck

  3. Hi Chuck, I am just about to order a shower sump to install as soon as I get the boat. I am just wondering if you have had any ongoing issues with the sump you chose if it has been ok?
    Many thanks

    1. Tony, We did have a problem with the sump. The built in float switch on the pump constantly stuck open so I replaced it with a regular float switch. No more problems. Chuck


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