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Plumbing Problems and Troubleshooting On Board Ship

Updated on September 30, 2011

Old commercial ships of the 70s and 80s that were still existing until the year 2000 onwards have troubles primarily on plumbing.

As a sailor, I encountered problems using the faucet, the drain, the toilet inside my cabin and even helped repair the septic system of the vessel.

What a gross scene!!! Pardon to those who are eating as I spill it out here one by one on DIY Plumbing on HubPages.

You see, as the ship travels from continent to continent, the weather varies from hot to cold and the extreme of it.

To combat problems on plumbing, ship's master always remind officers and crew to use every equipment carefully and wisely.

So, in order for other readers to understand our rigors plus patience maintained on board ship, here's the usual scenario happening while we're on voyage or at port.

Filipinos (with the sailor, wearing blue shirt-extreme left) on board the old ship) (Photo by thesailor, 2002)
Filipinos (with the sailor, wearing blue shirt-extreme left) on board the old ship) (Photo by thesailor, 2002)

Old ship, plumbing problems

My second assignment on board ship was both exciting and problematic. The camaraderie and rapport among officers and crew were overwhelming. For the first time, I was drawn closely to the Greek culture because of my very kind master.

The only major problem on board the vessel was the problem in plumbing.

I was ushered by the Filipino steward (who later became my close friend) into my assigned cabin. I immediately used the toilet due to my timely need to pee. When I flushed it with water, it didn't went down instantly. My questioning eyes were countered by my friend regarding plumbing problems on board ship.

"Don't worry, you'll survive," he said meaningfully.

Fitters in action

There were two fitters on board the old ship, two Rumanians who are experts in repairing worn out piping system in the vessel and other metal works.

Their daily hot works (needs permit before executing works involving welding with the use of acetylene and welding rods) concentrated in:

  1. Engine Room - piping repairs for the boiler and maintenance for engine and other metal works
  2. Super Weather Deck - auxiliary pipe lines and other repairs
  3. Water Piping System - continuous watch and repair on some leaking pipes for the drinking water and ballast (water system that balances the floating ship)
  4. Septic System - case-to-case basis, especially in every cabin's CR (comfort room).

It's always hard work when you're on board ship. So, if I were you, you can always ask the age of the ship you'll be working on if you happen to be assigned to a particularly, very, very, very OLD ship.

Every sailor's nightmare

As for me, and for those who were on board that ship (scrapped already since 2003), we always encountered discomfort on the unclogged sinks and the toilet.

Due to the very irresponsible crew, I personally unclogged the sink which was full of hair and phlegm!!! (Gwark! I almost vomited!). Don't worry, I wore hand gloves that protected me from unwanted germs.

Aside from this, being assigned as the second cook of the ship, I assisted my Greek chief cook in every thing we did on board, including the maintenance of the galley.

We cannot overdo cleaning inside the galley because of plumbing problems. If we use too, much water, we always expected that the oily-water will not sink down because of clogged pipes. We had to mop the floor not cleaning it entirely with water.

As for the sink in the galley, we also encountered the same problem, changes in temperature (from hot to cold weather) will solidify the oily water, thereby clogging the pipe. I had to pour hot water to combat such problem.

But when the ship became a liner in Black Sea countries, like Ukraine, I had to endure such difficulties when washing dishes and kitchen utensils. Me and the steward, removed first the food leftovers, before washing batch of dishes after every meal. We also appealed to fellow crew to carefully stack their used plates and glasses while they're on night duties. That will help us for our next-day chores.

It helps if galley personnel will always order for a snake pipe unclogging equipment, like what we are recommending here. Aside from hot water, it can also help normalize the sinking of water in the sink piping as well as the problems I encountered in my CR's sink.

In winter's time, the ship's heating system helps unclog pipe system. Water discipline is usually imposed by the ship's master. Well, who else will brave taking a bath daily during winter? From what I've encountered, the heating system of the old ship gave us too much problems. Better sleep full of thick warm blanket than use the heating system full of dust!


In conclusion, plumbing problems on board ship will be lessened if responsible sailors will impose discipline in all works aboard, especially the proper way on how to avoid such discomfort.

Ship's garbage disposal system should be strictly imposed. Warnings about pipe clogging should also be reminded during toolbox meeting or during safety meetings every week.

During the dry docking of that very OLD ship in Varna, Bulgaria - May 5-20, 2002 (Photo by the sailor)
During the dry docking of that very OLD ship in Varna, Bulgaria - May 5-20, 2002 (Photo by the sailor)


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    • thesailor profile image

      thesailor 3 years ago from Seven Seas

      @perfaz rennel: Thank you and that's what we expect to all seafarers.

    • profile image

      perfas rennel 4 years ago

      very interisting...............good job guyz.

    • thesailor profile image

      thesailor 5 years ago from Seven Seas

      Well said, travel man. That's why I always expect the unexpected. :)

    • travel_man1971 profile image

      Ireno Alcala 5 years ago from Bicol, Philippines

      Seafaring is full of extreme experiences. Not only the crests and troughs of ocean waves that you'll endure but all the perils that will come on board the ship.

    • thesailor profile image

      thesailor 6 years ago from Seven Seas

      @thoughtforce: Thank you for hearing me out. It's part and parcel the talk of most sailors as they hurdle their workloads for the rest of their contracts.

    • thougtforce profile image

      Christina Lornemark 6 years ago from Sweden

      Very interesting article about plumbing problems at sea! I can imagine that it is a common problem on old ships. For some reason no one wants to put so much effort in either maintenance or prevention when it comes to plumbing in a area shared by many. We all just want it to work! But the solution is simple enough, everybody have to do his or her part.

      Thanks for an interesting read


    • thesailor profile image

      thesailor 6 years ago from Seven Seas

      Thanks, Nspeel for leaving your insight here. Plumbing problems are often the 'toast of the day' working at old ships, like what happened to me as galley personnel way back 2002.

      As for the links, those are works of other hubbers you might find interesting.

      Whoa, getting a prize for this? Thanks for the vote of confidence.

    • Nspeel profile image

      Nspeel 6 years ago from Myrtle Beach

      Very useful you used a lot of links which discouraged me from leaving a comment because I had a hard time finding it but great article I enjoyed it and hopefully you get a prize for for the plumbing article.