SOUTH PORTLAND – As I prepared to help Jim Splude pump out the toilets of boats docked at Spring Point Marina, I figured I’d have to beware of powerful odors and unsightly messes.

But Splude told me the biggest worry was a sound — a hiss, to be specific.

“If you hear a hiss when you’re unscrewing the cap, that’s pressure built up in there,” said Splude, 39, who pumps the toilets and sewer lines of boats all day long as pump-out coordinator for Friends of Casco Bay. “Usually, I can manage to let enough pressure out and I don’t have a problem. But sometimes, it’s a geyser coming out of there.”

Splude’s job was created because the nonprofit Friends of Casco Bay wants to make it easy for people to follow the law, and not dump boat sewage into the water within three miles of the coast. Splude makes appointments with boat owners who want their toilets pumped out — it’s a $10 fee for most boats with 20-gallon toilet tanks — and then spends his day traveling to marinas around Casco Bay and pumping out boats. He usually does seven to 10 a day.

Then at the end of the day he pulls up the Maine Yacht Center in Portland, and pumps the contents of his boat — the 300-gallon “Baykeeper II” — into the marina’s pump-out system, which connects to a sewer line. Maine Yacht doesn’t charge Friends of Casco Bay for the service.

While the mission of Friends of Casco Bay is to keep the bay clean, much of the work Splude does is slightly dirty.

When we pulled up to our first pump-out appointment on a sunny Tuesday morning, a large pleasure boat called the Marcath IV, Splude and I both donned rubber gloves. He had me use a specially made two-pronged tool to unscrew the outside cap to the boat’s toilet tank. I didn’t hear a hiss, but I did get a powerful odor. It was a combination of what you’d imagine is in toilet, plus the chemicals used to treat sewage.

“Yeah, it’s pretty strong, sometimes it stays with me after I’m done working,” said Splude.

To drain the boat’s toilet tank, I took the flexible, clear plastic vacuum hosed attached to the pump in Splude’s boat and screwed it onto the sewer line of the Marcath IV. Then Splude turned his pump on and we watched brownish water chug through the vacuum hose and into his tank. After a few minutes, the boat’s toilet was empty and we washed the end of the vacuum hose. Then Splude put some clean water in the boat’s tank, and vacuumed that out, to flush out the tank and prevent sediment from building up.

The pumping itself took only a few minutes. Splude spends more of his time traveling to the marinas, slowly motoring past the docks to find the boat he’s supposed to pump, and then maneuvering into tight spaces so he can get close to the boat he’s pumping.

With the Marcath, we cruised up and down the docks looking for space G5. Sometimes the docks were marked, sometimes not. We found the Gs, but couldn’t find 5. Then as Splude was slowly motoring past some boats, I spotted what looked to be the name Marcath half covered by some blue canvas. Splude then parked his boat in an empty slip and we walked to the Marcath to get a close look at where the cap to the toilet line was. We didn’t want to accidently start pumping out the gas tank, Splude said.

“The tricky part is getting as close to boats as possible without bumping into them,” said Splude. “Some of these boats cost $60,000, so I don’t want to be bumping into them.”

When we tied up to the Marcath, I put one knee up on the edge of Splude’s boat and unscrewed the sewage tank’s cap. Splude told me to make sure to put that cap on the floor of his boat — not on the dock, or on the edge of the boat. The last thing you want to do is leave a boat without a cap on its toilet tank.

On bad weather days, Splude makes appointments. He also teaches boaters about pumping their boats and about the effects of marine sewage.

On the day I was with him, he had a full schedule of boats to pump out. After Spring Point Marina, we ventured into Portland Harbor to look for a boat called DeeLiteful at Sunset Marina. Along the way we noticed other creative boat names, like I.B. Dozin. Splude said he knew one man who called his boat Jobsite so he could call people from the boat and say, truthfully, he was at “the Jobsite.”

“That’s one of the fun parts, seeing all the creative boat names,” said Splude. “Plus just being out on the water all day, with these views of Portland. I can’t really complain.”

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

[email protected]