Which Boat Vacuum?

I hate our onboard vacuum.  It can only be used with a vacuum hose and little triangle shaped end which always works its way out after every few minutes.  On the plus side, it has a REALLY long cord which allows me the entire length of the boat. In addition, the attachments don’t work well. When I put the little brush in place for our bare wood floor, there’s not enough suction to pick up anything beyond dust, which just gets lodged in the brush.  And without the brush, the hose end will scratch the floor.  Another plus is that it is so easy to clean … and I guess another plus is that it hasn’t died in the cruising environment.  Although if it died, I’d have an excuse to replace it.

Dust Broom and Dustpan - The Out Cruising Hi-Tech Option!

Dust Broom and Dustpan - The Out Cruising Hi-Tech Option!

We actually have two other options available.  The one we use while we’re actually out cruising may be a best investment – it gets everything off the floor – and companionway steps, it’s completely reliable and doesn’t demand electrical juice :).   Coupled with taking the rugs outside and beating them, it’s a great system.  But I like having a handheld vacuum when we’re finally at a dock.  I guess it’s an unneeded luxury, but…

We also have a little 1 gallon Shop-Vac that lives in the cockpit lazarette for outside jobs – sucking up all the cetol shavings when we stripped all the teak, cleaning up any mess David can make, etc.  Using it inside is possible, but it’s very top heavy and won’t just sit on it’s own.  It tips over constantly and like the inside vac,  the available tips can scratch my teak & holly sole – something I’m trying to avoid.  It also has a short cord so we always have to break out an extension cord wherever we use it.

One Gallon Shop Vac

One Gallon Shop Vac

Both our current Dirt Devil and the shop-vac  have a problem with emissions — they blow dirty air out as I vacuum, making me sneeze!

In shopping for a hand vacuum to replace ours, I’ve decided upon a few prerequisites:

1.  No cordless models need apply.  We’ve used a cordless dustbuster before and the charge fizzles before I can even get the boat done — and as on most boats, our living space is modest – a full 18 feet from the front tip of the head back to the quarterberth starts — floor space.

2.  A cord long enough to reach from one end of our living space to the other.

3.  Enough suction that I don’t have to sweep up before I can vacuum.

4.  Some type of end attachment that won’t scratch the teak & holly cabin sole.

5. Preferably a vacuum that doesn’t leave me choking in the dust it spits back out … I think the industry calls this “emissions”.

WalMart's Hand Vacuum Selection

WalMart's Hand Vacuum Selection

So after I did some research online (I used Consumer Reports, but I don’t think I’m allowed to share their proprietary data in a post – but don’t worry, for hand vacuums there wasn’t much!).  I found more information online in product reviews than I did with Consumer Reports testing.  I didn’t really change much on my criteria, although there were a couple of models I decided I wasn’t too interested in based on the “emissions” criteria.

Selection was very skimpy … first we went to Kohl’s – they had one hand held vacuum – it was the Shark Pet vac, but David didn’t like the soft rubber nozzle, I didn’t mind it, but it was cordless and a cord is one of my criteria.  So on to Target.  Target had 3 models, all of which were cordless including the Bissell Handheld Vac which got very good ratings on Consumer Reports, but not so good on Amazon.   On to Bed Bath & Beyond, nope, all cordless… this is getting frustrating.  Surprisingly, WalMart had the best selection, although all but one of their models were cordless too.

Size Comparison: Original Dirt Devil, New Shark Hand Vac

Size Comparison: Original Dirt Devil, New Shark Hand Vac

There was ONE model with a 20′ long cord – Winterlude  has 18′ in length that needs vacuuming inside.  It was a Shark Hand Vacuum but it seemed very large and very heavy.  Since there were no other options and we frequent WalMart so returning it wouldn’t be a big deal, just waiting in line.

The Shark seemed much larger than my Dirt Devil, but when I compared them side by side, there wasn’t much size difference to the old vacuum — and the Shark’s tools stored much easier than the Dirt Devil.   Luckily the Shark fit neatly into the vacuum’s cubbyhole.

Now to try it out.  When I first turned it on, it sucked up my runner carpet whoosh — carpet almost inside the vacuum – so it has power!  Almost too much power!  After requesting David’s assistance to stand on the rug runner, it did a good job.  Likewise it did a good job pulling lint and particles out of corners where I was sure the larger brush head wouldn’t fit.   I like the always attached hose with the soft bristle end – if you remember to close the sliding lid over the rotating brush, it has just as much suction, always a good thing.  The tool to get into nooks & crannies simply slides into the brush end of the hose, neat, easy design.  And best of all, it hasn’t fallen out once … yet.


Shark Hand Vacuum

Shark Hand Vacuum

So, the jury is still out.  I want to use it a few more times before I decide for sure, but it seems like a good alternative to my horrid old Dirt Devil Scorpion.   This Shark model (V15Z) did not have good reviews on Amazon, although there’s a newer model that seems to have better reviews.  The biggest complaint is that the belt breaks and it’s difficult/impossible to find one to replace it.  Another of the consistently negative reviews for the Shark vacs in general was that the motor burned out quickly, some reported within a couple of months.  Other reviews stated that the motor overheats easily.

Shark is now including a “warning” in the packaging that states “after EACH use, remove the Filter Debris Screen from the HEPA Dust Cup Filter, then vigorously tap clean the HEPA filter until no more dust can be removed”.  It’s not difficult to remove and since I always cleaned the Dirt Devil out after every use, this won’t be a negative for me.   It also states “because of the incredible filtration performance, the HEPA Dust Cup Filter will quickly accumulate many fine dust particles that are difficult to see, but which will eventually block or reduce suction power and if not cleaned will cause the motor to overheat tripping the resettable thermostat.” – then it gives instructions to let it cool, clean the filter and you should be good to go.  I suspect many of the negative ratings had to do with this Warning statement!   🙂

Shark Vac With Extension Tool Attached, the Hose Stays on the Vac

Shark Vac With Extension Tool Attached, the Hose Stays on the Vac

Enough on boat vacuums!   Do you have a boat vacuum you particularly like or dislike?  Please leave a comment & share so others can make their own choices!   Cheers!  J


  1. Take several extra filters with you! When we finally found a vacuum we really liked (some no-name thing we bought driving through Phoenix) we discovered that we couldn’t get replacement filters. And while we could wash the old one out a certain number of times, we needed to replace it after a year. Couldn’t get them anywhere, even from the manufacturer! Made the vacuum pretty worthless.

  2. Larry Traverence says:

    try the Dyson DC 31 animal, cordless lots of attachments including one for mattresses good charge time heavy duty BUT not for wet

  3. Amber Amodei via Facebook says:

    I have the shark vac, it is a little heavy, and loud but works like a charm. I’ve had it for several years, wash the filter regularly (takes a while to dry) and the whole kit fits nicely into the bag it came with. To avoid scratching your teak use the felt dots or cut a strip from a lamp base felt replacement pad.

  4. Candy Ann Williams via Facebook says:

    I really appreciated your article!! I am always trying to find a better way than my whisk broom-we finally got rid of our big shop vac that lived in the engine room last year (or maybe it was longer ago) and got the little one gallon one and that’s what I use -I usually just whisk broom most of the time-even if we are plugged in I use the broom and then vacuum the piles and corners. I am going to put the shark on my ‘lists’. Great article Jan, thanks again for your posts.

  5. Julie Sandler Lambert via Facebook says:

    We have a very small shop vac. It is a multi tasker. It takes up vary little room, but can do so much. Has lots of available attachments. We use it for regular vacuum tasks including wet jobs. It also has “blow” outlet that we use to inflate the dinghy in seconds.

  6. My boat only has a 300w inverter. Does anyone have a 12v corded model they recommend? Right now I’m using a car vac and it’s so-so but ok for crumbs and light dust.

    • Anyone out there happy with their 12v corded vacuum? Larry’s looking for one! I’ve never heard anything good about most 12v appliances, so I can’t comment. 🙂

  7. Your all concept is really perfect to better understand. I already have shark, using it about 2 years. It works fantastic. It has good suction power that make it more strong.
    Overall this vacuum is so much efficient one for pets and home cleaning.

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