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Old 20-07-2013, 08:09   #1
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The Almighty Head Thread

Hello folks,

My very first post is going to be about the head. I've been reading and googling like a mad fool in order to learn all about sailboats. I'm quickly coming up to speed on terminology & equipment.

My wife & I are searching for our first boat. We are going to be weekenders sailing on Lake Pepin in SE Minnesota, and we plan to live on the boat for the weekend(Friday & Saturday nights). We're also going to be bringing our two Beagles with(that could be a whole thread in itself).

At the top of the priority list in our search is a private head. So it seems to me that the odds of having that would be in a boat of at least 26'.

I'm a little confused, however, about the different types of heads available.

Porta-Potty: I assume this a "portable" device that you stow away somewhere and whip out when needed. Does it consist of just a seat and a holding tank for the waste? Where do you empty the waste, and how yucky of a process is that?

Marine Head: Do all marine heads have a holding tank? Where is the holding tank and how do you empty it?

Marine Head with pump: Is this different than a head with a holding tank?

Are there any other types of heads that I missed?

In short, we both agree that we want a boat with a head that is the least "ishy" to empty. We have children, so we're not "poop-ignorant", but still...the less mess the better.

Thanks for the advice!
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Old 20-07-2013, 08:25   #2
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Re: The almighty head thread

You have the details more or less correct.

Portapotty is indeed portable with a carry away container for the waste. Been many years since I used one but think the process was relatively pain free. But small ones have limited capacity.

Holding tanks are required most places unless you are offshore. Older boats might not have one at all or might have been retrofitted with a bladder. Bladders were quick, cheap, easy but smell.

If you get a boat without any sort of holding you could be fined and chastised severely by the authorities.

Retrofitting a holding tank can be a pain. How big? Where to put it? Hoses from head to tank to through-hull (for dumping when offshore) plus a hose and deck fittings for pumpout (which is how to get rid of the waste from the tank which requires going to a marina or other location with pump out equipment)

Another option is a composting head. No hoses, no pump out, easy installation, not cheap. Separates liquids and solids so you have to carry away and dispose of the liquid tank every day or three or five. Solids compost into a dry, odorless powder. Supposed to be odorless or very low odor. Some people love'em, some don't.
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Old 20-07-2013, 08:56   #3
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Re: The almighty head thread

during 1970s there was a phenomenon known as porta potty that was essentially built into boat as a head system.
islander and ericson used this ... utilizes a thetford 875 with plumbing to pump out and to a manual pump for off shore emptying the holding tank.
was a legal alternative to the manual marine toilet. still is.
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Old 20-07-2013, 09:06   #4
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Re: The almighty head thread

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Originally Posted by zeehag View Post
during 1970s there was a phenomenon known as porta potty that was essentially built into boat as a head system.
islander and ericson used this ... utilizes a thetford 875 with plumbing to pump out and to a manual pump for off shore emptying the holding tank.
was a legal alternative to the manual marine toilet. still is.
NOT LEGAL FOR FRESH WATER LAKES TODAY. SailorSlick, check the regulations for your area, but I'm pretty sure you're going to need a set up with a holding tank. If you have to retrofit it, make sure the holding tank will be flushable. When you store the vessel for the winter, you want all that cleaned out thoroughly.

Have fun with it.

Ann
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Old 20-07-2013, 09:21   #5
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I was going to start asking questions about heads eventually anyway...

I know the Y valve in my system needs to be replaced in short order (the valve handle is broken and currently operated by a vice grip).
That single piece is $75.
I know the system functions in overboard mode, but haven't investigated the condition of the other hoses and fixtures.

But just so I have my options open (and am making informed choices)...
I'm familiar with the "port a potty" camping toilets because I own one.
The composing toilets interest me greatly.
They're in the $850 to $1500 range, and seem pretty easy to operate.
I believe they require some electric current to operate the composting function.
Does anyone know what kind of power they draw, and how long they need to cycle at any given time to function properly?

I believe that so long as my holding tank is serviceable that the most useful and cost effective way to go is to make needed repairs to my existing system.
Just trying to become informed to make sure my options are open
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Old 20-07-2013, 09:37   #6
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Re: The almighty head thread

Ours is a fairly typical system where waste can be pumped directly overboard, or diverted to a holding tank. The holding tank can then be pumped directly overboard in open water, or can be pumped out at a pump-out facility. This involves quite a series of plumbing, venting, seacocks and valves and connections, although the holding tank pump is manual. Sometimes I think a porta-potty would be the safest and simplest method, but emptying it would likely be a rather unpleasant chore. Does anyone ever take a porta-potti to a pump out facility and just vacuum it out like a regular holding tank?
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Old 20-07-2013, 12:35   #7
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Re: The almighty head thread

Slick, does "Lake Pepin on SE Minnesota" have marinas and fuel docks with pump-out facilities? If so, you have more choices, if not, you'll be limited.

Assuming it does... a typical MSD III ("marine sanitation device," in this case a holding tank) would likely be a commonly found option for receiving/storing waste from your head. You simply periodically go to the pump-out station and pay the nice man. Or sometimes, do it yourself.)

There are various methods in which these are installed. Sometimes with a Y-valve in between head and tank, with the other side of the Y leading off to a direct overboard discharge (not legal except further offshore). The holding tank then also has a pump-out port.

Sometimes the head is plumbed directly to the holding tank, and the holding tank might have two discharge points, one for pump-out, one with a macerator for overboard discharge (ditto legality). I suspect this has become more common in newer boats, but don't know that for sure.

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Old 20-07-2013, 12:46   #8
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Do you guys regularly use some kind of digester/deodorizer chemicals in your holding tanks?
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Old 20-07-2013, 13:04   #9
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Re: The almighty head thread

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Do you guys regularly use some kind of digester/deodorizer chemicals in your holding tanks?

Start with a search here on anything written by Peggie Hall (peghall) and especially info about Raritan products KO, CP, etc. After that, there are other similar products you can learn about...

-Chris
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Old 20-07-2013, 13:32   #10
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Re: The almighty head thread

I want to use a Nature's Head composting toilet ... no pumps, no tanks. Totally legal and coast guard certified ... BUT ... it is larger than standard marine head and won't fit in our 1966 boat which was built back in the day when waste to water was OK. We are trying to decide whether to retrofit the interior to have a Nature's Head Marine composting toilet or just continue with what is essentially a fancy bucket. The Nature's HEad company is from Ohio and I think their product was developed for the Lakes of the midwest.
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Old 20-07-2013, 14:44   #11
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Re: The almighty head thread

For composters, there's a few available, some more basic than others.
The Air Head Air Head Dry Toilet: Marine Composting Toilets - Environmentally Friendly Marine Composting Toilet System
Natures Head Nature's Head Composting Toilets - The environmentally sustainable waterless toilet for Your Boat, RV, Cabin, Big Rig, Barn, Workshop, or Yurt!
The C-Head C-Head portable composting toilets
Ecolet Ecolet Mobile

Here's a link to a conversion on a Gemini 3200: Sailboat Family - Composting Toilet

And, of course, there's Glen Damato's book "Breaking Seas" wherein he describes a rather unpleasant episode with his composter. Well worth the read for your Kindle.
Personally, I like the composters. I've used a porta-potty in the truck for a while, and I absolutely despise cleaning it. The tank is good for about one good BM, and although it has been a godsend on occasion, I would prefer something not quite as noxious and disgusting to service.

Living in a semi is akin to living in a boat, only smaller and drier. I have no running water, no place for a holding tank. The porta-potty takes up quite a bit of my already miniscule living area (which is roughly 6ftx8ft). And I can't always stay in a truckstop (they're often full anyway), rest area (most states have more picnic area than parking), and the shopping centers throw you out. Plus, being 75ft long and 40 tons, it can be challenging when that bean burrito decides it's time to make it's presence known during LA rush hour.
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Old 20-07-2013, 15:08   #12
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Re: The almighty head thread

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The C-Head is smaller and cheaper than the Nature's Head and Air Head. I'm planning on installing one in my boat over the winter. About $500-600. Also the simplest of the composting heads I've looked at, and comes with good reviews. Doesn't use proprietary jugs for the pee..you just use standard 1 gallon milk jugs.

With two onboard and a 1 gallon reservoir, you're probably looking at emptying the pee at least once a day. But you could also consider installing a small holding tank for this. The poo cycle is much longer.

In my research, the clear majority of those having installed composting heads would never go back. And for a small, simple boat, it makes even all the more sense..

IMHO
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Old 20-07-2013, 15:41   #13
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What is the power requirement to run one of the composting toilets?

Edit...
I see that the C-Head model you just posted uses a hand crank.
That makes this model very attractive to me.
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Old 20-07-2013, 15:55   #14
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Re: The Almighty Head Thread

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Originally Posted by oblivionboyj View Post
What is the power requirement to run one of the composting toilets?

Edit...
I see that the C-Head model you just posted uses a hand crank.
That makes this model very attractive to me.
I THINK YOU JUST POOP IN IT AND LEAVE IT... but not an expert since I've never even seen one! Check out these guys: Nature's Head Composting Toilets - The environmentally sustainable waterless toilet for Your Boat, RV, Cabin, Big Rig, Barn, Workshop, or Yurt!
They're one of our vendors, and pretty helpful people.
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Old 20-07-2013, 16:14   #15
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Re: The Almighty Head Thread

No power. Add some peat moss or similar to begin with and then hand crank after each sitting. The end result is not actually compost..you're not going to want to save it for your organic garden (needs more time), but the separation of the pee and poo eliminates the head stench that's so hard to avoid in standard marine heads. The poo is processed by aerobic microorganisms which quickly neutralize the odor and turns it into something on its way to becoming dirt.

I have not actually installed mine yet, so I'm by no means an authority on the subject. However, given the elimination of all thru-hulls, hose runs and holding tank, not to mention all the moving parts of the marine head pump itself, it's going to have to work out very very poorly in order for me, personally, to go back to the standard marine head.

You will have to sit down to pee with any of the composting heads on the market in order to keep the pee and poo separated, thus avoiding the familiar head stench. But squatting is good practice anyway, at least out on the water. Anyway, seems like a small price to pay.

Also, a few have had a problem with tiny bugs. This appears to stem from the peat moss not being sterile before being used in the head. Not a very common problem from what I've seen, but something to watch out for. You may want to ensure the peat moss you use is sterile. Bake it in the oven, or use an alternative to peat moss.

Not for everyone, but surely worth consideration given all the cruising folks out there who swear by it.
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