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Old 01-05-2021, 05:12   #1
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Looking into composting toilet

Quick background: In 2017/18 we took a year and cruised Her Diamond (our 1991 Freedom 38) from Lake Erie to South Florida. We now live aboard and cruise the Gulf Coast, Keys, Bahamas etc. every winter & haul out & spend summers back in Ohio. We are giving serious thought to replacing our Vacuflush toilet with a composting head. I would appreciate feedback from people who have made the switch regarding pros, cons & brand preferences.
Thank you,
Bob
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Old 01-05-2021, 06:15   #2
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Re: Looking into composting toilet

There are quite a few composting head threads on CF Bob. I've had a Nature's Head composter for approaching a decade now. I converted from a standard marine head with holding tank. My experience...

Pros:
  • Removed the need to find pump out service. We are no longer limited by holding tank volume.
  • Recovered significant storage space. In the space of all the hoses and holding tank I can now carry a couple of kayaks, more spare parts, and a sail.
  • Significantly reduce complexity. Little can go wrong. No more dreaded blockages or backflows.
  • Improved safety since no thru-hulls are needed.
  • No ugly odours.
Cons:
  • Urine jug requires frequent emptying; every two to three days for us (two adults, full time).
  • Urine jug smells during dumping (no odour while in use). There are ways to reduce this.
  • Dumping main bin requires you to be a bit more intimate with your outflows.
  • Disposal of contents can be a challenge depending on location.
The biggest limitation (not really a con) is that these heads are designed for two to three people for full time use. Higher full-time numbers will overwhelm the system. It's not a problem to have more people for short periods, but they're really aimed at small crews for full time use.

You'll find that those of us who actually own and use composting heads tend to like them. Unfortunately, this topic seems to bring out a lot of inexperienced or uninformed opinion, so you'll probably hear from people who dislike them, and are not shy to say so.
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Old 01-05-2021, 06:38   #3
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Re: Looking into composting toilet

We own a natures head as well. Everything mike said is bang on.
An additional note specifically on natures head. Ours is 1.5 years old, the fan stopped working(not a hard or expensive fix) and we had some urine leaking through to the solids tank(only 1-2 oz per week) it wasn't enough to cause stink, but did bring in some flies.
When we contacted natures head, they asked for pictures. After that they asked what address we want our new one sent to! Full and immediate replacement.
So a company that really stands behind their product and looks after their customers.
And it really only takes a few minutes to remove and reinstall!
Obviously we love our composting head!
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Old 01-05-2021, 07:29   #4
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Re: Looking into composting toilet

If we could figure out the spacing, we would be there. Trust me, I have redone my measurements every other joker valve replacement.

I know one couple that bought a boat with one composting head and after a year or so replaced the other head as well.
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Old 01-05-2021, 07:56   #5
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Re: Looking into composting toilet

Quote:
Originally Posted by SeaStory View Post
If we could figure out the spacing, we would be there. Trust me, I have redone my measurements every other joker valve replacement.

I know one couple that bought a boat with one composting head and after a year or so replaced the other head as well.

Look at smaller units, such as C-Head. In fact, I ended up custom fabbing one from kit parts because nothing would fit.


My opinion, after only a few months of use?
  • For smaller boats, 1000% better than a portable head. Not even close.
  • If pump-out facilities are limited, possibly the best choice. Definitely the best choice on many inland waters.
  • For larger boats with plenty of pump-out options or frequent off-shore excursions, conventional heads have advantages in capacity and aesthetics. But they do require more maintenance and careful design.
For my 24-foot tri, the desiccating head was (pardon the pun) a breath of fresh air, both in terms of odor and reduced work/contact. For my 34-foot cruising cat, I'd stay with the holding tank (lots of pump-outs in my area, as well as the ocean).
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Old 01-05-2021, 09:13   #6
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Re: Looking into composting toilet

We have an AirHead and are EXTREMELY pleased with it. It fit nicely in the tight space from which we removed the standard (Jabsco) marine head. We've never had a problem with it. As others have said, you have to remember to dump the urine container every few days. We also made another modification that has made it MUCH easier to deal with the solid waste. PM me for details.
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Old 01-05-2021, 09:13   #7
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Re: Looking into composting toilet

We installed an Airhead on a boat we sold. The new owner loved that there was no odor. We put a C-head in our next boat, mostly because it would fit better. Both worked great. No smell, no sewage under the v-berth, no plugged toilet to repair. We did not need to install a fan on either. We plumbed the urine to go into a grey water tank with the sinks. Many times we use a urine jug and just dump it down the cockpit drain. Nothing about a compost head is as gross as a holding tank full waste.
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Old 01-05-2021, 09:18   #8
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Re: Looking into composting toilet

Quote:
Originally Posted by Scorpius View Post
We have an AirHead and are EXTREMELY pleased with it. It fit nicely in the tight space from which we removed the standard (Jabsco) marine head. We've never had a problem with it. As others have said, you have to remember to dump the urine container every few days. We also made another modification that has made it MUCH easier to deal with the solid waste. PM me for details.
Is it a secret Scorpius? I'm always curious to see how people improve things. I'm sure we all are.
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Old 01-05-2021, 09:29   #9
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Re: Looking into composting toilet

Mike's summary is very accurate and objective from our experience with a Nature's Head since 2016.

Most interesting to us is how our occasional guests [think going out with us for a couple of weeks at a time] prefer it over the also available [and odorless and clean] Lavac head. The reason always given is '...we don't have to pump it...'

We are asked often about having one of each head, and therefore keep an up to date page with links to many outside resources if you are interested.

Cheers! Bill
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Old 01-05-2021, 10:31   #10
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Re: Looking into composting toilet

Don’t look into it (gross)

But seriously, Mike’s post is a perfect summary. I have had one for about 5 years now and will never go back. Some of the newer models have easier solids removal and liquids diversion to an easier to dump and less smelly tank
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Old 01-05-2021, 11:02   #11
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Re: Looking into composting toilet

We have a homebuilt separation toilet since 2016. Zero issues, works flawless. Only moving part a 24/7 running tiny 12v computer fan.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Captain Puget View Post
Donít look into it (gross)

But seriously, Mikeís post is a perfect summary. I have had one for about 5 years now and will never go back. Some of the newer models have easier solids removal and liquids diversion to an easier to dump and less smelly tank
.
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Old 01-05-2021, 13:10   #12
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Re: Looking into composting toilet

We have an 8 year-old Airhead. Love it and would never go back to any kind of conventional head.

Like "somanyboats" above, we plumbed the liquids tank into our 18 gallon holding tank. We're two full-time liveaboards all summer and we pump out the holding tank every two weeks. The solids tank lasts a month or so (we use the marina head for solids as much as possible).

The Airhead is taller than some of the newer alternatives. But being able to eliminate a lot of hoses on our little, old 31" sailboat is a joy.

We also put less peat moss in the solids tanks than recommended to prevent seepage out of the solids crank handle. We then add a small amount of peat moss after each solids use. Dries the waste out quickly and eliminates odors.

Nothing really to break. We hope to never have to clean a clogged head again.
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Old 01-05-2021, 13:38   #13
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Re: Looking into composting toilet

In between boats right now but my next boat will have one, I have been keen on the idea even before I tried out the idea in my pole barn/ shop. I have been simply using a five gallon bucket with a toilet seat adapted. I wanted to see if what folks were saying about simplicity and lack of odor was true. It is. I use coconut coil and really like it. I am going to try some composting trash bags from Amazon which should make the disposal effortless. As I have 12 acres were I live, I just dump it in the woods now. I will build my own composter for my next boat, nothing really to them to speak of, you can see examples on YouTube. In my design you will be able to urinate either standing up or setting on the composter.
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Old 01-05-2021, 14:30   #14
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Re: Looking into composting toilet

I've had boats with tradional heads, installed a composting head on one boat and gone back to traditional heads with gravity fed holding tanks on later boats.

Each has it's positives and negatives which in my mind are conducive to differnet cruising situations. (as well as individual preferences)

I installed the composting head on a trailerable cruising triamarain which I planned to take on cruises of less than a month to locations where pumping overboard was either illegal or not ethical. Small trimarans obviously have limited space and are weight sensitive. A composting head requires no raw water and actually gets rid of moisture, so they are very space and weight efficient. When I used it on a short cruise, I simply let the compost finish composting at home and threw it into a composting pile a couple months later. Very econologically and logistically efficient. Also, I plumbed the urine to a 3-gallon holding tank (gravity) rather than having to deal with emptying a urine bottle once or twice daily by hand. For short term cruising on a small boat, a composting head was wonderful and what I would choose again.

The big problem I ran into with a composting head is what to do on a longer cruise when the tank fills. You now have a bucket full of mostly uncomposted waste you must disposive of while on a cruise. Having to find a pump out in the Florida keys may be a hassle, but finding somewhere to legally dispose of uncomposted human waste may prove even more difficult (though probably less frequent). Dumping a composting head bin overboard is just as illegal as emptying a holding tank (and less discreet) In many areas, throwing human feces into the trash is illegal. (Except of course disposble diapers. Apparently politicans are happy to disenfranchise a few cruisers, but not all mothers!)

For Bahamas cruising, and other places where overboard discharge options are legal and more available, my preferred system is still a traditonal head with a gravity discharge holding tank. It's very easy to simply open a through hull when off shore and let the waste simply drain out. I much prefer that to trying to detach a composting bucket, haul it out and dump it overboard while under way. Note, this worked well for me because I spent little time in Florida and little time at a dock in the Bahamas. It's a whole different story if you spend the winter at a dock or anchored in a harbor.

The issue you have is you are cruising in locations where overboard discharge is an available option and locations where it is not, which makes the decision more complex and you don't really discuss how often you will be 3 miles or more offshore where oveboard dumping is legal. If I were cruising those grounds, these are the two questions I would address in making the decision:

1. How often will I be offshore, where I can legally and ethically dump overboard?

2. If I am doing extended cruising, largely near shore, what is my plan for dealing with uncomposted waste when the bin fills?


In summary, what I love about composting heads is they are simple. Vented right, they have little odor, you will never have to deal with clogged joker valve or malfunctiniong pump. You save the weight and space of a large holding tank and don't have to pay for a pump out. You can cruise for weeks without the tank filling. Throwing a composting bin overboard is no joy, but I sure prefer doing that every few weeks than duming a porti-potty every few days!

Again, the big issue and decisive issue for me is what to do with uncomposted waste when the bin fills before for cruise is over, which will happen frequently if you are cruising on the boat most of the year.

So, in your situation I think it really comes down to the balance of how/where you cruise as well as personal preference. As with many decisions, there is no right or wrong answer, it's just a matter of how the trade offs fit your own situation and preferences.

All the best whatever you decide.
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Old 01-05-2021, 14:57   #15
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Re: Looking into composting toilet

If you do as we do and add a bit (maybe 1/2 cup) of peat moss to the solids tank after each use, the waste will be dry and pretty much odor free when it's time to dump it all out.

We double-trash-bag the waste until we can get to a dumpster. It stows well in a cockpit locker. Not particularly heavy.

Good luck.
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