We’ve recently talked about the various types of marine toilet that are available, and about the holding tank systems they discharge into. Now it’s time to talk about how to keep everything working and smelling right.
Here are some simple steps you can take:
Flush your head using fresh water, not raw.
While it’s certainly easier to use the ample raw water that surrounds your boat for flushing your head, using freshwater is one of the top things you can do to keep head odors down. Since seawater contains microorganisms that interact with human waste and produce foul-smelling byproducts, using fresh water helps reduce this interaction, and in turn, odor.
Try keeping a few half-gallon jugs filled with water in the head compartment. Use a full one for each time you flush solid waste, and about half of one for flushing urine. Make sure you have the intake selector lever or pedal on your head pushed to “Dry Flush” or “Dry.”
If you don’t have room for more than one jug (or don’t want your head compartment filled with containers), just keep one handy that can be filled up at a nearby sink for each use. Have a VacuFlush head? Those can easily be plumbed to use freshwater from your boat’s tanks, if you have sufficient capacity.
I always run a few gallons of fresh water through each of my heads before I leave the boat for an extended period of time (more than a few days). This keeps nasty raw water and waste from sitting inside the head and discharge hoses, where they can make a big stink.
Never flush anything that didn’t come out of you.
This one’s pretty easy. Hopefully you already know that the only thing that should go down your marine head is human waste and toilet paper — with no exceptions. But the likelihood is that your guests have no idea. Unless you want to be picking dental floss, feminine hygiene products, or old parking tickets from a clogged-up head, make it clear to your guests that if they didn’t eat it first, it doesn’t go down the head.
Now, there’s no delicate way to put this, but if you or a guest end up having to make a large deposit with a lot of toilet paper, flush when half-way through and then again when finished to avoid a clog. Moving a little through at a time is much less likely to cause a clog than trying to flush everything down at once.
Maintain your head early and often.
Most boat owners adopt the “set it and forget it” mantra when it comes to their marine heads, but that’s a sure-fire way to find yourself without the use of your head on your next cruise. Just like any piece of gear with moving parts, a marine head needs occasional maintenance to work well. Make sure you keep a repair kit for your particular make and model aboard. A repair kit usually contains seals, flapper valves, joker valves, and any other key parts that have a tendency to fail.
While some folks think this is excessive, I always disassemble my head during the off-season. Once I have it broken apart, I can check and replace any defective seals, valves, or other parts while lubricating it at the same time. That means I can go confidently into the spring season, knowing everything inside the head is in tip-top shape.
It’s only a two-hour job at most and it goes along way to preventing an unpleasant weekend afloat without any means to dispose of your waste. If you have a more complicated system, such as a VacuFlush system, make sure you have a pro check it over at least once a year.
Use additives, but don’t expect miracles.
Take a walk through any marine supply shop and you’ll likely find an expansive display lined with marine head chemicals somewhere among the aisles. Some additives are nothing more than liquids made of heavy fragrances designed to mask nasty head odors, while others contain enzymes or chemicals designed to make the inside of your head and hoses squeaky clean.
In my experience, the heavily fragranced additives are good at suppressing odors for a short time, but aren’t much good at anything else, such as breaking down waste, or lubricating your head’s insides. A better bet is an additive that contains enzymes or nitrates to break down waste and prevent odors, and also with some sort of lubricant to keep things operating smoothly.
A good additive helps, but keep in mind that it’s not going to take the place of good everyday operating procedures, or make a head that hasn’t been maintained in two years work nicely all of the sudden. There’s no replacement for good care and maintenance.
No one likes a smelly head, and I certainly don’t know anyone who wants theirs to break down during a peaceful weekend on the hook. Follow even a couple of the aforementioned tips and you’ll be well on your way to enjoying a more harmonious relationship with your marine head.