Thursday, 3 December 2015

A Tale of Two Heads

Some of you are probably already aware that on Maple we replaced both manual seawater flushed heads with composting heads.  While I suspect most of us don’t want to hear more than the minumum when it comes to heads, we’ve had folks ask us on several occasions why we switched, and how the heads are working out.  This post is the first of what will likely be at least a couple of posts on the topic.  Today’s post is more about the installation process and my adventures, but I expect we’ll do a review of performance and our experience in the future.

Before we even purchased our boat Janet and I both expected that we would want to change out the manual heads in the boat with composting heads.  We had read and heard from others about the benefits of composting heads both in terms of their impact on the earth and the general boat worthy comforts of composting heads.

The pros: They don’t stink, the don’t have through hulls and they don’t require a giant tank full of human excrement to be placed in the boat.

The cons: You’ve got to dump them, they’re not cheap, you might get bugs (though this seems controllable)

Days before we arrived in Venice we purchased 2 composting heads from the European supplier of Natures Head.  We had read and seen great reviews of the Natures Head composting toilet and it appealed because of the simplicity of use.

The heads arrived in Venice sometime around September 22, just in time for me to deal with the installation of the port side head while Janet and the kids were in London.

The Head: Awaiting Removal.

Phase 1: Deconstruction

Maple has 2 heads, one in the port hull and one in the starboard.  Knowing that we would be changing out the heads in Venice we had stopped using the port head before we arrived and had made sure the holding tank was dumped in deep water (as required) so that I would be dealing with the least amount of yuckiness possible (or so we thought).

Just to draw a picture for you a manual pump head is pretty straight forward.  Once you’ve made your deposit, you pump to push the deposit to a holding tank.  Once in the holding tank it sits until dumped, or pumped out. 

As I began to unhook hoses, a surprise awaited me (actually several, but the first was the least pleasant).  Whomever had used the head last had failed to fully pump the discharge line to the holding tank clear.  By failing to pump the discharge line clear, the previous occupant of this particular throne had left a rather smelly surprise that rolled out at me when I unhooked the head.  

There I was on my knees contorted into the circus sideshow shape necessary to do any boat work and inches from my face a brown tidal wave of nightmarish proportions was racing across the floor.
I did what any seasoned boat owner would do – I put a for sale sign on the boat and went to the bar.  

Actually I screamed, cried a little and then accepted that I was wearing human waste and got on with the job.  After removing the head and hoses I showered for about a week and got back to work.

Next up was the holding tank.  What appeared at first to be pretty straightforward turned out to be anything but.  I can only assume that the factory built the boat around the tank as there was no way it was coming out of the boat without a little surgery.  As I contemplated the pain that I was facing if I tried to cut the tank in two I came to the happy realization that only minor surgery was required, and I set about cutting off the pump out and vent piping which provided me with the room required to wiggle the tank from it’s cubby hole and free up an enormous storage space.

Holding Tank prior to removal.

Hoses - yes that's what you think it is...

Stage 2: Installation

The Natures Head is no small toilet, but it’s not huge either.  We live on a catamaran so I figured we had lots of space (ok I did measure before ordering too) but for some reason when the heads arrived, the looked really big…too big.  Once I had removed the manual pump head from the port side, I had to check to see that the composting head would fit and it did – sort of.

The head requires 2 inches from the rear wall – no problem, but it also requires 2 inches from the right side in order to empty it…and at least 4 inches on the left side to turn the composting crank and operate the head.  Hmmm – that’s a problem.  I have 4 inches but not 4 inches and 2 inches on the other side…

Solution: remove the hinge that instead of sliding the top portion of the head to the right before lifting, I can simply lift the top part up.  That works.  I love a good solution that doesn’t require bodging things together.

Wait…our head doors open in, towards the toilets…will they still be able to open – yes, barely.  Whew that was close.

Ok so then I just have to bolt the base down…oh wait, there is some fibreglass floor pan in the way.  I’ve got to make some cuts to make room.  If you’ve never cut or sanded fibreglass, imagine drywall, but itchier.  The dust was literally everywhere.  But the head fits and functions and is beautiful.  Now – all I needed to do was remember all of the lessons learned, and solutions employed for head number 2 on the starboard side…


  1. Lol, a turdal wave...I can just see it now. Hope all is going well for you guys and you're all still having fun.

  2. This post was a blast to read!! You are becoming a jack of all trades. I love it! Tammy :)

  3. For the next head, buy a gallon of cheap white vinegar. After pumping the head with water, put the vinegar in. Acidic outflow, but far more pleasant than what it displaces.

  4. Working on my own head, I now know why plumbers get paid so much! Sounds like you maintained your sense of humor, which is most important.

  5. Patiently (*cough*notsopatiently*cough*) awaiting the Part II of this series... especially as we consider a composting head for Brio!! :)

  6. Hopefully watching USA beat Canada in Juniors today will make this task seem less distasteful.

  7. Darryl, that was really entertaining. Who knew you could do that kind of sh**
    er stuff. I'm impressed. I'm proud of you and Janet going with the composting toilet.

    I look forward to more tales from the Maple. Hope your Christmas and New Year's celebrations were good. Love you all! Rhea

  8. What's the verdict? A good decision? Jon's trying to convince me to make the switch (I'm reluctant) so I'm curious to hear how you guys like them....

    1. AH crap...of another sort. Now I see the downfall of being a sometimes blogger. Sorry I didn't check for comments awaiting moderation. Hope the winter in Maine is not so bad...Turkey is colder than we expected. As for the heads - still 2 thumbs up - way up. We're loving the heads and not having to deal with hoses, smells, holding tanks etc. Especially as I watch our marina neighbour pull old dripping stinky hoses out of his boat. I'll post more detail on the experience so far soon.