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Go Back   SailNet Community > On Board > Gear & Maintenance
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  #21  
Old 05-03-2009
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Faced with a problem in my after head last year (I don't know why J boats decided to put two heads in a 40 footer, but they did) I decided to take a chance on a composting head. I figured I'd keep one head with the usual holding tanks setup and try a composter for the other, thus having a backup if either failed. When I cruised to Nova Scotia last summer the one that failed was the standard head. A guest of the PO had dropped a sanitary product into the thing and jammed it up - a fact I didn't discover till I took the system apart.

The jammed head made the whole forward part of the boat practically unusable. Of course, we didn't know the system was jammed and at one point I looked at the holding tank and saw it was bulging in all directions, really ready to burst. I had visions of the thing exploding and me running the boat ashore, leaving it there, never to return. So, while offshore, I had to open the deck fitting, resulting in a two foot high gyser of you know what. It was at that moment that I decided I would never have a holding tank system on the boat ever again as long as I lived.

Meanwhile the after head was happily doing its job, without odor or problems. I realized that if there ever was a problem I would be able to take care of it offshore by removing the bottom part that holds the "end " product, tie a line to it and dip it over the side a few times, till clean. Much easier way to deal with a problem than the myriad hoses, valves, tanks etc of the standard system.

I am a total convert to the composting head solution and last year removed all signs of the holding tank era, using clorox to try to remove the lingering odors. This spring I took the compost (and it was compost by spring) out of the after head and dumped it in the woods - I'm still too chicken (and afraid of the wife) to put it in the flower garden.

Last week I sealed the sea cocks for both heads, installed the second Air Head, and the space previously taken by two holding tanks, assorted hoses, valves, pumps, etc has been put to much better use (the forward 20 gallon holding tank that nearly burst has been replaced by an auxiliary 20 gallon diesel tank that increases my fuel capacity by 40%)

I never experienced any odor problem. I did not use the supplied 12 volt fan, not wanting the constant drain on the batteries. Instead I use solar vents that keep the air moving without taxing the electrical system. Although I only used the composter for the second half of last summer, I never had odor problems of the kind I saw (smelled?) on my boats in the past. Incidentally, I have no connection, financial or otherwise, to any composting head maker. I just love the product, at least compared with what else out there for the purpose.

More than half a century ago Dick Nye, owner of the legendary Carina asked Olin Stevens advice on what to bring on a Transatlantic race. Olin said " a stout oak board with an 8" hole and a 100 pound bag of coal". Dick wondered about that but decided to follow the advice anyway. Sure enough it was cold as all getout on the race and all 100 pounds of coal went into the stove. The stout oak board? It had to be jury rigged to the pushpit when the head died hafway across. Wise words from a wise man.
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genieskip
Northeast
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1991

Last edited by genieskip; 05-05-2009 at 01:03 PM.
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  #22  
Old 05-03-2009
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I'm glad you did that little experiment, preservedkillick, because it reinforces what I've discovered about my AirHead. There is no smell. I thought that when I opened the sealed flap to drop the end product into the lower compartment I would get a strong smell coming out. Never happened. First, I followed the manufacturer's recommendation and put a large coffee filter above the trap door. That way when you flip the trap door and the filter and contents disappear into the lower tank there is nothing left in the upper area to need cleaning. Close the trap door and turn the stirring crank a couple of times and you are done. According to the manufacturer it is good for about 80 uses for solids.

As far as urine is concerned, it is not quite the same as poop. The pathogens that are found in feces are not as prevalent in urine, and cholera and suchlike are not spread by urine as far as I know. (I am not a medical professional so I could be wrong). If I am not close to shore or if I don't have female guests aboard I tend to pee over the side (while clipped in any kind of rough seas - I know a high percentage of drowned men are recovered with their flies open). If the bottle has any contents I dump it before going into the harbor. I have also walked to the marina head with a bottle. It is opaque so not many know what's in it and it comes with stopper. And unlike the strong chemical contents of portapotty heads, the marina management shouldn't have a beef.

I have sat near the solar vent that exhausts the air and never smelled anything. Like most other things on a boat a composting head will take care of you if you take care of it. Keep it clean, keep it filled with moist peat moss, keep it vented. I can't think of anything that could go wrong, but if something did go wrong, it would be easy to deal with because it is a very simple machine.
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Last edited by genieskip; 05-05-2009 at 01:05 PM.
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  #23  
Old 05-04-2009
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Composting heads...

I am tempted to install a composting head on my boat. We had one for 4 years in our home (with 3 children included)in AK years ago. No odor problems but the little thing didn't care for too much liquid. Beer drinkers were sent outside behind the woodshed. Warm temps sure aid the composting procedures. Always struck me more as a living breathing biology experiment than a sewage system. If nothing else, those heads provoke conversations.
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  #24  
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I like the concept and idea of using the 40 tank for fuel or water instead, (my boat is still under construction so I can still easily make those choices).

I have read a number of threads on this subject but haven't seen the answer to the question "what happens when you take a 1-2 wk. trip with 4-6 people?"

Bill
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Old 05-04-2009
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Bill,

There were a few posts I had read in the Gemini group regarding over-using the toilet. No perfect answers. One person talked about a week long trip with six people, and the head did fine, but needed a few weeks to "catch up" if I remember correctly.

I suppose you could just dump the contents overboard if out past any legal limits. They cost a thousand bucks, but the bottom of the unit is really just a bucket.
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  #26  
Old 05-05-2009
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bhenry View Post
I like the concept and idea of using the 40 tank for fuel or water instead, (my boat is still under construction so I can still easily make those choices).

I have read a number of threads on this subject but haven't seen the answer to the question "what happens when you take a 1-2 wk. trip with 4-6 people?"

Bill
If you are on a 2 week cruise with 6 people, chances are that you will exceed the capacity of a composting head for solid matter. You would exceed the capacity of a normal holding tanks as well so you would have to do something about that too. Easy if you are in local waters with pumpout stations available. Last year in Nova scotia we had the problem of not finding pumpout stations all over and had to wait till our fourth port to get to one. Same with most of the rest of the world. What people who have holding tanks in those situations do is go far enough offshore to comply with regulations and pump out manually, a tedious job at best.

As I said in an earlier entry, a composting head is a very simple machine. Just go more than three miles offshore, (I would recommend 10 - you'll probably be that far out during part of the trip) remove the bottom container from the head, dump it overboard, put more peat moss in and put it back in use. Remember, it is legal to pump directly overboard when more than three miles offshore. This wouldn't work too well if you are just working your way along the shore from marina to marina, but then you'd probably be using the marina's heads and showers anyway and wouldn't tax your system.

Look, nothing's perfect. In boating everything is a compromise. I prefer something which is extremely simple in use (and repair) to something which has so many pumps, hoses, tanks valves etc. that repair is at best difficult and often impossible underway as well as expensive and messy ashore.
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Last edited by genieskip; 05-05-2009 at 10:26 AM.
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