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cthoops 04-28-2013 08:36 PM

Back for more - portapotty vs. manual head
O.k. I'm back with another portapotty vs. head question.

Mr. cthoops and I had originally planned to tear out the holding tank and replace our manual head with a portapotty/composting head. I was really hoping for the composting option, but it's just not going to fit with our v-berth setup. So we took some measurements of the existing system and, since it will soon be time to put up or shut up, I wanted to ask for opinions:

Our manual head is located below the v-berth. The holding tank is six gallons, and it is 13 1/2 feet away, basically aft of amidships. The hose is level for the majority of that length, but when it gets to the holding tank the contents in the hose must defy gravity by going up into the tank.

Given all of this - holding tank size, length of hose, placement - should we keep the head/holding tank or will we be setting ourselves up for regular aggravation with too-frequent pump outs, odors, blockages, etc.?

fallard 04-28-2013 08:55 PM

Re: Back for more - portapotty vs. manual head
A typical porta potti has a holding tank that is much less than 6 gal. Two adults on a long weekend cruise would fill it, so your endurance would suffer if you switch over to the porta potti.

Since you can at least remove the porta potti to dump it in a toilet at the marina, you might consider whether that is more convenient than pumping out your existing holding tank, which means moving your whole boat.

You didn't indicate your sailing venue, but if there is a possibility of sailing past the 3 mile limit (say on your way to Block Island) you might dump your existing holding tank overboard if you have a way to do this. Otherwise, there are a number of options for pump outs along the CT and RI coast. Block Island and Westerly (Watch Hill/Napatree) have free pump out boats, as does Stonington and Groton (e.g, Mystic River).

My only reservation is the endurance you'd have with the limited capacity of a porta potti. We have a power boat with a porta potti and you need to plan for it filling up. Our sailboat has a 23 gal holding tank and we have to plan for that, too, but obviously with more latitude.

bljones 04-28-2013 10:45 PM

Re: Back for more - portapotty vs. manual head
cthoops, That is a very very odd head set-up. I understand your concerns.
Given a choice between carrying a plastic box of my own waste down a dock or opting for a pumpout, gimme a holding tank everytime. You hit on one of the big drawbacks of composting systems- they are too tall for many applications.
The downside of head repairs is that's the head.
The upside is that it is not rocket science.
Is there any way or any place to install a holding tank closer and lower to the head? IN a hanging locker just aft of the v-berth, or under the head itself, or on the cabin sole, under the v-berth, or...
pics would be a big help to find a solution.

SlowButSteady 04-28-2013 11:44 PM

Re: Back for more - portapotty vs. manual head
Your current set-up is something of a disaster. Chances are that the hose from the toilet to the holding tank will almost always have waste in it, and that waste will be anaerobic no matter what you do. In other words, you've got yourself a little sulfide factory on your boat (sulfide what makes heads/tanks/hoses/poop/etc stink, for the most part). I would move the tank closer to the toilet and plumb it so that the high point of the hose is as close to the toilet as possible, and it enters the tank on the top. That way everything after the high point should drain, keeping the hose as aerobic as possible.

The tank itself should have two vents, preferably terminating on opposite sides of the boat, to facilitate flow-through ventilation of the tank. That, and not letting the tank sit with any waste in it any longer than you have to, will (hopefully) keep the tank as aerobic as possible. Also, if at all possible, plumb the tank with all the fittings on the top. That way none of the tank fittings will have liquid pushing against them 24/7. Finally, six gallons is pretty damned small. I would try to find room for a 10-12 gallon tank, if at all possible. That should give you enough capacity for two or three people for a week-end. Check out Ronco's website; they have all sorts of shapes and sizes of tanks for boats.

Minnewaska 04-29-2013 06:50 AM

Re: Back for more - portapotty vs. manual head
SlowButSteady is right about the waste in the line and it will eventually permeate the hose. Even if the waste line does not defy gravity, it requires at least one full gallon of clean water to keep it clear of deposited particles. One way to fix this would be to get a new hose and route it from the head, straight up along side the hull to a point that is higher than the waterline when heeled, install a vented elbow to prevent a siphon and then route it any way from there to the holding tank without ever creating a low spot. The only part of the hose that would have standing water would be the piece from the head to the vent and that should have clear water, if you flush enough. You can probably get away with the hose you have routed up to this new vent and only buy the hose to get back down to the head.

The problem with a 6 gallon tank is it is legitimately about 5 to 6 flushes. They really need to be vented outside the boat, which requires a 1" hose, also run with an anti-siphon loop, to a thru hull above the water line at heel or through the deck. While not required, I would hope it has a way of emptying overboard, when allowable.

If you were willing to spend some money, the Lavac Head may be the answer for you, if it will fit. They work by hand pumping a vacuum that builds up and then shoots the contents of the bowl to the tank. You would probably still need to re-route the waste lines away from that dip, but they only use a few pints of water per use and your 6 gallon tank would last much, much longer.

Good luck. For me, any boat without an operating head can not be cruised and isn't even a day sailor, its a couple of hour sailor, maybe....... :)

jimgo 04-29-2013 09:06 AM

Re: Back for more - portapotty vs. manual head
Can you put supports under the line so the waste doesn't have to defy gravity? Or perhaps suspend it from the underside of the floor/top of the bilge?

Pegu club 04-29-2013 03:02 PM

Re: Back for more - portapotty vs. manual head
The problem is that the waste out hose from the head travels about thirteen feet through the bilge/ under the cabin floor, then has to gain about two and a half feet to get up to the holding tank that is attached on a bulkhead under the cockpit, past that bulkhead is the lazz locker that holds the outboard. The only place one could maybe move the holding tank to would eliminate all the storage for the galley/ nav table, and it would still be two feet above the waste hose where it exits the head. so I'm thinking that the current head system needs to be removed and a porta potty should be reinstalled.

I know that the head debate rouses many to levels of passion, but a quality new porta potty can be set up for dockside pump out that alone strikes me as reason enough to remove the old poorly laid out head system.

Is the current head system as described above a disappointment just waiting to happen or not? From what Slowbutsteady is saying I think its got to go.

What say you fellow sailers?

katsailor 04-29-2013 03:21 PM

Re: Back for more - portapotty vs. manual head
Don't you still need a loop that is above the waterline when the boat is heeled to keep the holding tank from emptying back out the head while heeled? yuck :puke

I would not want to find my cabin sole covered with poop, would make for a miserable sail and I know who would get stuck with clean-up duties. The porta potty may be a simple $125 fix in the short run.

PS evaluated several recently, they have come a long way and they don't use as much water to flush.

jimgo 04-29-2013 03:58 PM

Re: Back for more - portapotty vs. manual head
I chimed in on the last thread advocating keeping the head. But that was before I realized that it wasn't a well-designed system. I think I'd do more research into possible holding tank arrangements, especially close to the head itself (do you have room in a settee, or in the bilge? Could you put it immediately in front of the head, and build a false step over it as you enter the V-berth?). If nothing seems practical, then I agree with your original assessment of tearing everything out and going with a Port-a-Potty.

dinosdad 04-29-2013 05:00 PM

Re: Back for more - portapotty vs. manual head
Two points to consider, one how will you use the boat? Day sails , with a couple of overnights? Staying at a marinas or on the hook? If your going to be sailing on the sound and will return home most days a portapot may work as well as a head with a small holding tank. If you install a portable , many have the option of a remote( deck pumpout). Don't know where you'll be keeping your boat , but
In the mystic river area where our boat is(noank) you can e-mail a pumpout request and don't have to be present and you'll get a confirmation email that it was completed( saves time). Second, I'm just finishing a complete overhaul of my "waste management system". I' m replacing all of it , head, holding tank,
Thruhulls, valves , hoses, right down to the hose clamps, and its not a cheap project! I'll be well over a thousand by the time all is done. So you might want to keep cost in perspective , not to mention that it will take longer than you think to yank it all out science out a new plan and install a new system, and the New England season is short so do what you have to , get it in the water , enjoy it then tear into it in the fall ( it'll get there faster than you think).

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