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the smells can be combated with whatever freshener you feel like using...we used pinesol or bleach or joy if the water outside was dubious or too muddy or brackish

we never had an issue with saltwater rinse...ever...

every once in a while we poured white vinegar in the bowl in rinse mode and let it sit and this descaled whatever crud, calcium or deposits are in the lines and inlet etc...

again no issues whatsoever...

I dont like the idea of fresh water rinsing simply based on the economies of doing so unless you have a huge boat and tankage...I also think its wasteful.

ps what head are you looking to buy? we had a lavac I think...it was vaccum operated with a hand pump on the bulkhead and that thing NEVER ever plugged up...the vaccum did the trick, all you had to do was check the seal oring ever once in a while on the bowl lid and thats it.
 

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scale or crud depends not just on salinity...microorganisms and other critters can also plug up the hoses and stuff

I found saltwater out in the ocean to be the cleanest and easiest and least smelling of the waters

I found fresh water or river water to be the worst smelling...

the point about use is paramount, if you dont use the head often thats when smells and crud grows...shrimp and little crabs too! barnacles as well.

in any case use it often and if leaving the boat for a while a splash of pinesol or vinegar or whatever helps keep things at bay

when cruising we routinely used those pipe brushes/cleaners and would poke all the thruhulls when taking a swim to cool off...
 

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head quality is important obviously

we replaced nothing on the vaccum head in 4 years of cruising...with a long year period of no use...(it was 15 years old when we bought the boat)

the cheapo heads do indeed suffer more and need that little gasket in the pump assembly replaced more often

the current head on my boat also had the spring completely corroded and thats why the diaphragm wasnt pumping back and forth correctly...so we replaced spring and all is well...

Im surprised to hear you need to replace the valve every 6 months though...thats excessive
 

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our lavac had a valve fwiw...it was the most reliable equipment on the boat...whch is hard to beleive considering head issues are up there with engine issues ports all over the world

peace
 
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