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Know-how: Benefits of Installing a Composting Head

The author prepares to install her boat’s new “throne”

The author prepares to install her boat’s new “throne”

“You won’t be able to pee on a heel,” someone said. “You won’t have room to stow the coco peat,” said another.

“I don’t know. That’s just gross,” said a third.

These are just a few examples of the pushback my partner, Phillip, and I got when we announced on our blog we were planning on changing out the conventional head on our 1985 Niagara 35, Plaintiff’s Rest, to a composting one. Not surprisingly, many of these naysayers had never had a composting head of their own. But I’ll bet they’d have converted, too, had they been aboard Plaintiff’s Rest the day our holding tank overflowed—a pretty crappy day, to say the least, but also just the push Phillip and I needed.

Our primary goal in swapping out to a new kind of head, as it is with any upgrade we make, was to continue doing our best to adhere to the “KISS” principle—Keep it simple, sailor. It’s easy to complicate things on a sailboat. It takes a conscious effort to make things simpler.

With that in mind, by going with our new composting head, we were able to remove the following unsavory items from Plaintiff’s Rest:

1. A 25gal, 200lb (when full), holding tank

2. 20-plus-ft of wretched, anaconda-like hose

3. A bulky, temperamental macerator

4. One through-hull (which by glassing over means one less way for water to potentially get into the boat)

Moreover, Phillip and I will never again have to pull up to a fuel dock to pump out. Nor will we have to replace the holding tank hose every few years when it starts to smell, or the joker valve every couple of years when it starts to fail (always fun). In our humble opinion, these annoying, sometimes nauseating chores are far worse than a simple monthly dump of earthen-like mulch or a daily dump of sterile urine. Contrary to what Phillip and I were told, it is a rare day we need to tack or level the boat to take a “fair piss,” and (bonus!) those guests who find the composting head a bit freaky simply don’t use it. Perfect!

A closeup of the floor piece supporting the new head

A closeup of the floor piece supporting the new head

Once the original, smelly infrastructure was removed, the installation of our new composting head was also insanely KISS-friendly. Phillip and I chose an Airhead as a kind of compromise between a pricier, bigger-and-taller Natures Head and an equally functional, yet less-aesthetic CHead. (The install process for all three would have been much the same.)

To start out, we cut a floor piece out of some StarBoard polymer material to support the weight of the urine bin. Next, we mounted the floor brackets (to which the head fastens with wing nuts) and ran the system’s ventilation hose and fan to a waterproof deck opening above the waterline. That was literally it. I was able to handle 95 percent of the job myself. With some creative construction, Phillip and I were even able to successfully hide the entirety of the ventilation system (easily the most complicated part of the install) by running it through the same set of channels we’d once used for our now-defunct water heater.

Turns out the amount of coco we would need to carry aboard for an entire year abroad (roughly 10-12 bricks) would fit 10 times over—likely more—in the area where our holding tank once sat. I’m not kidding. Phillip and I could probably both squeeze into that compartment in a pinch. Why we’d ever want to squeeze in there together, I’m not sure. But if pirates ever came aboard, we’ve got the perfect hiding place.

Lifting out the V-berth mattress also no longer results in a whiff of holding tank, but rather a refreshing waft of Bilge-Kote (one of my favorite scents on a boat).

Our complete six-brick coco stash (which we can easily replenish by ordering a fresh set of bricks through amazon.com) fits in the bottom shelf under the sink, alongside the usual detergents and cleaners. The top shelf and neighboring under-counter cubby—now sans smelly macerator, Y-valve and accompanying hoses—are all blissfully half-empty, ready to be stuffed with knickknacks. What a fantastic #cruiserproblem to have, and what a great comfort it will be on the day when it comes time for Phillip and me to pack the boat to the gills for an Atlantic crossing. Best of all, when we do so we will also be setting sail with a simpler, safer, more sweet-smelling boat than ever before. 

CONTACTS

Air Head airheadtoilet.com

C-Head c-head.com

Nature’s Head natureshead.net

June 2020

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