There are three ways to suddenly get a lot of water in the bilge. Being holed, being rolled and having the large bore thru-hull to the head fail. All three have the potential of sinking your boat. But sinking your boat is a long shot. Much more likely are the other negative aspects of the marine head. Few things can cause more distress or potential havoc on board a boat than the head. There are more than enough discouraging and disgusting events caused by a marine head to give it the bad reputation it so richly deserves. Being filled with poop makes these problems exponentially worse.
To begin with, putting a waterborne, waste management system inside a pleasure boat under 60 ft was a bad idea from the start and was done out of the misguided assumption that this somehow protected the environment and bodies of water from human waste pollution. The notion that a small boat could carry enough wastewater storage for any significant or reasonable amount of time was impractical and delusional. On average marine holding tanks fill up within 2-3 days. Expecting someone who is living and traveling aboard a small boat to be able to find a functioning pump-out station, (which often requires pulling up anchor in a crowded, first-come-first-serve anchorage), is unreasonable and definitely a nuisance. Consider all the elements that go into using a waterborne sanitation system.
First, an infrastructure of poop ferrying vessels and pump out stations with pump motors and tanks and moving parts must be created, staffed and maintained to service the marine sanitation systems to keep the owners from dumping the contents overboard. Second, law enforcement is burdened with inspecting their functionality, a job that is both degrading and time consuming. It also breeds resentment by the users against law enforcement and needlessly erodes respect for the law. Third, the systems are complicated, prone to malfunction and expensive to repair. Forth, when it is full it can no longer function and emptying it becomes a matter of urgency for the owner, which often as not is the mitigating excuse to dump illegally. Even and especially the lowly, so-called cassette port-a-potty is guilty of these shortcomings. Current laws ignore the basic fact of nature that says, “When you got to go, you got to go.”
Every sailor worth his salt knows that back in the days when ships were made of wood and men were made of steel, a common wooden bucket was the head unless you were aboard a ship where the men hung their asses over the taffrail of the appropriately named poop deck. No doubt a few modern day sailors have done the same when their heads were OOS. But the bucket has served mariners long and well. Today it has been replaced by a plastic 5-gallon version that many frugal sea dogs brag about. Cheap and efficient but good luck getting a lady or a guest to use one. They are geared more towards those sailors who choose a life of chastity and deprivation. A more modern version of the wooden bucket is this one.
I can see a day when the positive aspects of the composting toilet will become more evident. With no plumbing or tanks, they use less space overall. They are less prone to failure and require little maintenance. They don’t smell. They use almost no water and in the case of the C-Head usually no electricity. They don’t force or give owners an excuse to dump waste overboard, in fact, they make the process of dumping overboard more obvious, incriminating and burdensome giving the crew less incentive to break the law or pollute the environment. They make the management of waste ashore significantly easier and less expensive. They increase the time between having to empty the head and they remove the need to pull up anchor to empty the head and loose a choice anchorage to another boat in the process. A small designated composting waste dumpster at every marina is about as simple as it gets. And when the lords of the law finally see that there is in fact no odor coming from the dumpster, like that associated with a waterborne sewage processing system, and that there is less pollution and less cost to every party involved, they will gladly come on board. So do yourself a favor and join the movement!
Please feel free to make constructive comments or ask questions below.
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