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Your toilet papers, please! Is the C-Head a legal MSD Type III?

Is the C-Head toilet a USCG “certified” MSD Type III? I get this question fairly often. People assume that the poop police and the harbormaster are going to want to see that your toilet is “certified” to use it in their waters. It seems that people are most concerned about the state of the head when boarded by the Coast Guard or Marine Patrol, more so than half a dozen other things that are more important like life jackets, flares and propane. “Did I lock the Y-valve shut?” “Am I going to have to follow them back to the station?”, “Are they going to confiscate my boat!?”

“What do you mean you don’t need a pump-out?

First, lets eliminate a whole bunch of laws. There is a distinct difference between “inspected vessels” and “uninspected” pleasure craft. Pleasure craft are usually not “inspected vessels” unless they are used in a business and carry passengers. Most of the complicated laws governing marine sanitation devices involve only inspected vessels. With regard to pleasure vessels that use a MSD Type III the laws are pretty basic. To paraphrase, the waste must be contained on the boat in a rigid container designed for that purpose. If you can pump it overboard, the means to do so must be secured and involve at least two separate, deliberate acts to open or close it to demonstrate intent. For example, with the current laws, you can’t just accidentally open or forget to close a valve. You have to remove a locking device then open the valve. You effectively have “unlock” and “open” the valve. This helps make a case for intent in a court of law should it come to that. That explains why they make you lock it but allow you to keep the key.

USCG, Baltimore Police and Maryland Natural Resources Police

With that in mind, any toilet or system that contains the waste aboard in a sturdy, well designed container and has no simple means of discharging the waste overboard, will automatically classify as a MSD Type III. There are links to the appropriate USCG documentation and a summation below. The C-Head marine composting toilet falls completely within the guidelines of the USCG law and as such is automatically classified as a MSD Type III which would be more correctly called a “classification” rather than a “certification.” Getting a letter from a USCG official that states your toilet is compliant is a nicety but doesn’t “certify” the toilet as MSD Type III.

Keep in mind that different law enforcement agencies are motivated differently. The USCG is basically looking to see that you are compliant. Other agencies are also in the “fund raising” business for their respective governments. If you have cobbled together something that serves as a toilet and meets the basic guidelines and description given by the USCG but looks “fishy” you may find yourself cited. The burden of proof is on you and your chance to present it will be in court. If you are a DIY sailor (and there are many) and you want to build your own toilet, do a professional job or expect to get cited in some upscale neighborhood basins. It is probably cheaper and safer to buy a composting toilet and spend your DIY talents on all the other projects you have in mind. . . . Just sayin!


Type III is a device that prevents the overboard discharge of treated or untreated sewage or any waste derived from sewage. This type of device is typically a holding tank and may include other types of technology including incineration, recirculation, and composting.


(a) The purpose of this section is to provide regulations for certification of certain Type III devices.

(b) Any Type III device is considered certified under this section if:

(1) It is used solely for the storage of sewage and flushwater at ambient air pressure and temperature; and

(2) It is in compliance with §159.53(c).


(c) Be designed to prevent the overboard discharge of treated or untreated sewage or any waste derived from sewage (Type III).


Requisite legal boiler plate disclaimer: I am not a maritime lawyer. This is not legal advice. This is the law as I understand it. Use your best judgement or consult a qualified lawyer if you have reservations about your specific installation. Otherwise, carry a copy of the documents provided above on board if you are concerned. Here is some free, solid, legal advice. Don’t argue with law enforcement officials.

Please feel free to make constructive comments or ask questions below.

Copyright 2019 – C-Head LLC – All rights reserved on all content.

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