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On the bright side, we, once again, have a shower in our head. But, we no longer have a composting toilet.

To start, I will go on the record and say that most of our composting-toilet woes may have been caused by the way that I vented it. With that said, we decided that having a composting head on our boat was more work than having a traditional marine head like the Jabsco that we had when we bought our boat. Without going into too many gory details, let’s just say that we thought it was… dirtier. Having finally had enough, we made our way to West Marine and purchased a new (on sale) Jabsco manual head and related paraphernalia and did the deed (install) yesterday. Because we had the exact same head on our boat before, the re-install was fairly strait forward. The most challenging part was getting the sanitation hoses onto the barbed fittings. I have been told that heating the hose with a heat gun helps. Sadly we have no such tool on board. The closest thing I could round up was a tiny compact hair dryer. Running that thing 1 mm from the hose until it got so hot that it tripped the internal breaker ultimately softened the hose enough that I could wrestle it into place. Sitting in the anchor locker to do this task, after Sunday night’s bday party, was not a lot of fun.

Now completed though, we have to admit that we are both much happier. When it comes time to rebuild the toilet because the joker valve fails, or something similar, I may have a different opinion, but that’s how we feel today. If anyone reading this wants to take a stab at a composting head on their boat, I’ll make you a great deal on the one we have (all shiny and sanitized of course). 🙂

The shopping…

The removal…

The finished product!

Coincidentally, while at the birthday party we mentioned, we struck up a conversation about our pending head install. The live-aboard couple we were talking to told us that they too have a composting head on their boat (an Airhead) and they can’t wait to get rid of it, due to problems similar to ours. So, I guess it’s not just us.


  1. This is a very good thing to know… espe since my husband was completely sold on these at the Boat Show last year. Yes, we’ve had to put in new joker valves more often than we care to admit, but I think that’s just how it goes with a liveaboard head (esp with kids!).

  2. Hmmmm. It reminds me of younger days when we thought a woodburning stove was a great idea. After months of cutting trees, splitting, stacking and hauling wood, cleaning flues, shoveling ashes, etc. I decided there really was a good reason someone invented that little dial on the wall.
    Second Alexandria – I grew up there. Air & Space, as well.

  3. We had been very interested in your decision to install a composting toilet, having looked hard at them seven (!!) years ago when we bought RG. We decided at that time that they took too much power for us, plus the difficulties of space and retrofit, so we’ve stuck ith Jabsco. (yes we’d love a Lavacs for users reading this, but they cost waaay too much.)
    So if you can share what was less good about the composting arrangements, especially once you met waves/wind etc, that would be really good. Also, do you still/now have a holding tank and appropriate arrangements? You will need them, and aren’t they compulsory where you are?

  4. Thanks for posting this, however we are SO bummed to read that you (and another live aboard) hated the composting toilet!! We JUST ordered ours yesterday and expect it to arrive in Guam (where we are living aboard our CAL 34) in the next 5 days.

    Can you go into any detail about why it didn’t work for you? We read with proper maintenance it should cut out close to all smell, work as far as pumps, cleaning go, and uses less space. We have been super excited about this. Please enlighten us to your problems and issues, no matter how gory! LOL!

  5. Shitty Job! had to say it!

  6. I enjoy a good post about the head– even the gory details. Its so important for us liveaboards to have a good head!

  7. I would have had a tyvek suit on, respirator and a hazedous waste sign up……Install looks good…..Can I come and try out?

  8. It takes a long time for the heat, applied to the outside of the hose, to penetrate thru the plastic and to soften it, doesn’t it? Even with a heat gun.

    I smear a little silicone rubber on the hose barb and on the inside of the hose before I start with the heating process. The silicone won’t be upset by the heat, and it not only acts as a lubricant, but it also helps with the seal once it cures.

    (That’s the same model we just installed two of on Eolian this year)


  9. If you had waited until the show, you could have had a Raritan in an even trade!

  10. I’d be interested in your old composter. Email me off line if you want to sell it.

  11. We’re interested in your AirHead also. We’re in the DC area; let us know if its still available.

  12. I stick the ends of hoses in a kettle of boiling water. Sort of helps … (as does swearing).


  13. The head has been sold. Thanks to everyone who responded!

  14. Many (most?) of the problems with marine heads are caused by calcium build up. Over time, the calcium clogs the valves, jams the joker valve, and causes the hoses to neck down the point of near clogging.

    This is an optional problem.

    Flush a two cups or so of hydrochloric (Muriatic) into your dry bowl with either the holding tank valved removed or is possible the system set to vent overboard. Do this by wearing protective glasses and gloves, holding your breath and pouring the acid into the boat. Quickly pump (dry flush) twice and run.

    Once the smoke stops, repeat this. The process may take many times and use up to a gallon of HCl (available at Home Depot or any pool supply).

    If you are venting overboard, you will see and hear fumes coming out of the overboard thru hull.

    Eventually, you can pour a some HCl into the head, flush it, and nothing will happen.

    At that point, wash the head around with water to get off any splashed stuff.

    Repeat this every 3 months (more or less). If it fumes heavily on the next treatment, half the time.

    This doesn’t damage the head internals. The treatment removes any internal buildup on the hoses. The best part is everything will work again and it won’t smell.

  15. I’ve also heard of vinegar. That HCI stuff sounds like lye. Is it? Does it go overboard? If so, it’s contaminating the water and probably isn’t good for fish or other living things. If not, what is it doing to your holding tank?!!!!

  16. I just rebuilt our head today. We seem to do it about every 6 months or so but find we usually only replace the choker/joker valve so although we have spares of all of the bits we bought an extra 10 joker valves (and now I’m thinking I could have bought more).

    We use vinegar. It helps a lot. People talk about the HCl working better but we’re too chicken. Then again, our head gets fragrant in between vinegar treatments, so, who am I to give advice? 🙂 Even with the vinegar the rubber choker gets deformed eventually and lets water come back in…that is where the smell comes from for us. The water in the stinky hose seeps back through the choker to the not-stinky-because-of-vinegar hoses and pump. New choker, no smells.

    • What brand of head do you have, Livia?

      Our friends told us about the head “salad dressing.” Vinegar to break down the calcium (?) and oil to keep the gaskets lubricated.

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