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This page updated:
May 2010

West Marine's "Selecting Among Different Sanitation Systems"
SailNet - Kathy Barron's "Marine Sanitation Devices"
SailNet - Tom Wood's "Head Maintenance Blues"
SailNet - Tom Wood's "Holding Tanks"
Don Casey's "Installing a Head"
Don Casey's "Marine Toilet Maintenance"
Composting/separating toilet article by David W. Shaw in 12/2008 issue of Sail magazine
RV Lifestyle's "Should You Get an RV Composting Toilet?"

Waste treatment:

Types of toilets:

From Lee Mylchreest's "Coming to a head - issues of onboard toilets ":
Types of heads:

Hose comparison article in 9/2000 issue of Practical Sailor.

Replacing hoses: With 1.5" hose fittings, try using the white nylon hose fittings instead of grey PVC tube fittings.
Then, from Peggie Hall on Cruising World message board:
It's only the 1.5" fittings that are a PITA ... for some reason, the plumbing industry has decided that, while the nominal and actual size of every other size PVC fitting are the same, a nominal 1.5" thread x 1.5" barb fitting shall actually be 1.5" thread by 1 5/8" barbed. I've never been able to find out why. But it certainly does make it hard to put a 1.5" ID hose on it!

... do not use any sealant on hose fittings ... only teflon tape. If you use sealant, you'll never get a hose off if you ever have to clear a clog. And forget silicone too ... it doesn't seal anything ... it just fills up space. Don't use any lubricant that contains petroleum products either ... it breaks down hose.

From Merlin Clark on SailNet's Gulfstar mailing list:
[Re: Odor solutions:] ... paint the [head] hose. The paint will seal in odors. Any paint except latex will work.

From Peggie Hall on BoaterEd forum:
A macerator can be combined with a pump, but a macerator isn't a pump, it's just a blender. There's a macerator in the Lectra/San ... there's no pump in the Lectra/San. There's a macerator in the SeaLand SanX ... no pump in it either. Macerators are often combined with pumps in electric marine toilets and in overboard discharge pumps ... but a macerator, by itself, doesn't pump anything. And btw ... not all overboard discharge pumps are macerator pumps ... SeaLand and Jabsco both make a diaphragm overboard discharge pump.

A macerator pump or any overboard discharge pump is used to dump a holding tank offshore -- and "offshore" doesn't mean "from shore", it means out to sea. You must be at least 3 miles out to sea to dump a tank legally ... in parts of the Gulf of Mexico the limit is 6 miles, and in some places 12 miles. You cannot legally dump a tank in the Great Lakes no matter how far you are from shore ... nor in the Chesapeake Bay ... SF Bay ... LI Sound ... you must be 3 miles from the US or any islands that are part of the US.

Macerator pumps can be wired in several different ways ... many aftermarket installations may or may not be on a breaker ... some are just wired into a circuit (should be one that can handle the load, but when it's owner-installed, it's often just tapped into the nearest wire) and an on/off switch installed ... others require a key ... factory installations are usually on a breaker and may require two switches. ...

There are legitimate uses for a macerator pump aboard a boat in "no discharge" waters -- one of them being to move the waste from a small self-contained toilet to a larger tank. Many people who don't want to replace a self-contained toilet/tank do this. Macerator pumps can also be used as washdown pumps. ...

From Dave Benjamin on the IRBS live-aboard mailing list:
... using fresh water for flushing alleviates much of the troublesome buildups and odor. Urine reacts with saltwater which is what causes the buildups. You can tee the head intake into the head sink drain and allow yourself to flush with fresh water by simply filling the head sink and closing the seacock.

From Roger Hellyar-Brook in Ocean Navigator magazine newsletter:
Because the head is an open system, it can be very dangerous onboard. By open, I mean one end of a hose is connected to the ocean, and the other end has a large opening to the boat's interior. Other systems, such as a bilge pump plumbed to a seacock, can be as latent in their ability to flood the boat. Do not trust a flimsy flush valve on the head to keep the ocean out. Make sure the intake seacock is accessible and that it can be quickly and easily shut off. The problem in real life is that the device that could break a siphon in the intake, the vented loop, makes pumping the head very difficult and sometimes impossible. A vented loop in the discharge is more common, but I will try to make the case for no vented loops anywhere.

Install a manual, raw-water-flushed head with the bowl seat at the low end, 16 inches, and the top end at 18 inches from the head sole to the rim. Make sure the bowl is above the static waterline so it cannot flood over the rim. The discharge is best sent to a holding tank with no vented loops or Y-valves. This will prevent standing sewage. Use the highest-quality hose to connect the head to the tank, and use schedule 40 PVC piping if at all possible, as it will never permeate. There are adapters that can be cemented in to make the transition from 1.5-inch sanitary hose to 1.5-inch PVC piping. Always plumb vertical runs straight up. Never plumb at a diagonal, as sewage will run back and be left standing in the line.

Make sure that the holding tank can be pumped out from a deck fitting with its own dip tube, and be sure that the boat's pump has its own dip tube as well. The onboard pump can be manual or electric as long as it is above the tank and is a diaphragm-style pump. If you use an electric pump, use an ignition switch to activate the circuit. This will assure any boarding authority that the discharge is under control. A manual pump needs a lock to prevent accidental discharges. This system, with direct discharge into a tank where it can be held or discharged at sea, eliminates odors from leaking Y-valves and vented loops, and is legal everywhere. If the boat is going to Europe, make sure the tank has a 1.5-inch vent or an implosion valve, so a large marina pumpout won't collapse your tank with excessive vacuum.

Standing salt water in the intake lines is loaded with marine creatures, and when they die, that smell will be as bad as permeated discharge hoses. So flush often and, if at all possible, run fresh water through as a rinse. If you plumb the head directly this way, it means frequent washing of the holding tank at sea, but as all extraneous connections are eliminated and no vented loops are required, the boat will be that much more odor free. Last but not least, this is very simple process for a guest to understand, which will reduce mistakes with selector valves.

Holding Tank:
Tank comparison article in 9/2000 issue of Practical Sailor
Fuel/water/waste tank articles in Oct 2000 issue of Cruising World magazine

From Peggie Hall on Cruising World message board:
... A top-quality plastic tank should last for 20 years or even longer (mine is that old and still shows no signs of needing replacement) -- UNLESS: fittings are over-tightened. Because threaded tank fittings are NPT standard, which is slightly tapered, cranking one down much more than a turn past hand-tight is 100% certain to crack the female fitting in the tank ... even into the tank wall itself.

Urine is so corrosive that a metal -- aluminum or stainless -- tank will typically start to leak at a seam or a fitting within 2-5 years. The very nature of a bladder makes it very difficult to control odor, plus bladders are highly prone to blow out a fitting at the first sign of a clogged vent. As for making one out of PVC, it can't corrode but PVC becomes brittle with age or with cold, so it's only a slightly better choice than metal. And a wood/glass tank will weigh 3x what the same size good quality plastic tank weighs.

From Lew Hodgett on The Live-Aboard List:
Bigger is better ...

Tapered with small footprint, large top is better.

IMHO, having two dip tubes is a must. Connect one directly to the deck connection. Connect the other to the pump overboard system. You eliminate one "Y" valve that way.

From Bill on The Live-Aboard List:
Do not get the inspection port in the Ronco tank, it will leak. They used the basic one you can buy at WM. Although the port itself has an o-ring, the outside mounting flange has little surface area to seal. Also the bolts leak. [Others said they used silicone to make gaskets on the port and bolts.]

From Jim Coughlin on the SailNet liveaboard-list:
I made a huge improvement on holding tank odor when I installed a new tank with two vents. On one side I exhaust through a nicro solar vent, with a standard intake on the other. I use KO (available at West Marine), which is a live aerobic bacteria. The vent system allows enough fresh air to encourage the bacteria to do its job correctly; in most systems the single vent air flow is so poor the bacteria can't live.

My boat has a holding tank, but I don't use it:
It's a small (13-gallon) holding tank, installed mainly to make the boat legal in no-discharge zones.

When I flush, I usually pump 20 to 40 times, to get all of the waste out of the bowl and then completely out of the hoses. This uses 1 to 2 gallons of water per flush.

At that rate, I'd have to pump out my holding tank every 2 to 3 days. Even installing a big tank (say, 50 gallons) would give me only a 2-week range (and I'm alone on board; if I had crew, it would be worse).

Pumping out costs at least $5 and usually requires raising anchor and going in to a dock. Raising anchor and re-anchoring is a lot of work, someone might grab your spot while you're gone, and a newly-set anchor takes a while to dig in and hold well. And I hate going to a dock: lots of hard things to bang into, including expensive boats. And I'd be counting on the pump-out facility always being available; what if it's broken for a week or two ?

No way I'm going to pump out every week or two.

Not an excuse, but:
From Key West Citizen, 1/18/2004:
A typical 3000-person cruise ship discharges in one week: Cruise ship companies have paid $60 million in fines in the last 5 years for violations.
I find the per-person numbers interesting. There's no way that I, on my sailboat, produce 333 gallons of grey water per week, 70 gallons of sewage, 100 pounds of trash, etc.

From Jim Isbell on Gulfstar Owners mailing list:
We have a 40-gallon tank that is good for 14 days or so for two people using a VacuFlush toilet.

From Steve SV Grace on World-Cruising mailing list 5/2010:
Re: New NC law requiring log of pump-outs:

Besides the fact that pump-outs are few and far between in NC and some marinas and docks don't have them at all, the state's environmental dept didn't ID recreational boaters as one of the top polluters. That distinction went to pet waste runoff, ag runoff, improperly maintained septic systems and municipal discharge. The NC Boating Guide lists 59 out of 121 marinas as having pumpouts, but if my experience is typical, only about half exist or are actually functional. My marina is listed as having one and it doesn't.

A presenter from the State, at a meeting I attended 3 years ago in Beaufort, said that Beaufort's municipal discharge violated Federal and State standards every day that it was monitored. Beaufort's stance at the time was that if it was in compliance for any part of a day, it should be counted as a full compliance day. At that time Beaufort town dock wouldn't allow use of their pump-out without paying for a slip. My 32-footer would have cost $160 a day.

From Peggie Hall on Cruising World message board:
Annual rebuilding shouldn't be necessary for ANY toilet ...

The biggest reason toilets need frequent rebuilding is lack of PROPER lubrication. I'm gonna save myself a whole lot of typing and give you an excerpt from my forthcoming book:

"When boats sit for days, the seals and valves dry out and stick to the inside of their housings; dried salt makes them stick even better, and also is abrasive, so pumping a manual toilet without adequate lubrication wears the seals and scratches the inside of the pump cylinder. The first flush can put enough strain on an impeller to crack a vane in an electric toilet. Friction heat from running dry, even momentarily, "fries" the edges, reducing its efficiency a little more each time. Dry rubber and neoprene - especially if it's salt-encrusted - scratches the housing. Even with constant live-aboard use, over time both seals and pump cylinders wear, and because it's people, not a precise machine, who pump manual heads, they wear unevenly. The best cure is prevention, so lubricate your toilet annually, and rebuild it -- that is, install a kit that replaces all the seals, valves, impellers etc -- every 3-5 years (the better quality the toilet and the better you keep it lubricated, the less often it will need rebuilding).

"Many people just wait till the toilet starts to squeak and become hard to pump, then pour some mineral oil or vegetable oil down it. That’s ok in an emergency, till you can get home and do it right, but it’s not the way to maintain the toilet. Not only is this very hard on the toilet, but it's a never-ending job because anything poured down the toilet washes out in just a few flushes.

"Why is it hard on the toilet? Because a toilet doesn't squeak unless it needs lubrication; that squeaking is the sound of seals rubbing against the inside of the housing, being worn away. Waiting till it squeaks to lubricate it is like waiting till an engine starts to smoke to add oil.

"Ever wondered why a new toilet doesn't need any lubrication for at least a year? It's because every toilet leaves the factory slathered with thick Teflon grease that takes a full season or more to be flushed out. Replacing it just once a year is all it takes to keep a toilet pumping smoothly. And it's only a 15 minute job - just open up the top of the pump and put a healthy squirt of it into it ... pump the toilet a few times to get it all through the pump, and you're "good to go" for the entire season. And, by keeping the pump lubricated this way, you extend the life of the seals and valves, reducing the need for rebuilds.

"The best time to lubricate a toilet is in the fall, as part of winterizing. The Teflon grease protects the rubber parts in the toilet from drying out, which also extends their life."

If you haven't kept it well-lubricated, the inside of the (squeaking) pump cylinder may be so worn and scored that it may be too late for another rebuild to do it any good -- in which case, your best choice for a replacement IMO is the PH II. But unless you also keep it properly lubricated, you'll have the same problems with it you're having with your Headmate. If you'll just devote about 15 minutes once a year to put a healthy squirt of SuperLube (the one that comes in a tube, not the liquid or spray) down it, you shouldn't have to rebuild it more often than once every 5 years, if that often.

From "The Intricate Art of Living Afloat", by Clare Allcard (on Amazon - paid link):

Summarized from composting/separating toilet article by David W. Shaw in 12/2008 issue of Sail magazine:

"Wandering Albatross" has had a composting toilet for 4 years or so, and likes it very much.

From SV Sarana on World-Cruising mailing list 5/2010:
We were among one of the first boats to buy and use the Air Head full time. We've been using it for 7 years now and are still happy with it. Instead of peat moss we use Coconut Pith bricks. They are very compact, easy to store and cheaper.

Various models/brands:
Manual heads reviewed in Practical Sailor's 9/2000 issue.

From the IRBS live-aboard mailing list:
1) The Lectra/San is designed to treat individual flushes of the toilet each time the toilet is flushed. After treatment, it is intended to go overboard.

2) If you send it to a holding tank instead of discharging it over- board, you have one of two choices on what to do with the contents:
A. Dockside pumpout.
B. Going 3 miles out into the ocean, then discharging the holding tank overboard.

3) The holding tank, regardless of whether the sewage has been treated or not, may not be discharged in any of your local bays (Honker, Grizzly, San Pablo, Richardson or San Francisco Bay), waterways or in the ocean inside the 3 mile limit. The Lectra/San's certification only allows up to 1 1/2 gallons to be discharged in any given place. In order to discharge 55 gallons at a time, you'll have to be 3 miles out in the ocean or at a dockside pumpout.

4) The Lectra/San does not kill every single germ and bacteria, and if the sewage remains in the holding tank long enough, bacteria colonies can begin to grow again. If the holding tank isn't pumped fairly often, you can still wind up with a putrid mess.

The best way to convert the system would be to install a selectable "Y" valve between the toilet and the Lectra/San treatment unit, with one position directing the flow to the Lectra/San, then over-board, and the other position directing the flow to the holding tank. That way, most of the time you would be able to treat and discharge with each flush of the toilet. In areas that are zero discharge, such as much of Southern California, you can pump into the holding tank then discharge it in the ocean or utilize a dockside pumpout.

... Regards, Raritan Engineering Company, Inc.
G. Victor Willman, Manager, Technical Services

From Ed Young on the SailNet liveaboard-list:
I wonder if anyone has had the same experience with Lectra Sans that we have? The first few months after install (professional) were great. Everything ran perfectly. Then we started getting longer and longer processing cycles and for the last few months, we are getting a lot of red lights. All the electronics and power source have been thoroughly checked out and I have run a full cleaning using muriatic acid per the instructions in the manual. After asking around in nearby marinas, I am hearing that others are having similar problems with their units. We live aboard in coastal SC so we have pretty good salinity. We have also added table salt (from a little to a lot) during test runs to gauge that impact but with inconsistent results. Does anyone else have the same problem with red lights on their Lectra San?
From Banff on the SailNet liveaboard-list:
The only solution to your problem that I am aware of is to tear it out and throw it overboard. I was considering putting one into my boat when I first bought it and was told by several dealers of the unit not to buy it.

From Gary Elder on the Morgan mailing list:
... on a previous boat, I installed a Lectra San, used it for several years, and it worked quite well. However, it was a battery killer. The 50 amps, or so, that it draws for about 90 seconds really caused havoc with my 12v system. Even after I dedicated a battery to it, used the largest cable available, and kept the cables as short as possible, I ended up running the engine to prevent killing the battery. It didn't seem to matter whether I used a deep cycle or a starting battery, that 50 amps was a killer. Would I do it again? No way! ...
From Don Thomas on the Morgan mailing list:
... Regarding battery "killer" ... seems overdramatic based on my prior experience ... had a LectraSan on my Pearson 28 for years ... had a battery meter to keep track of remaining amps ... no problem for 2 people ... never killed a battery. But for a larger boat with frequent guests I can see how you would need to be careful about keeping the battery charged. Also, you don't absolutely have to use it every time you pee ... it has a small holding tank such that you can turn it on after some accumulation.

From letter by Scott Kearney in 1/2003 issue of Southwinds magazine:
If anti-siphon valve on outlet hose fails, solid column of outgoing water can form a conductive path from Lectra/San electrodes through the through-hull, causing serious electrolysis.

From Peggie Hall on Cruising World message board, in response to question about getting a new manual head:
... Neither the Bryden nor the Jabsco have ever been top quality toilets, btw ... BoatU.S. has a comparable Jabsco model on sale right now for $99 -- a "disposable" toilet ... cheaper to replace every few years than to maintain.

However, if you want something a bit more durable, the Raritan PH II -- as well as its predecessor the PH -- has been around forever and is consistently been rated the best manual marine toilet in its price range (under $500). It's durable and manages to survive more abuse and neglect than any other toilet I've ever seen (including the Lavac). You can't go wrong with it.

The Cricket is relatively new -- only about 5 years old. Instead of the usual piston/cylinder "bicycle" pump beside the bowl, it has a diaphragm pump directly beneath the bowl (which is why it looks weird). Diaphragms have no moving parts to wear and require new seals, gaskets etc, so it needs virtually no maintenance ... in fact, the "repair kit" for the Cricket is the entire pump assembly except for the housing ... you shouldn't need one any more often than you'd have to replace the whole pump assembly on any other toilet. It's also exceptionally landlubber/child friendly compared to other manual marine toilets. IMHO, the Cricket offers all the advantages of the Lavac -- diaphragm pump, low maintenance, low flush water usage ... it is, however, a weekender's marine toilet ... not one I'd recommend to live-aboards.

You'll find all the specs for the PH II and the Cricket on the Raritan website.

Blue water cruisers like the Lavac for its simplicity: it's just a toilet bowl that seals when you close the lid ... the pump is a Henderson diaphragm bilge pump mounted on a bulkhead somewhere within reach. Fine for blue water cruisers who like for everything on the boat to do double duty (in an emergency the pump can be a bilge pump or dump a holding tank) ... fine for seasoned adult salts who understand marine machinery and appreciate a Spartan life aboard. Not so fine for the average "weekend warrior's" kids and landlubber guests aboard his floating condo.

So ... you have a bunch of choices, and there is no "one size fits all RIGHT" choice ... the right toilet for your boat depends upon your budget, and your needs.

From David Romasco on the SailNet liveaboard-list:
The Raritan PHII is a nice balance between cost and robust design. The folks at Raritan seem to be trying to push their newer Cricket model, which is a diaphragm type (and looks much cheaper to manufacture), but we thought it would be a maintenance nightmare: you have to unbolt the toilet and INVERT IT to clear a clogged pump. Not in MY boat ... The PHII, by comparison, is easily maintained and parts are readily available if needed. We love ours ...

From Rick and Donna Cass on the SailNet liveaboard-list:
Well, we've had both a Cricket and a PHII, and the PHII wins hands down. The Cricket is a nice idea, but the head flushes back and can hit you in the face while you are pumping. I think the design needs some work, as there is too much room for the discharge to kick back out of the pump. I think we're going to keep the PHII in the aft head and go with a Groco KH for the forward head. Anybody want an almost new Cricket ?

From Peggie Hall on Cruising World message board:
In a perfect world, the head should be rebuilt every spring as a part of the entire boat's recommissioning. But nobody seems willing to do ANYthing to a toilet till it breaks (I can't help wondering if they apply the same reasoning to preventive maintenance on their cars). So in the REAL world, toilets should be rebuilt at least every 3 years ... every other year is better. However --

If you have what I call a "disposable" toilet (the 2 or 3 low-end models -- Par/Jabsco, W-C "Headmate" or the Groco HF), two rebuild kits can cost just about as much as a new toilet. In which case, the hell with rebuilding ... use it till it spits in your eye and replace it. But if you have any toilet that'll cost you $200 or more to replace, it's definitely worth rebuilding.

Don't ever just replace a single failed part. If one has failed, all the others are badly worn. Bite the bullet and rebuild the head while you can do it ALL on your terms -- when the bowl is empty and the system is clean.

From Peggie Hall on Cruising World message board:
A lot of cruising sailors like the Lavac for its simplicity, and therefore the lack of need for any maintenance. However, it's never really caught on with anybody else in the US, so if you're on inland waters or even in coastal waters where they haven't caught on, parts when you DO need 'em can be hard to find ... along with anyone who knows Lavac heads.

The Par/Jabsco manuals ... the W-C "Headmate" and the Groco HF are what I often refer to as "disposable toilets." All piston/cylinder type manual toilets need rebuilding every few years ... two rebuild kits cost about as much as a new toilet, so you might as well forget rebuilding and just replace it every few years instead ... less labor and about the same cost.

My two favorites are the Raritan PH II and the Raritan Cricket. The PH II is a piston/cylinder toilet that's long been rated the best manual toilet in its price range (under $500) ... I've seen 'em go 10 years with so little maintenance that, if it were a car, it would have fallen apart long ago. The Cricket is only a few years old ... instead of the usual piston/cylinder pump, there's a diaphragm pump directly under the bowl. It doesn't ever need "rebuilding" ... in fact, the "repair kit" is actually a whole new pump assembly except for the housing. They're both around $200.

From FelixU on Cruising World message board:
I put a Cricket into my boat last Spring. Within a week, my 85-pound sister broke the thin plastic elbow that connects the pumping lever to the base. My wife, who is no engineer, took a quick look at the elbow and declared it too flimsy. Throughout our Spring cruise in the Bahamas, the thing was very inconsistent in its operation. Sometimes it would work well and sometimes it barely worked at all.

Upon our return to the Keys (fortunately) the lever that switches from dry to wet bowl just fell out of the base. By the way, this lever is at the very bottom of the base and was universally felt to be extremely inconvenient to use.

I tore the Cricket out. To Raritan's credit, they were extremely truthful about the Cricket. They described it as working great in many installations, but not working in others -- for reasons that they couldn't explain. They took the Cricket back after about 10 months of use so they could analyze the problem.

And all of this was in a plumbing system that had no problems of this type before the Cricket. It was simply a decision to "upgrade" an old head for a Bahamas trip. "If it ain't broke...".
From Peggie Hall on Cruising World message board:
Your experience was unusual.

OTOH, that they wanted it back to "analyze" the problems says a lot about Raritan -- and that IS why they wanted it back. They want to see what's causing failures, so they can make whatever mods are necessary to prevent 'em. They had a lot of problems with the earliest production models -- some tooling wasn't right ... so I wonder if you got one that had been on the retailer's shelf that long. Unlikely if you bought it from WM, but could have happened if you bought it from a small local yard or store -- or if it was a re-furb from the FL location.

However, Raritan admits that the Cricket is not a live-aboard toilet. It's designed for light duty on smaller boats by people who haven't -- and may never -- figured out that everything on a boat needs some maintenance. However, you shouldn't have had the problems with it that you had.
From AlanJ on Cruising World message board:
We also had problems with the plastic elbow that connects the pumping lever to the base. I am an engineer and consider the elbow design to be really poor. The plastic elbow fits onto a square SS shaft that operates the pump. The plastic wears and/or cracks as the pump is operated. After a little while (our experience is that the elbow lasts about 3-4 months), the square opening in the elbow becomes enlarged and will not operate the pump properly.

We chose the Cricket due to good ratings and because of space limitations (over the Lavac). The Cricket works great at first, but after a while ... Until Raritan fixes this major design flaw, I would not recommend the Cricket. If you do get a Cricket, I would recommend getting spare pump lever elbow(s). Raritan is really proud of the elbows as they are about $25 each (seems ridiculous for a small, cheap piece of plastic). Our failure to have a spare elbow ended up costing us about $100 last year in the Bahamas for shipping and phone calls (it's a long tale of frustration).

Wish we had gotten the Lavac ...

From John Mason on The Live-Aboard List:
One difficulty with the Lavac is installation. The connections require large sweeping loops of big stiff hose, not always easy to fit. I spent a long time siting the big waste pump and coming up with an arrangement that worked in our Fast Passage 39's small head.

A second problem is the fragility of the toilet lid. We did not have breakage but I have heard of them breaking off, and splitting in half. If the lid is broken, the toilet cannot be used for lack of a vacuum seal. We carried a spare.

Parts are not a problem.

The Lavac is, as advertised, very simple and worth installing if you can fit it in. We liked it.

Lavac: "... the seat is always wet because of the way they operate, lid down to flush. Also since the lid is down you don't know how much to flush and can put lots of water in the holding tank."

From Ken McKelvie on The Live-Aboard List:
We have the Lavac heads, two of them actually - both electric, and are very pleased. Very reliable now for about 6 years with low maintenance. Points to consider:

1. Whether manual or electric, make sure the pumps are readily accessible - they don't need too much attention, but make life easy on yourself.

2. They will take a lot of "foreign object" abuse, but they really don't like Kleenex type tissue (ie the "man-size wet strength" ones for blowing your nose!) The "wet strength" feature means they form a nice plug in the pump valves - the pressure the pump generates is substantial! So beware and insist on guests using the toilet paper provided. Because they look more like a land-based toilet than the normal marine heads, it is easy for land based people to forget.

3. Wet seat - we haven't had a problem with this except when at sea when the water that is left in the bowl tends to splash up onto the seat - easy to cure - after use, remember to pump out the residual water with the lid open to get rid of excess water.

4. The ladies, who tend to all want to visit the facility in quick succession for some reason, find very frustrating the fact that you have to wait for a few minutes after the previous flush to allow the vacuum to release the lid.

5. If in daily use, the lid seems to eventually develop small cracks around the edge after about three years - this eventually means reduced vacuum and failing flush efficiency. Watch for the cracks to appear and order a replacement lid - it takes ours about two months from first noticing the cracks till they extend far enough to affect the vacuum.

6. Amount of water - on the electric version, the timer switch is adjustable to vary the amount of pump strokes. Trial and error with various "loads" and you will get a reasonably effective flush for the minimum amount of water. Same thing for the manual pump - try different numbers of pump strokes till it seems to work well, and stick the rules on the wall next to the pump - ours were supplied with a printed sticker advocating 8-10 steady pump strokes, pause 5 seconds then 5 - 6 additional strokes. We found we needed to increase this a little as we have a long pipe run to the holding tank. There is an "interesting" alternative of getting a clear lid so you can assess the effectiveness of the action ... Not sure I could handle that before breakfast!! Local television is very dull in Hong Kong, but a clear lid is perhaps overdoing the alternative entertainment ... Seriously, though, they do put more water through the system than a traditional head and this will mean more frequent holding tank pump outs.

7. Make sure the holding tank breather does not get blocked - as mentioned before, the pressure these things create is enormous and could easily blow a pipe off the fitting if the breather is not clear. Our breather pipes are too small and are easily blocked - our holding tanks are stainless steel, and we get a noisy warning "clang!!!) as the sides expand (or contract on pump out).

8. With a simple, but good quality, diverter valve, they are very efficient emergency bilge pumps!

I think they are excellent - the minor issues are far outweighed by the low maintenance and reliability advantages.

From Peggie Hall on IRBS live-aboard mailing list:
... Cricket: an excellent toilet -- the first new design to come along in at least 50 years. It's a full-size toilet -- available with either the smaller "standard" bowl or the larger "high-boy" size ... but fits in the same space as a compact model because instead of the usual piston/cylinder pump beside the bowl, it has a diaphragm pump below the bowl ... so there are no moving parts in the pump to wear and require regular rebuilding. In fact, it needs so little maintenance that the "repair kit" is the entire pump assembly except for the housing ... and is only necessary about as often as it would be necessary to replace the entire pump assembly on any piston/cylinder pump. Nor is it a "cheapo" ... it's about $100 more than the "disposable" (any toilet you can replace completely with the identical model for about the price of two rebuild kits for it) Jabsco, Wilcox or Groco models.


Replacing one part at a time that's in a rebuild kit usually only means that you just get to take the toilet apart more often ... 'cuz when one part has failed, the others are likely to be badly worn and they will continue failing one at time. The only exception is the joker valve, which should be replaced at least annually whether the entire toilet is rebuilt (which should be done every 2-3 years as preventive maintenance) or not.

From Lorraine on the SailNet liveaboard-list:
... The company who my liveaboard neighbor bought his "odorless" composting toilet from is called Sun-Mar Corp. I read "everything" in the glossy brochure. Even the great "testimonial" from Captain Magic, Ketch Inca, Somewhere on the High Seas. Our brother - that ought to convince us right? Bottom line is - they tell us it's odorless. There is one mention that - "since some models may be vented at deck level - there is a place for zeolite and carbon filters in the fan box, if needed". To which Captain Magic responds that he feels "the filters in the stack are overkill". Well - the filters DON'T manage the venting/outside odors worth a damn. A rose is still a rose for all that. And the wind best be blowing (and preferably from the right direction) if YOU'RE planning on hanging out on deck for any reason. Odorless INSIDE your boat (if that's all you care about)? That should work as long as you have your portlights and hatches closed and (again) the wind is blowing from the right direction. We are not impressed and urge you to look to other companies, ask more questions, get money back guaranties etc. From this standpoint I can tell you - you won't be welcome in marinas if you buy this particular product. My neighbors have no choice but to trash the unit, buy a marine head and hook up to the system. ...
Response from Spirit-of-Bear on the SailNet liveaboard-list:
I've used compost toilets for years {almost 20} ... all note in remote cabins all 12V-powered ... they do smell !! Filters do help somewhat but don't get it all. I would not want one on our boat ... no way ... Let me clearly state all the ones we have have all been UL listed ... The ones that state "no power required" have to have chemicals added to speed up the breakdown process ... I would really hate to have one on a boat, there is no way they can be odorless. ... They all require either power stirring or a occasional manual turning of the digestor to speed the process ...

From Peggie Hall on Cruising World message board:
Composting heads:

First of all any self-contained unit that actually works as advertised has to be too big to fit in the head on most boats. Too small, and there isn't any air space left in the drum, without which material can't compost ... it rots ... and stinks. The Sun-Mar self-contained unit -- which needs a space about 3' x 3' by 2.5' high (allowing for room to pull out the finishing drawer to empty it and room for the handle that rotates the drum), and that's the smallest they've been able to make one that still works. Then there's the matter of excess liquids. Even with power to run the evaporating plate and fan, there are typically more liquids than the evaporator can handle ... but they still have to drained off because wet soggy organic material doesn't compost, it rots ... and stinks. Excess liquids cannot legally be drained overboard, they have to go into a holding tank ... and there goes any advantage to spending about $1200 for a composting toilet, even if it would fit in your head and you have the power resources to run the evaporator. And finally there's the dry organic matter that has to be added to every flush ... peat moss is the material of choice because it's highly water absorbent and breaks down quickly ... but you have to carry it aboard to use it, and enough peat moss to provide a cupful every time two adults use the head takes up a good bit of storage space.

On the plus side, when installed, operated and maintained according to mfr's specs, composters DO work as advertised -- no odor, and the finished compost is a sanitary loam-like "dirt" ... much like the bagged fertilizer available from garden supply stores.
From Procyon on Cruising World message board:
I know you know your, well uh stuff, but Sunmar recomends 1 cupful of filler per day per adult, not per use. Real life filler is 1 cup every other day or so for 2 adults. I didn't know the marine or 12 volt versions had an evaporator plates. If they do then there are no excess fluids, it has no problem at all keeping up with 2 adults 2 kids and more. I would be more concerned about having enough power to run it while at anchor. I do agree it is iffy at best for use on a boat. I kinda like that $25,000 head I read about in Sail this month. Burns your crap in the engine exhaust.
From Craig Poole on The Live-Aboard List:
I installed a composting toilet (Sunmar) on my old houseboat (which I sold back in 99). From my experience, I would NOT recommend the experience again. If I lived in a warm climate it would have probably worked, but installing in NY Harbor area (think cold winters) just didn't do the trick. The compost really never took - probably because of the cold - and it was a real mess to clean out. In addition, the heating element never kept up with the fluid volume and needed to be drained off into a separate tank.

All in all - not a good idea.
From Pierre S. on The Live-Aboard List:
I don't have a direct experience as an everyday user. But some months ago I was the next sleep of a composting toilet user in a marina.

For the first 10 days I was there, I thought there was a kind of industrial horse or cow farm close of the marina. It was strong, but I love animals. Then I discussed with my neighbor who explained me the process of composting on his boat. I paid a visit to the inside installation: a nice homemade cake perfume from the oven of the boat, that's was all. Very interesting.

On my wife urgent request we finally moved to an other marina across the creek.

From Maurice on the IRBS live-aboard mailing list:
Vacuflush heads: We have two of them and I did the first rebuild after nearly 7 years of trouble free use, including several years of living aboard by the first owner and several months of the same by the two of us. The rebuild consisted of replacing four duckbill valves in one of the two S-pumps (the one that does the flushing) and two in the T-pump (the one that pumps the holding tank overboard). We did not touch the second S-pump because it is still going strong. I have a stock of various parts just in case but thus far have had no need of them. I did have one other small problem, but it was due to a bad installation (and yet the head worked fine for over 6 years).

Maintenance is simply a quarter-cup of laundry detergent brushed around the bowl and then flushed through the system, followed by a pail or so of flush water. It takes all of 5 minutes every month or two.

These heads take from a pint to a quart of fresh water (depends on how long you hold the pedal down) so the holding tank takes a long time to fill up. During the day we just flush as needed; at night we follow the old adage, if it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down. This saves water and they do make a whooshing sound (somewhat like the heads on some aircraft) that would wake the dead at night. Because the flush water is fresh, there is no urine/saline crystal build-up like you get with salt water; also this means no saltwater smell in the head. Other than the noise, the only downside I can think of is that they are a bit costly; however, I don’t have to rebuild the pump (or replace it) every year or two. Since the hose is full of air, not s**t, the smell is negligible even after seven years of use.

For the uninitiated, they are simple. The head is connected to a pressure vessel a little bigger than a football, which is connected to a vacuum pump, which discharges to the holding tank. The pressure vessel has a vacuum switch connected to the vacuum pump; that’s it. When switched on (we never shut them off), the pump pulls the hoses and pressure vessel down to a partial vacuum. When you step on the pedal, a valve opens and everything is sucked through a tiny hole below, breaking up all the solids. Flush water (from your pressure system) is automatically drawn in at the same time, some of which remains in the bowl after letting up on the pedal. Then the pump continues to run until everything is expelled to the holding tank and a fresh vacuum is drawn; it takes only a minute or so for the cycle to complete.
From Peggie Hall on the IRBS live-aboard mailing list:
You're on the right track, but you should do a little more than that. I have a VacuFlush on my boat, and had one on my previous boat, so I'm intimately acquainted with it.

The VacuFlush doesn't macerate ... waste is sucked through the system by accumulated vacuum when that vacuum is released. That splatters waste in various size pieces all over the inside of the hoses and vacuum accumulator tank. That highly touted "only one pint of flush water" isn't enough to rinse it out, and the flush water flow is so weak that flushing longer doesn't accomplish much either. So unless you fill the bowl completely a couple of times and flush that through at least once a day, you'll not only have permeated hoses in a very short time (only took two months on my current boat), which is why SeaLand had no choice but to develop a "bullet proof" hose -- their "OdorSafe" brand, but if you're lucky enough to avoid that, urine crystal buildup in the hoses can reduce the diameter to less than an inch in a year or two.

To prevent that, back off on the detergent -- it cleans the hose, but it won't touch urine crystals -- and instead put two cups of undiluted (turn off the water at the breaker first) white vinegar down it once a week -- after you've run two bowls full of water through it.

However, the VacuFlush IS a toilet that needs no other preventive maintenance ... and 99% of problems with it are due to operator error -- the most common being just "popping" the pedal (releasing it the second the bowl is empty) instead of leaving it down for at least 3 seconds to allow flush water to rinse solids and paper out of the pump.

And it's a fine toilet -- the one I chose to put on my own boat 4 years ago. However, since then, advances in macerating electric toilets, especially the capability to use a fresh water solenoid instead of a sea water intake pump, now offer the same low water use / low power -- in fact even lower -- consumption advantages that the V/Flush offers, plus maceration, for a MUCH lower price.


It's an excellent toilet. However, with the improvements in macerating toilets, I don't think it's worth what it costs any more. It's ONLY available from "Authorized VacuFlush Service Centers" at list price (around $1100 ... it's hard to tell any more, since SeaLand no longer publishes "list" prices) ... and unless the "authorized" dealer also installs it -- another $1000 average -- the warranty is void. Otoh, several macerating toilets which offer all the same advantages are available from West Marine, BOAT/US, Defender etc for $700-$800, and their mfrs have no problem with owner installation. And -- all the "guts" are contained within the pedestal ... no need to eat up valuable storage space with pumps, etc.

From Lou Hunt:
Well, I'm still working on my ******* septic system. I re-did all the fittings yesterday and changed the seals in one toilet. I also caulked everything ... had to wait 24 hours to fire the system up to see if it works. I'll do that in a few hours more. With the fittings re-done, I'll be able to isolate any air leaks (this is a vacuum system) and epoxy them until their ears pop. I've had it with working on this septic system. Please let me advise you to never, never get a vacuum toilet system in your boat. What a pain! :o(
The entire system ... from the two toilets to the holding tank ... is a sealed vacuum system. Somewhere ... and trust me, I have been chasing it down forever ... there is an air leak not allowing the vacuum to build enough to evacuate the toilets. And now that I have a girlfriend here ... toilets are C-R-I-T-I-C-A-L! The system is a VacuFlush system made by Dometic Sanitation/Sealand Technology.

From Don Dement on the IRBS live-aboard mailing list:
... the two Microphors on my boat would be described almost the same as the Vacuflush. However, they operate by air pressure instead of vacuum. The waste and 2 quarts of fresh water it leaves in the bowl are dropped into a small chamber, the flap closes, and air pressure tosses it all into the hose to the holding tank. There are no wires at all to the head -- just a small hard plastic air hose from an air tank. The compressor runs about twice a day and holds enough air for perhaps two flushes. The heads are porcelain, clean easily. The "innards" look to be high-quality gear.

Mine work flawlessly. From the aft head to the tank is at least 25 feet of hose running through the engine room. No odor whatever and no blockage. I haven't had to do any maintenance, and I haven't seen any items in the manual about maintenance. ...

From Peggie Hall on Cruising World message board:
In Response To: Dump the Grocos ...

Advising anyone to dump a $500+ toilet is bad advice ...

Based on the comments I've read over the years, the ONLY reason many people prefer the Lavac is the lack of maintenance it requires. It's not landlubber guest friendly ... it's not child friendly ... you can't add water to the bowl ahead of solids ... it just doesn't require any maintenance.

I'm NOT knocking it ... it's a fine head. Just putting it into perspective. Different folks want different strokes. And to those folks, a little maintenance may be a small price to pay to have 'em.

From Peggie Hall on Cruising World message board:
Only one caveat re Groco -- any Groco:

Unless the pump shaft seals are replaced annually, they have a disconcerting tendency to spit flush water at you (if you have one that doesn't, you're one in a million).

The Model K is an excellent toilet ... and the price -- over $500 -- reflects it. So are the W-C Imperial and Skipper for nearly $1000 each. Whether to spend that much on a toilet depends upon how long you plan to keep the boat. If the rest of your life, any of these toilets are built to last a lifetime -- several lifetimes ... but if only a few years, I wouldn't do it.

If convenience and water in the bowl when you need it is the main issue, consider going to an electric macerating toilet with the fresh water solenoid option ... the water useage is minimal, and the amperage draw is a pittance. In that case, take a look at the new Raritan Sea Era for about $400. OTOH, macerating electric toilets can't be converted to manual in a crunch ... and they DO use SOME of your potable water supply ... so if you're heading for open seas where either one could become an issue, that might not be the best option.

There's no such thing as THE "best toilet" ... only the best toilet for any owner's wants, needs and budget.

From Phil Sherwood on World-Cruising mailing list 5/2010:
Re: replacing Headmate 1460:

> We have a headmate 1460 on board which is no longer made.
> We live aboard now and it seems to need rebuilding about every
> 6 months or so. ... Does anyone know of a solution or a
> new head that will sit in without a lot of re-plumbing.

I had the same model head and finally got fed up with continually repairing and rebuilding it, and replaced it just recently with a Groco K head. Very expensive -- $800 plus shipping at Defender, but basically a boat unit by the time I got it down here to Panama -- but ohhh man, what a difference. Biiig boost to quality of life in the sanitation department. It installed very easily -- the only hangup was that I had to go get a reducer to convert the 1" pipe thread water inlet to a 3/4" hose barb. You can also order that very part from Groco for about the same price I paid for the needed parts (in brass) at a local plumbing supply shop.

Another alternative that looked very good and is substantially less expensive than the Groco K is the Lavac, which uses a slightly modified Henderson diaphragm pump. (You can also get an electric one, as you also can with the Groco K.) Everyone I've met who has a Lavac installed has been very positive about it. I would have installed that but doing so would have required a lot of complicated modifications to my existing setup. If you're the intrepid sort, you could convert the existing toilet to something very similar to the Lavac by adding sealing gaskets to the toilet bowl, ring, and lid, and putting a Henderson pump in line. I personally just wanted to nuke the @*%! Headmate totally, have nothing more to do with it, and start over.

As far as the awful old Headmate goes, you could try disassembling the pump (yet again) and greasing up the plastic disc with the rubber ring that doesn't seal very well, with some sort of waterproof grease. Won't be permanent but might help some. Also check the smaller of the two flapper valves, the one that has the two little flappers. Possibly the one that opens/closes the inlet water line isn't closing right for some reason -- lost its little counterweight, accumulated some crud on it, got a tear, who knows.

When you reassemble the pump, take care not to overtighten the six screws that hold on the little plastic cover on the rear of the pump, where the two smaller water lines attach (water inlet and water from pump to bowl). It's pretty easy to crack that plastic, and Thetford wants to sell that little plastic part as part of a much larger parts kit for $80 or something ridiculous like that. Fortunately I had a sympathetic customer support person on the line and he kind of went around their system and did sell me just that one part ($7 or $8, IIRC).

The bottom line is that the Headmate 1460 is just a lousy, poorly designed and manufactured piece of equipment that now is out of production (wonder why), only indifferently supported, and expensive to repair. One of the larger mistakes I've made on this boat was installing it a few years ago. Fixing it up time and again is akin to putting lipstick on a bulldog.


The HM 1460 and Groco K are pretty much the same size, as I recall. If anything the Groco might be just slightly smaller front to back and side to side. It stands a little taller than the HM because the bronze pump unit is below the bowl, not beside it as with the HM. The Groco footprint is about the same as the HM although the bolt pattern is a little different.

The thing to watch out for is putting the reducer and hose barb on the water inlet line -- that can extend the depth of the unit by three or four inches. That wasn't an issue for me but could be in other installations. The Groco adapter, which is much more space-economical than one made of a bell reducer and hose barb, is available in both straight and 90-degree versions. The latter will save you even more space. (The water inlet, BTW, appears to be straight thread, not tapered.)

The Lavac toilet unit is about the same size as the others or perhaps smaller. That model offers the advantage of letting you mount the pump wherever you want -- it isn't attached to the toilet itself. You just have to plumb the water and waste lines accordingly, which might or might not be a big deal depending on where the holding tank, water inlet through hull, Y valve, etc, are located, whether you have ready access to good-quality sanitation line, and so forth. The Lavac web site provides lots of technical detail, different installation drawings, and other info.

From Steve SV Grace on World-Cruising mailing list 5/2010:

From Pierre Mitham on the IRBS live-aboard mailing list:
It's getting to the point now where it's not worth the effort to rebuild a head. That Raritan cheapy (which actually works quite well, 2+ years on my boat constant liveaboard use) is actually cheaper to buy than a lot of the rebuild kits for the other heads! It's simpler to replace the entire head than to disassemble and rebuild (less messy too!).
From Paul Saltzman on the IRBS live-aboard mailing list:
Allow me to add this to Pierre's comment. Since I am already on the second kit I can attest first hand that's cost-effective. As well the older plastic fittings become stressed and don't make up well creating a good seal. This then plagues you with constant leaks. I am about ready to flush the old and install new.

From Peggie Hall on IRBS live-aboard mailing list:
> What is the best lubricant for keeping the internal seals, etc happy in a manual head?

Use only Teflon grease -- sold through marine supply stores as SuperLube, Sea Lube and maybe a couple of other brands. If you're generous with it, you should have to do it once a season.

> Vaseline ?

Do NOT use any petroleum products ... petroleum degrades rubber and neoprene -- iow, all the seals and valves in your toilet. Also do not ever put bleach, chemical toilet bowl cleaners or anything containing alcohol or pine oil solvents down a marine toilet. They all are destructive to rubber and neoprene and break down flexible PVC hose.

Authorities inspect boat for overboard discharge?:
From Brian Grant on Cruising World message board:
... When we checked into a Ft. Lauderdale municipal marina, we were visited by a lady with dye capsules that had to be pumped through the head.

Dye outside the boat was a fine and an order to leave the marina.
From Rod on Cruising World message board:
In Avalon CA, they put in a dye tab. ...

From captkeywest on Cruising World message board:
... Recreationally (my private vessel), we were checked at The Tortugas (no dye needed/porta potti).

Now that Key West has been designated a No Discharge Zone, weekly random boardings have been started at KW Marinas


Random boardings of anchored vessels in the NDZ are also expected ...

My experience, after 3.5 years cruising:
Have spent about a year in the Keys, a year elsewhere in Florida, including 2 months in Key West, a week in Dry Tortugas, and I've never been hassled or boarded for head/discharge inspection. I know one person who got boarded and fined for it (in Ft Myers Beach), and that was triggered by having an unregistered dinghy (as well as an antagonistic personality).

See Head section of my Living On A Boat page

I met one live-aboard who uses some kind of disposable plastic bags (maybe from a medical supply place). Seals them up after use and takes them ashore to dispose of (improperly, into a dumpster). He's on a very small boat, and begrudges the space that a head would take.
[Cities forbid human waste disposal into garbage cans; it's a health risk for the garbage workers.]

From Dave Barry:
We wanted to have a relaxing family vacation, so we got together with two other families and rented a sailboat in the Virgin Islands. There is nothing as relaxing as being out on the open sea, listening to the waves and the wind and the sails and voices downstairs yelling "HOW DO YOU FLUSH THESE TOILETS ?"

It takes a minimum of six people, working in close harmony, to successfully flush a nautical toilet. That's why those old ships carried such large crews. The captain would shout the traditional command - "All hands belay the starboard commode!" - and dozens of men would scurry around pulling ropes, turning giant winches, etc, working desperately to avoid the dreaded Backup At Sea, which is exactly the problem that the captain of the Titanic was downstairs working on, which is why he didn't notice the iceberg.


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