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What Boaters Should Know About Their Vessel’s Toilet System

What Boaters Should Know About Their Vessel’s Toilet System

Sailing near a shoreline or boating dock can provide a quick detour to a restroom when you don’t have access to a toilet on board. Luckily, some boats, like yachts are typically equipped with toilet areas, often called “the head.” Having a toilet on board is extremely convenient and improves the overall sailing experience, especially if you plan to spend long hours on your vessel. The way these toilets operate can vary depending on several factors, but it’s always good to have a general knowledge of their systems to keep the head in great shape. To help, Boatline is sharing what you should know about boat toilet systems.

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Boat Toilet Types

There are a few things to consider when it comes to boat toilets, including size, accessibility, and storage space. One easily available toilet type is a chemical toilet which uses a holding tank and is portable. Similarly, cassette toilets offer a great deal of convenience because of the removable containers that can be emptied on the go. 

There are also conventional marine toilets that have manual or automatic flushing systems, like your average household toilet, which also utilize holding tanks. You may find this toilet type on cabin cruisers, or other boats that are designed for long stays. With these toilets, you will need to frequently pump the waste out of the holding tank to ensure it doesn’t overflow or get backed up. 

Composting toilets are another type to look out for. These toilets allow the tank’s contents to break down naturally while not releasing odors. However, they can cause a lot of electrical demand on your vessel’s battery, so keep that in mind.

Water Usage and Conservation 

Many boat manufacturers recommend that you flush your boat’s toilet with fresh water, rather than salt water. This is due to the high concentration of sulfur in marine algae. If a boat’s toilet happens to use a saltwater system, it can create a very noticeable scent, similar to natural gas or rotten eggs. Fresh water contains far less sulfur and reduces the smell, which is beneficial when you’re ready to empty the boat’s holding tank. Additionally, saltwater can accelerate the corrosion of metals, which can eventually damage the pipes in your toilet system. 

An important thing to remember about using fresh water on your boat is that it will be a shared resource, so you will want to conserve it for a few different reasons. In addition to your boat’s toilet, you may also need to use fresh water for drinking or cleaning, including cleaning your dishes or washing seawater off of yourself. 

One last thing to keep in mind is the size of the holding tank especially when multiple people are aboard your boat. For instance, a smaller tank would need to be emptied more frequently on a family trip, while a larger tank may take longer to fill. Make sure you learn how much volume your holding tank has and measure your water usage accordingly.

Maintaining Your Head

Not only should you maintain your holding tank, but you should also be aware of what’s required to keep the overall toilet system in good working order and sanitized. A good tip for this is installing sanitation-grade pipes, these will help contain any odors in the head. If your head does start to develop an odor, you can check the condition of the pipe. If it is hard rather than pliable, it may be time to get it replaced.

When it comes to keeping seawater from flowing back into the hull, the pipes will have a loop that sits right above the waterline. This is typically achieved with a u-shaped fitting called a gooseneck. Goosenecks are usually fitted with an anti-siphon valve that pulls air into the system, which helps to prevent the head’s contents from being sucked back through the system and into the boat’s hull. On sailboats, the goose neck will need to be placed higher in case the boat heels over. You can mount the gooseneck against a bulkhead in the center of the boat’s beam to combat this.

Lastly, you want to ensure that the head and its components are sanitized properly. One way to make this easier is to avoid using see-through pipes. While transparency of these types of pipes can be helpful in identifying blockages, they are known to leak sulfurous gas. When it’s time to clean the head, make sure you are using septic system cleaners rather than your average household cleaning products. Harsh chemicals, such as bleach, can wear down the components of your boat’s toilet system. 

If you have, or plan to purchase, a boat with a toilet, make sure to utilize boatline’s insight. These are just things to keep you informed about a very essential part of your boat, but make sure you also read up on domestic maritime laws to learn any rules or regulations regarding your boat’s toilet system. 

Ready to find a vessel with a comfy head installed? Browse the nationwide inventory of new and used boats at


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Keona Frasier
Keona Frasier

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