Note: This was the head on our previous boat, Webfoot. While we no longer have a composting head we are happy to answer any questions so feel free to send us an email.
When we purchased Webfoot it came fully equipped with a used(!) porta-potty. Some of the parts were missing, so the blue liquid (also kindly included) would slosh out if the boat rocked too much. Luckily for us, the compartment that holds the “added” liquids was well sealed.
Needless to say the potty had to go. But now we were left with the question of what to replace it with. The male captain among us voted for using the back of the boat and simply using the head-room for storage. I would not hear of that. Sailing does not need to be uncivilized. So we debated getting another porta-potty, but after learning on our old boat that one has to walk to the pump-out station carrying the entire potty and then very ungracefully dump it into a hole covered in… you get the picture. This would not do.
We thought about a regular marine head, but after having worked and lived on many a boat with marine heads those were quickly vetoed due to lingering, highly unpleasant smells. Not to mention having to drive the boat to the aforementioned station and this time ungracefully pumping said refuse into a similar hole. If you’ve ever read Janna Cawrse Esarey ‘s book the Motion of the Ocean you would know what can happen during a routine pump-out. I don’t want to ruin it for you, but it’s not pretty. If you have a marine head or have been reading these blogs for some time you will know that there is an endless stream of maintenance issues and repairs involved with heads requiring many gloves and cleaning products.
So after much research we came across another alternative: The Composting Head. This nifty device separates the “solids” from the “liquids”. By doing so it allows the “solids” to become a healthy (usable) compost by composting it with a material such as COIR. The liquids are stored in a semi-transparent bottle that can be safely transferred to a regular toilet in a grocery sack. Since the “liquid” is non-toxic it can also be safely disposed of in areas where it is legal, without any harm to the environment. The solids tank has to be emptied when it gets full – could every few months depending on use. Best is to let the compost sit unused and and let it finish composting but that is not always feasible. It can be emptied into a plastic garbage bag and tossed with regular trash (much like used diapers).
Speaking of being environmentally friendly: The average American uses 7,665 gallons of water per year just to flush the toilet. That is 21 gallons per day! So by installing a composting head we not only got rid of many unpleasant tasks, we are also doing a small part in saving the earth!
Oh, and by the way, if it’s working correctly, it doesn’t smell!
We have gotten a lot of questions regarding our Nature’s Head and I hope to answer some of them here. We purchased a Nature’s Head rather than the AirHead because we like the molded in seat in the Nature’s Head – no seat to slide around in seas. We also thought the Nature’s Head just looked sturdier and it really is a very sturdy and well built unit with all stainless parts.
Remember, if it smells something is wrong. We spent over a week in the San Juan’s and it started to smell towards the end. I’m fairly sure it was due to to a high moisture content and we should have added more composting material, which we hadn’t thought to bring along. For this season we have bought some enzymes (called DrainCare – Amazon has changed this link but it appears it’s the same product) to speed up the composting process.
UPDATE: This summer we added a dash of enzymes after nearly every use and we have had absolutely no smells! We love our head!
For composting material we use small bricks of coconut pith (COIR) available at your local hardware store or nursery. Since the bricks are very compact they are easy to store and much better than using peat since peat cannot be as sustainably harvested.
We installed the solar fan as well as the supplied fan, the latter seems to draw a lot more air and uses hardly any power at all. We could easily do without the solar fan.
The install was straight forward. We cut a 4″ hole into our head window to add a vent, removed the old potty and drilled two holes to secure the new head with supplied screws.
All in all we spent around $1000 on the project and still think it was well worth it.