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Head questions

Started by Scooter, Sep 10, 2023, 12:51 AM

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So I'm getting really close to maybe launching my new-to-me project P-19. The trailer is painted and mostly back together. Rigging inspected, fixed and replaced, sails are washed and I'm starting to re-assemble the interior. The one thing I haven't touched is the almost 40 year old original porta-potty thing. I've been scared to get too close and I think I'm just going to trash (recycle?) it directly and start over.

My model potter has the really small side compartment for the 'head' so I don't have too many options if I want to use the same space but I'm not against having some sort of kit in another spot. I'm also only going to be doing day sails in Mission Bay or out of Oceanside harbor so I don't need something to last for a week of use and I'm ok with diy-ing to save a few dollars. On the other hand I'd like my wife and kids to enjoy our outings so usability is a big concern.

I've looked at some of the 'composting' options, from ready made to a home depot bucket, and that looks like a better setup than holding tanks. I've also seen a diaper genie looking thing that seems perfect except for the price, which is large.

Some of the commercial composting heads have a catch area for 'liquids' and I've seen male and female urine bottle things that might work but I'm not sure I'd want to be the second or third person using it. From what I understand too 'going' over the side in the open ocean is still legal BUT if you use a container of any sort then dump it overboard then it is illegal. Which seems nuts. I saw a warning on some official site that it causes dangerous algae blooms from all the nitrates if you do. So yeah, I'm sure that's a thing.

Anyway, if you don't mind, any advice? What works on your small sailboat?


I have been in the cassette potty camp since the 1980s with both pop-up campers and sailboats.  The idea of carrying bags of poop and piss up a dock to dump somewhere seems that much worse than toting a holding tank with a pour spout.  Especially since we don't have trash pickup at my home dock - everything has to be stored for the next trip (garbage haul) to the dump.

The composting thing is awkward to me, especially on a boat.  And you can't combine peeing and pooping.

Sweet P - my 19ft Mariner is height limited under the V-berth, so I had to do some searching for a cassette potty that would fit.  Carefully read the reviews on Amazon - a lot of these are junk that leak.  Found one with decent reviews ( for $80 (up to $90 now), 12" high (max that would fit), and has a 2.5 gal holding tank with pour spout.  Haven't used it so far - 3 nights aboard were at a marina and at a launching ramp.  And it was just me.

Found on the ODay 25 that a full 6 gal holding tank is somewhat awkward, especially now that I am 40 years older.  And I'm not doing long family cruises like I did with the 25.

But each of us has got to make their own choices.  Just be glad we have a lot of choices.

Fred W
Stuart Mariner #4133  Sweet P
Yeopim Creek, Albemarle Sound, NC


Wag Bags, hands down. If you buy the bucket with seat option it is extremely comfortable and easy to use. Or you can make your own seat/bucket arrangement. No more straining to lift a portipotty out of the boat onto a dock. No more sloshing noises in rough water. No more leaks. The bags keep the waste odor free (really)and ready to dispose of in any trash can (like a diaper). I  accidently left a full one on the dock for 4 days in 90 plus degree temps. No odor whatsoever. The idea of pooping in a plastic bag put me off for several years. When I tried them I was hooked. Crewmembers on C130s have used them for years. The family was initially apprehensive as well but once they tried them (with nervous giggles) they realized how convenient they are. The only con is the price of the bags. When you discover they can be used several times before changing bags the cost goes down considerably. I highly recommend them over portipottys, especially for a small boat.


We changed over to a Natures Head composting head following many years with Mansfield Sani-Pottys.  Wife much preferred the NH.  The NH is worth the money.

Charles Brennan

Scooter, when I bought Urchin new  in November of 1976, my wife was 5 months pregnant, so we had a Porta-Potti, even before we had a motor! Also, since she was pregnant and practically ANY odor would make her throw up, I learned early on to keep it scrupulously clean.  Some models make that easier than others.

A consideration is movement when underway.
Little kids can't wait for a lull or anchoring, so you need to make sure that the head can be operated even when listing to port.

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These are from Igloo and designed to keep ice chests in place on fishing boats, but they are superb for keeping a head from sliding around in a seaway.

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This pic shows the head purposely installed backwards; you are looking at the back of the appliance.
You are also looking at the reason you should immediately throw away your existing 40 year old head, without further inspection.   On the right corner is the bellows that pumps water to flush/rinse  the bowl. That sealant at the base of the bellows gets hard after a while and is no longer water-tight; and let's face it: NOBODY wants to investigate trickles of fluid anywhere near a head!  :o  While replacement gasket kits are available, they never seem to work as good as the factory original. 
On the left corner is the water fill for the flush tank.  It has a rubber gasket which gets hard and cracks after a number of years and again, can allow water to leak.   
Towards the bottom at middle, is the white handle that disconnects the water supply/seat-half of the Porta-Potti from the bowl/lower-half "holding tank".

This makes it useful for people in advancing years not to have to deal with the weight of the fresh water supply side and the holding side of the two halves. Most advice talks about carrying the holding tank around and leaves off the part about the weight of the water in the upper half.  Carrying both halves together, quickly gets to be a chore.  Much easier to disconnect and carry two lighter components.  Sure, I muscled it that way without issue in my 30's, but in my 70's, it's just far more convenient.

Here's the head properly positioned:
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I sometimes sail and fish in weather and waves that the average small boat sailor avoids.  To that end, I sometimes to have to "batten down the hatches" to keep everything in place.
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To that end, a coupla bungee cords hooked into the tie-downs on the ice-chest brackets, works well. 

While physical size and cost are factors, so is usability after the purchase.  Good seals, convenient handles and other refinements, such as an ergonomic dump spout all count for a less odious maintenance chore.  My current one has a swing-out tube that makes it easier to hold the tank, while pouring the contents into a toilet.  Also easier to rinse out, by filling it with water from the tub. 
I have looked hard at all the various alternatives and they all seem to me, to require getting MUCH closer to the process, than I am comfortable with.
With any system you get, you buy it once, but you maintain it, forever
How pleasant/unpleasant that chore is, should factor heavily in your considerations.

One guy's opinion,
Charles Brennan

Frank B.

Another vote for Wag Bags. Best thing I did was get rid of that charged porta potty and install a clean waste toilet with a three gallon storage bucket with Gamma Seal lid for used bags.  Clean, odor free, and easy to dispose of. 


Charles et al, I can only wish I had room for some of those.

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Although there is an insert for the factory one that might work for a replacement. I don't think I can contort my 6'3" self into that space but I'll give it a try.

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And not only is it all nasty, it's not empty!!! Eww.


Harry, Frank, Wag Bags look promising, especially for day trips. REI is usually pretty good about minimizing waste but that looks like a lot of plastic.


The amount of plastic probably is what makes them so strong and odor free. They fold up into nice, compact packages. Your hands never touch the waste. Also, the bags are biodegradeable. Charles did a great job (as usual) at pointimg out the cons of porti pottys and the maintenance required. I have owned 3 different models and they all smelled, leaked and sloshed around. Oh, I forgot one to mention one more "no more". No more getting dirty looks from people when you take a portipotty into a bathroom to pour into a toilet. There are a lot more trash cans than waste dumps/pumpout stations where you can discreetly drop them in a can. Give them a try and let us know what you think. Hope this helps...


I bought a porta pot, like the ones pictured, for my camper, and I had one on my Starwind. It works just fine. I don't find it awkward to carry the cassette up to a restroom and dumping it is easy. We haven't had to use it for solids, but that would probably be not much different.

My Oday has a marine head and a 13 gal holding tank. It works fine as well, but pump outs have gone from $5 to $15, since Covid, with a $5 tip. Explain that one. We probably get about 5 pump outs a season.

Frank B.

Harry, Frank, Wag Bags look promising, especially for day trips. REI is usually pretty good about minimizing waste but that looks like a lot of plastic.

Biodegradable and cheap if you buy in bulk, I got a hundred from an ebay seller. Look I had a Dometic porta potty and I hated it.  It smelled all the time, and at night my wife and I  were sleeping over it under the V-berth. I can take the feather light clean waste toilet out of there and put it in the main cabin when cold, or cockpit when warm. So no getting up in the middle of the night and tearing up the bed to get to it.  In theory you can do that with a porta potty but it is much heavier when fully charged. When I come into my marina simply take the storage bucket and dump it in the Marina's dumpster.  Picture of the clean waste, fit perfectly in my place but if you don't have the room you can cut the legs off.

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Travis Chapman

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Similar to Charles, I've got a honeypot in the v-berth area. After a couple bad Jabsco experiences on big boats, I've always used these. I think I've had a Dometic on each boat now. The pressure tank system has been good for me to rinse the bowl, but I also use wet wipes and a thorough hand washing afterwards to clear any waste from the bowl. I use a chemical additive each season or flush out.

- Separate top and bottom are easier to manage for weight, though I often fill the top once it's onboard.
- With Igloo cooler cleats it sits quite snug. I have bungees but haven't needed to use them.
- Tanks seals alright and I haven't had smell issues on hot summer days.
- Easy to clean at the end of the season. I take it outside after emptying and hit it with the hose and a bleach cleaner, dry it, then store.

- There is no easy option on a boat this small for comfort. I cut out part of the bulkhead and it's still a cramped experience.
- I want airflow in there, so I usually leave the hatches open when in use. Fine at anchor until the wind swings you and your 20 ft away from trail runners on the beach staring at you awkwardly. I mean, I heard that could happen 😇
- In my experience, you must develop good clean hand/dirty hand practices to keep things clean. I don't think that's different with other options. Everyone poops, and we know to wash our hands afterwards. Seriously folks...

My two cents and experience for ya!
SV Panda Paws
Windrose 18
Glyndon, MD

Six Bells

Before I sold my WWP19 I bought a new porta potty to fit the space.  It's a Thetford 135 unit.  About $150 from Amazon, but the price fluctuates over a large range. I agree in thinking the wag bags seem a simple option. 
Sailing: Montgomery 15


I think there's a whole 'nother discussion here about logistics and etiquette that everyone has to solve in their own way too.

I'm sold on wag-bags at least in the short term. Thanks everyone!