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Composting Head Installation

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The hoses on my 33-year-old head system stunk. I generally launch in Mid-April (pretty early for Lake Erie). When we start getting warm days in Mid-May, it can be unpleasant to be onboard. Thereís not a scheme I didnít consider as a solution. All the easy ones like changing to specific chemicals or wiping the hoses down with various things, naturally, I did first with varying success. I needed a permanent fix. Of course, the least risky thing would be to just replace the hoses. And, I spent a lot of time on this forum planning that. I considered a composting toilet because I just donít like the reliance of marinas to get pump outs. But every composting head installation I saw vented the head straight up through the deck. A two-inch hole in the deck just made this a non-starter for me.

My wife and I went to the Chicago boat show and happened upon the Air-Head booth. I spoke with the owner for a while but had already decided against a composting toilet when he off-handedly mentioned that some people vent through their anchor locker. This could change everything. I already faced the fact that my anchor locker had to be reworked. I have a blog post for that here.

I bought the head in the spring of 2017 and it sat in my garage all season. I intended to install it sometime last year but the first step was to pull the current head and holding tank. I didnít want to be headless and lose some of my cruising opportunities and rationalized it into an off-season job. A couple weeks before Christmas, I got an email from the marina where my boat is stored in the winter that the ownerís son was home for the holiday and was eager to earn money with any projects that were available. I paid him to pull and dispose of my head and holding tank. I was delighted to get out of that job for $175. I hope it helped his Christmas. I had no more excuses Ė besides the cold Ė to finally get started.

I filled the old holes in the deck with epoxy. While doing that, I was amazed how hard it was to be bent in the head and such a weird angle to do such a simple task. I knew that drilling the 8 holes for the four brackets and get them in the right place was going to be tough. Another issue is that the platform that the head sat on is not quite large enough to support the full footprint of the new head. I made a cardboard template to think about it. I came up with the idea to make an aluminum base, attach the brackets to that and then attach the base to the fiberglass. Not only would this make positioning the brackets simple, it would support the edge of the head that hung out over the existing platform. I bought a 12Ēx12Ē Ė 1/8Ē thick piece of aluminum for about $14 and shaped it with a jig saw, drill press and sander. It was simple and took me about 20 minutes to make.
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My plan was for the screws that held down the back brackets to screw directly into the fiberglass. The front brackets would be attached to the base with short screws and nuts because they would be hanging out over the platform. As it turned out, 7 screws went into the fiberglass and only the one bracket hung out beyond the platform. The base slipped in easily and it was surprisingly secure.

By far, the biggest challenge of the project was the vent hose. Getting a fish tape from the head cabinet to the anchor locker took me and a buddy several curse laden hours. We nearly gave up several times and I was imagining the unwanted hole in my deck. He finally solved the problem by literally doing a handstand in the v-berth compartment where the holding tank used to be and he fished his arm through the hole there to get the fish tape past the obstruction. The fish tape pulled a twine through that I used to pull a line though that I attached tenaciously to the hose that we finally got through with some effort. I cut the end of the hose off where I attached the line to and gave it to my buddy as a trophy. Burgers and beer that night had their share of elation of success for a job we doubted was possible several times. ďI canít believe we got that to work,Ē was said repeatedly.
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I mounted the fan shroud to an inspection plate with a stainless-steel vent. I did this both to make the installation look a little cleaner but also because Iíd have no way to attach the shroud to the anchor locker bulkhead after the anchor pan was glassed in place. I layered a piece of fiberglass screen between the vent and the shroud as an insect guard. I ran wire to run the fan to an ďalways onĒ DC switch panel that I installed last year for my ice box to refrigerator conversion.

Connecting the vent hose to the head was the easiest thing by now. I drilled a hole in the ďvanityĒ to feed out the hose and used the supplied coupler to make a short bend into the head. I added the coco peat to the base of the head and it was complete.
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Iíve been using the head for about 6 weeks now. Iíve needed to empty the liquids tank twice. Thereís a small inspection window in the front of it but I canít really see it without a hand mirror. I do NOT want to let this go too long. An overflow would be unpleasant to say the least. Dumping it is simple. On quiet nights, I pull the tank, put on its cap and take it to the bath house to empty it in a toilet. I wonít be taxing the solids tank for the foreseeable future. They say a live-aboard couple needs to empty the solids tank once a month. Weekenders only need to empty it once a season.

So far, Iím delighted. There is literally no smell. Hopefully, my anchor rode wonít take on an odor. I was worried about being able to hear the fan but I havenít heard anything so far. I havenít spent a night at a really quiet anchorage yet. Naturally, there are tradeoffs. Almost everything Iíve read or watched by people who have made this jump were positive. I was wary that no one would admit that they made a mistake. Now, I think itís possible that people do generally think itís better. Will I admit it if I donít like it? I think so. Iíll let you know in six months. So far, Iím hopeful Ė and it doesnít stink on my boat.

Cleveland, Ohio
1985 E30+ #685/Universal M18

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Maintenance and Mechanical


  1. bigd14's Avatar
    Wow Jim, that is a great install! Thanks for writing this up, I will look seriously at duplicating your efforts. One question- how is the seat height with the toilet installed on the shelf especially for shorter people?
  2. woolamaloo's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by bigd14
    Wow Jim, that is a great install! Thanks for writing this up, I will look seriously at duplicating your efforts. One question- how is the seat height with the toilet installed on the shelf especially for shorter people?
    That's a great question and honestly a big worry for me. My wife is 5' 0" on a day when she's feeling tall. When I got the head and first assembled it I thought it might not work for her. She spent her first night onboard last weekend. I gave her her privacy but if she would have known how eager I was to ask her questions afterwards it might have led to performance anxiety. Her response to my questioning: "Oh, it was high but fine." Whew.
  3. JPS27's Avatar
    I'm considering doing this as well, but on a 27. My biggest concern at the moment would be the footprint on the current platform. Your solution is helpful. And then how much room wouild be left in from of the air head and the bulkhead opposite the head.

    What did you do about your through hulls now not needed for a traditional head? Thanks, Jay