The marine throne room

I was one of those annoying kids who always asked, why, how, and what, all the time. I must have driven my parents nuts. My father always patiently answered my questions and he would even get a book from the bookcase to help explain when there was an example that suited the moment. He still has the patience of a saint.
So in that frame of mind I wanted to broach a delicate topic of marine portable toilets otherwise known as MSD (marine sanitation devices) or an installed head.

How do you use a toilet at sea?
Yes really.
In particular the marine electric portable toilet.

The world of marine toilets is an area that people don’t tend to talk about. Certainly used yet not mentioned. People are too polite. I decided to give instructions of how to use my version so that others would not be left confused or hopping from one foot to another or using the bucket alternative. That would be the alternative bucket list.

There appears to be different types of toilets.
Manual OR Electric
Direct Discharge OR Holding Tank

We have an Electric Direct Discharge MSD or toilet and that is what I want to talk about.

Our overnight double bed converts one section into a picnic table, and underneath at the back is the hidden loo or toilet. Very clever, very compact and very clean.

Before getting down to business you must open the valves of the toilet. There is one on each side of the bowl. Look around the sides of the toilet carefully. The BLUE valve switches are easy to see.
Turn both BLUE pipe valve switches 90 degrees to ON position.

Above is the OUTFLOW pipe in OFF position.

Above is the INFLOW pipe in OFF position.
The inflow pipe is thinner than the outflow pipe.
The electric switch is on the front LHS as you sit on the throne.

Flush the toilet by pressing the switch.
It is best to flush it BEFORE and AFTER you do your business.

1. Remove the cushions covering the toilet and lift the toilet cover.
2. Turn BOTH blue valves 90 degrees to ON position
3. Flush the toilet by pressing the switch,
4. Go to the toilet.
5. Flush the toilet by pressing the switch, FLUSHING AT SEA,  MORE IS BETTER
6. Turn the INFLOW valve to OFF position
7. Flush the toilet by pressing the switch until there is only a little water in the bottom of the toilet bowl
8. Return the toilet to bed position

8. Use a freshwater hose and rinse the toilet bowl while pressing the flush switch
(You are removing the salt water from the piping)
9. Remove the freshwater hose and press the flush switch again until there is only a little water in the bottom of the toilet bowl
10. Turn the OUTFLOW valve to OFF position
11. Close the lid and return the toilet to a bed again.

* A minimum of 1 gallon to rinse urine completely out of the machinery, a minimum of 3 gallons to clear solids and paper. Insufficient flushing shortens the life of the motor and macerator, and is the biggest single cause of burned out motors
*The cheapest “no-name” single-ply paper at the grocery store is the same thing as “marine” toilet paper, and it’s a whole lot cheaper!
*To clean the system place 250ml vinegar down the toilet and flush

BEFORE you go to the toilet (in a direct discharge type)make sure you are:

  • more than 500m from shore and in water more than 5m deep
  • more than 500m from a marine farm
  • more than 500m from a customary fishing reserve
  • more than 200m from a marine reserve

AND once you get back to shore you need to flush FRESH water through the bowl to remove the salt water.

More light reading:
Marine Heads
(PDF, 2 pages)
by Terry Johnson, University of Alaska Sea Grant, Marine Advisory Program 1999

Clean Boating Guide (PDF, 20 pages)
New Zealand Marina Operators Association with BioSecurity New Zealand

Less Toxic Cleaning (PDF, 3 pages)
California Integrated Waste Management Board

The Captain Rob Cozen, Master Marine Surveyor Newsletter, October 1999 Archive

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