Common Head Questions
Why does my boat always have a lingering odor that smells
like the head?
Discharge, macerator, and pumpout hoses all have a finite lifespan. Once these deteriorate, gases can leak through them. Deteriorated hoses often are gummy to the
touch, indicating excessive age. Replace the hoses with a high-quality waste hose.
Also, if you use an aerobic “sweetening” product but don’t get enough oxygen into
your holding tank, or if you also dump in anaerobic products such as household
cleaners, the aerobic product won’t work well, if at all.
How can I fix the horrid smell outside of the boat when
Consider adding a charcoal filter into the vent line. Make these yourself with parts
available at most hardware stores, then fill them with activated charcoal, which you
can find at a pet store. Or purchase one of the commercially available products.
Why does my incoming water stink when I flush the head?
The common culprit is anaerobic bacterial growth after saltwater has sat in the feed
line. Anaerobic bacteria produce an unpleasant sulfur smell, similar to the smell that
comes from a holding tank that isn’t aerating well. These aromas are often confused
with those of human waste, but they aren’t connected. Pumping water through the
head much more frequently helps, as does pumping vinegar through and leaving that
in the hoses instead of saltwater when you won’t be using the head for more than a
week. You can also use an inline deodorizer, such as the K02-Knocks-Out-Odor kit by
Raritan. The one complete solution is to switch from saltwater to freshwater for
flushing by running the intake line for the head from the freshwater tank. Adding
an electric vacuum head minimizes the water use. —B.M.
holding tank (which clogs the hose with
toilet paper or waste) or when the boat
heels and sloshes wastewater into the
pumpout hose. Clear this by running a
plumber’s snake down from the deck.
The most common culprit is a clogged
vent hose or one that’s too small for the
pump’s suction; as a result, not enough
air enters the tank to replace the volume
of the wastewater being removed. To
determine if either of these is the problem,
watch the tank (if possible) to see if the
sides pull in while pumping. If they do,
the tank is under a vacuum. Be careful, as
the holding tank could crack or implode!
The usual cause is a vent line clogged
from waste material or at the through-hull where the vent line exits. Many
through-hull vents come with stainless-steel screens to keep out spiders and
wasps. These may corrode, leaving residue
that prevents the tank from breathing.
Often, other debris clogs the hole. Check
the vent hole in the hull first.
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Another issue I’ve seen is when the
tank fills even though you’re pumping it
out. This is almost always due to an open
through-hull at the end of the macera-
tor hose, an arrangement that’s illegal in
many areas. That through-hull should
be locked shut in those areas, unless the
Y-valve is locked, so that waste can’t go
overboard. Most holding tanks sit below
the waterline, so when the through-hull
and/or Y-valve (if you have one) is open,
water can flow backward into the tank
while you’re pumping it out – and at other
times, as well.
Brian Mistrot lives aboard Sea Mist IV, a
40-foot Catalina, with his wife, Christie,
and two boys, Chase and Glen.