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11 November 2014

Getting aHead

By Jo Hudson
from the SEARUNNER Construction Manual by Jim Brown

Viewed objectively there is nothing more absurd than the usual sea-going toilet of the modern production yacht. What expense and engineering, what a profligate use of space and materials, what a baroque concoction of pipes and valves and pumps and skin fittings, what a sop to over-developed human sensitivities, all for the purpose of transferring a small amount of matter a distance of about twelve inches, from here on the inside of the hull, to there on the outside of the hull.

-- From Mingming and the Art of Minimal Ocean Sailing by Roger D. Taylor

Getting aHead

To date, Anke and I have never built an enclosed Head into one of our boats.

Our boats are small to begin with. Partitioning a chunk off for a room that's in use for a few scant albeit imperative minutes a day seems to needlessly cramp our style. The walls block the view (high crime, in our book) and crowd the remaining space.

Anke and I are mostly alone together, and quite comfortable with our nitty gritty. When friends come along... let's just say things are 'up close and personal'.

So a little more privacy would accommodate the sensitivities of our guests, not all of whom are as... um... earthy as others.

On the other hand, the one thing we've always longed for but never had was a Wet Locker; a place to let our raingear drip dry. Heads are traditionally not too bad for that purpose, though their ventilation is often wanting.

To that end we came up with the following:

Note the Head/Wet Locker at the lower, right (port, aft),
outboard of Companionway steps.

What we're looking at is a row of coat hooks along the wall, outboard of a section of flip up counter. This allows space for hanging outdoor gear, especially raingear, where it can drip harmlessly to a well-sealed floor.

The counter, when horizontal, extends the galley counter by (about) 3ft. It also doubles as the port, pilothouse seat, from which we can steer the boat under cover (workbench shares the same role, opposite).

When flipped vertical - hinged along its forward edge, it locks into position to form a partial wall. A curtain may be drawn across the inboard face, and voila! A semi-enclosed head!

It's not as isolated as the typical Head, but visual privacy is ensured. It's positioned under a pilothouse window, so ventilation is better than most. It's still a bucket affair, but a two bucket compost system isn't out-of-the-question. (Here's a great resource on DIY composting toilets from one of our readers).

Set-up and -down take but a matter of seconds, for those in haste.

So this has been a paper possibility for a couple of years, now, and I've been drawing them into Triloboat StudyPLANS. But if anyone's built one, I haven't heard... until now.

So here's a sneak preview of the as yet untried system, at the roughed-in stage. Stay tuned for trial and error to come!

Looking aft into to the portside Galley.
Head/Wet Locker aft.

Looking kitty-corner at Head/Wet Locker

Anke holding counter vertical...
will eventually have a barrel bolt into a small, partial wall outboard
(Mirror on the underside?)

Oh God!

Scrounged hinges...
installed 'upside down' to reduce gluteal hang-up
(the pronounced hinge curl could otherwise bite us in the A**
while sitting on counter)

Sitting Pretty
(and able to look out,, 360deg)

Search Keywords: head marine head nautical head head alcove tiny house bathroom compact bathroom


  1. Cartoon was great - porta potty works but must be raised up for us old folks - quick question - do flared sides (6' bottom and 6'3"" shear and narrow bow 6'3 beam and 5'6" bow have any advantage vs straight box shape) When you have the time - thanks - enjoy following the progress on your new boat

    1. Hi Linn,

      Porta-potties (and luggable loos) do work fine, though harder to rinse at the end of a painter! One comfy choice is a rubber bucket often sold by farming suppliers. They have an ample, fold over rim, that's easy to mount in a box 'commode' for raised elevation.

      Check out this great article, too:

      RE hull flare/side curve (plan view): The primary advantage is in reduced wetted-surface (the amount of surface area in contact with water) which accounts for drag. There may be hydrodynamic advantage to curved vs straight lines (possible to probable). If so, any differences appear to be near the upper end of hull speed.

      Bringing the ends narrower means the ends don't have to be drawn so high to keep their outboard corners from dragging when heeled.

      Downsides are loss of displacement, interior volume and the increase of construction complexity, which plays out through the whole building phase.

      Sheer can add construction complexity, but, if the gunnels stand proud of the decks, it's relatively easy to add... only cost there is material and windage.

      Hope that helps!

      Dave Z

    2. Oh yeah... that IS a great cartoon! Oh the humanity! -- DZ

  2. Here is a link to my version of a composting sailboat toilet
    I have used it in the house as a trial, very good results. I think I will add a 12v computer exhaust fan venting overboard fo immediatly after use, other than that the smell is minimal. I seeded the pail with some worms from my vermiculture, and by the time I emptied it, all the pail except the top inch was worm soil, which would be perfect for gurrilla gardening

    1. Hi Dennis,

      I like your system a lot. The Urine Diverter is well and cleverly done!

      As a side thought, I often think about getting a plastic welder and learn myself to use it. Would be extremely useful in our own lives (especially with all the great plastic crap washing up where it shouldn't), and would make a fine little moneymaker on the side.

      The worms are a twist I'd not heard of that sounds like just the ticket, and yes, perfect for GG!

      BTW, the 'bible' of all such technologies, the >Humanure Handbook< is available free online at:

      The site is well worth checking out, too.

      Dave Z

    2. Hi Dennis,

      I passed the verminous (worm) suggestion to my brother - who uses the bucket system on his homestead - and he said, "WOW! I wonder how often he empties his bucket??"

      Good question... can the worms keep up with daily use by one? Two? More??

      Dave Z

    3. So far we have only done short trials to assess comfort and odour, so don't have a definite answer to that one. From my experience with vermiculture and kitchen scraps, I find that the worm population increases to match the food input, so over time it will balance out. Of course, I consider the resulting worm casting compost a valuable commodity, so I was just planning to have a duplicate bucket and swap them out occasionally. When separating the castings, I usually just wear rubber gloves and put stuff that looks like soil in one container, and all worms and anything else just goes back in to the working container. I think that the time delay between one bucket getting full and the next would provide enough time that there would be very little that would be recognizable. The process is temperature dependant as well, but at 70 degrees F the worms will eat their body weight in 24 hours.

    4. This is great! Definitely one for the annals (annelids?) of composting toilets!

      Dave Z

  3. In a previous post, you alluded to reasons why the sole in the gally was only raised 8 inch max. Can you give some more details on why?

    1. Hi Dennis,

      After the waffling shared in that post, we settled on 5ft sides and 8in crown. This gives Anke standing headroom throughout and raises the side windows to awesome. The high sides mean clambering aboard, a bit, but we can always add an extra step as we become less nimble.

      The sole is a compromise between two opposing wishes... the higher it is, the better the view and the storage under. But the lower it is, the less 'crouchy' the entrance to salon through the fwd galley bulkhead (it's a step-down from the raised galley sole to the unraised salon sole).

      8in is plenty for upright quart jars, and a generous view (for 5ft6in) Anke out the pilot house (galley) sides. She basically traded a view forward from the galley for the headroom.

      Counter levels are 3ft above the sole, so the view while sitting on the counters had to be factored in, as well. Too high and I (6ft) have to crouch to look out the sides while sitting.

      We're happy to say that it all worked out! More pics when the pilot house windows come in.

      The only downside is that the side lockers (under the counter and workbench) have quite a drop off down into them (8in sole + 4in dustlip). We're going to have to be creative in our storage arrangements, since we can't just slide heavy stuff inboard from a level that's near to that of the sole. Either have to store lighter stuff in removable bins (milk-crates, say), or raise a shelf to near cut-out height with 'deep' (rarely accessed) storage under.

      One solution we're considering is a light block and tackle in each (of the two) spaces... storage crates / containers would each have a webbing 'cargo strap' permenantly attached. The block and tackle (with a short track?) would lift it up, out of the hole, and allow it to be swung inboard from there for a more ergonomic lift.

      When it comes to design, if it ain't one durned thang, it's another!

      Dave Z

  4. Dave,
    Composting toilets, now there's a subject near and dear to my heart, er...

    All my designs have been land-bound, so may not have much application on a Triloboat, but just in case, here's the URL of our composting toilet pages:

    Looks like you'll have sunny skies again today before the clouds roll back in tomorrow. No snow in the coming week though.


  5. Dave,
    Forgot to add this tip we use with our bucket toilet: We keep a 1 qt. squirt bottle of water beside the bucket. After doing one's business, use it to wet down the toilet paper. This does two things: It causes the toilet paper to collapse, thus reducing its volume and allows the cover material to stick to it, so less is needed. Both extend the time before bucket emptying is needed.


    1. Hi David,

      Wow! Your page on composting toilets is a great resource! Thanks for sharing all that good info.

      The insect trap is brilliant... wish we'd seen that before the horsefly season, early in the build! It would have to be attractive (motion, especially of blue or black), and baited with carrion (rather than light) but that's reportedly easy to do.

      We haven't tried (two bucket) composting on board, but my brother and several friends use it with high praise, and we've admired their odor-free success. This will be the first boat where it will be an option.

      Thanks for the input!

      Dave Z

    2. Must be something in the air, as it were...

      Check out Roy Schreyer's article on bucket composting toilets aboard, at

  6. Not sure if it got what I wrote before, but I thought you might want to take a look at this thread on my forum from back in 2010 when I made my first own composter aboard my boat, along with lots of input from others since then: "The $10-20 (or even free) composting toilet" Link:

    Loving reading about your boats and ideas! Kurt/CapnK

    1. Hi Cap'n Kurt,

      Nice job on your bucket head! I especially like the trick of heating and reforming plastic.

      I take it that stirring into the peat means you don't have to add to cover? And thus only need a single bucket?

      Dave Z

    2. Thanks, Dave! Pretty much, yes. I only put in more moss (or lately, coconut coir) as needed when the 'biological mass' ;) begins to overtake the amount of 'covering stuff' (moss or coir).
      I do not put toilet paper in the bucket, although the idea of doing so with a spritz of water might work. I put that into a paper bag which can be burnt, or if offshore, discarded overboard to break down naturally. You may have a solution for that with your woodstove. :)
      Additionally - for the last 6 months I have been living on a 'new-to-me' boat which came with a Groco wet head system. While it has functioned fine and with no problems for that period, I can now confirm through personal experience that a composting head is a MUCH better solution than this "traditional" method. It is much less hassle, in every way. No 5-minute pumping sessions to flush, and less odor are the two day-to-day reasons, and long term, the lack of thru-hulls and plumbing and all that, definitely makes for a "win" for the dry system.
      The only thing I would like to do/can think of to improve it, would be to somehow have the urine go straight overboard. :)

    3. Another success story!

      Urine overboard... been thinking about that as well. Maybe a funnel type urinal with a long stem led outboard and down to below the waterline. Could have a one way valve, but doubt it would need it if angled a bit aft. Follow with a rinse of seawater?

      Tougher for women... some funnelly type options now available for sport active women are gaining popularity. They definitely ease the challenge.

      Dave Z


About Me

My photo
Anke and I live aboard WAYWARD, our T32x8 ketch. We sail by wind, tide and muscle in the waters of mid- to northern Southeast Alaska. We try to maximize the joys of life, and minimize the chores. ........ We live between the communities of SE Alaska, but drop in to visit with friends. Lately, we've worked, every other winter, care-taking Baranof Wilderness Lodge in Warmsprings Bay. This has given us a window on Web. ........ We're working toward a subsistence lifestyle, somewhat impeded by addictions to coffee, chocolate and cheese. ........ We think TEOTWAWKI is looming, and while we won't be ready, we'd at least like comfortable seats.