How to go to the Head and potty on a sailboat

How to go to the potty on a sailboat and the consequences

Potty talk and holding tank pump out
There is a skill in going to the potty on a boat that, whilst apparently obvious to us “salty dogs”, it’s not that obvious to a newby without a swagger.

Here is an animation that explains all. Probably what you should do is to facebook like this post and “send” to any potential crew that you’re taking out this weekend so that you don’t have to explain the dirty business to them. We’ll take that burden onboard for you. Thank us later.

Like the universe there is an order to things and going to the potty has its very own order. The main thing is with a number 2 it involves pulling some fresh water into the bowl before you drop the hammer. The animation shows this when you click on “number 2”. Secondly in both situations of number 1 and 2 you’ve got to suck some fresh water in after the business and pump that out too just so that the bowl is left with no sticky stinky yucky unlucky residue.

The animation shows using a pump handle which is most common but more and more boats are being installed with electric pump systems. The use of which is shown in the video below.

What you’ve really got to know is that DON’T PUT ANYTHING DOWN THE BOG HOLE THAT YOU EITHER HAVEN’T EATEN YOURSELF OR EXTREMELY SMALL AMOUNTS OF TP. If the cleanup job requires a little more TP you’ve got some options. Announce that it time for a swim – or do some flush sequences. As a general rule – it’s about 4 pieces of TP per flush – no more. So this operation, depending on whether you are a folder or a wader, may take a few flushing operations. That’s no problem but do keep in mind that you’re more than likely flushing into a non-infinity space holding tank and it’ll have to be pumped out. Usually by your captain who’s usually ok with the operation but he’d rather not do it – note I purposefully used a male gender there on that statement.

The pump-out operation is not tooooooo bad. Coming in contact with anything suspect is unlikely – it’s just that they usually put a little glass viewing cylinder in the pipe so that you can see if the pumping operation is complete. That part’s not too fun – watching the brown. But it’s nothing that a bucket of soap can’t fix.

Pumping out into the water: In any waterway inland – it’s incredibly illegal and universally unacceptable to dump out your holding tanks into the water. In the Ocean, its illegal in most countries to dump out within 3 miles from land.

On a charter boat, there is usually a “Y” valve. Depending on which arm of the “Y” you have selected depends on where the previously eaten material goes. One goes straight out to the water and one goes to the holding tank.

Make sure that if you’re inside 3 miles that your old mango is going to travel the ‘Y” to the holding tank.

Some yachts are a little less scrupulous in their disposal  – so, unfortunately, this leaves a lot of really nice marina areas – especially in Europe not the greatest places to enjoy a marina or serine looking popular enclosed anchorage bay for a swim.


Here’s the video for using an electric head and doing the pump out.

My vision for NauticEd is to provide the highest quality sailing and boating education available - and deliver competence wherever sailors live and go.
Grant Headifen
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Last updated on February 2nd, 2023