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The USCG approved boating safety equipment has been bought and the safety check list has been checked; your boat has been registered and licensed, and boat insurance purchased.  Everyone has their own life jacket – which fits properly – and is ready to wear (including Fido’s).  The beverages, drinking water, food, snacks, ice, water toys, fishing poles, skis, towels, sun screen, garbage bags, and more are all in the foyer waiting to be loaded; and a float plan has been filed with a trusted friend.

There is one thing left and whether you have a built-in head or not, sometime during the course of the day, there will be a need for toilet paper.

This is probably not a topic which is regularly discussed at the dinner table, but when preparing for a boat outing, and to avoid any malfunctions with your boats sanitation device, you should know a little bit about, and talk about, before getting on board.

First, about the heads themselves; most boats that do have heads installed are required to have a marine sanitation device (MSD).  An MSD is the device that the head dumps in to and then makes sure the content is liquefied.

Boats which are 65 feet and under can use a Type I, II or III  MSD.  Boats less than 65 feet long must use a Type I , II, or III MSD.  Type I and II are the “flowthrough” type devices and the Type III is a device which has a holding tank.  Check with the USCG for more information on what the difference between the types are if you are unsure.  But in short, a Type I will liquefy all solids and paper, reducing the bacteria to 1,000 per 100 milliliters.  While the  Type II means the bacteria is less than 200 per 100 milliliters.  The Type III MSD has a holding tank.

Boats over 65 feet must install either a Type II or III MSD.  The installed MSDs are to be USCG certified, and have a label stating the certification.  There are some holding tanks, which are certified by definition under the regulations.

As far as the treated sewage is concerned, it can be “discharged” within three nautical miles of shore unless the area is marked as a “No Discharge Zone” area.  While untreated sewage may be discharged beyond three nautical miles.  When boating in a “No Discharge Zone,” one must make sure their device is secured in a way which will absolutely prevent any discharge.

There are a few ways to ensure no discharge is released, for example:  padlocking overboard discharge valves in the closed position; using a non-releasable wire tie to hold overboard discharge valves in the closed position; closing overboard discharge valves and removing the handle, and locking the door to the space enclosing the heads.  These suggestions are to help prevent overboard discharge and are only required while in a “No Discharge Zone.”

Marine Toilet Paper by Thetford

But, to the paper itself, special toilet paper can be found at any boat accessory store and not just stopping by the neighborhood grocery on the way to launch and pick up a 6-pack of double roll of whatever brand makes you the happiest.

Marine toilet paper is made to disintegrate quickly when it gets wet and even though some boaters follow the rule that nothing should go in the head if it hasn’t been eaten first; it is believed by many that the no-name brand kind, meaning the flimsier the better and cheaper, works just fine.  Keep in mind – one ply is always better than two.

And a final thought, to avoid the odors that can go along with the head, there are very simple measures boaters can take.

Always flush the hose to the holding tank, to prevent waste from standing in the hose.  People sometimes forget they are on a boat instead of at home and do not flush just right.  Make sure the contents get flushed all the way through to the tank.  And after each discharge, rinse your system good with fresh water.

Believe it or not, if you keep the tank ventilated it will help control those odors.  Well ventilated systems will allow the “good” bacteria to knock down the “bad” bacteria and keep those odors at bay.

And finally, according to those in the know, if you add some aerobic “good” bacterial treatment to your tank, it will help control the odors and enhance natural decomposition.  Chemical treatments work and work well, but they do use chemicals which kill the “good and bad” bacteria and then covers up any odors with a strong perfume smell.


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