Holding Tanks

How did we get to talking about a subject like this?

Honestly, wouldn’t you rather discuss the world’s most fabulous anchorages or who has seen the Green Flash or, heaven forbid, engage in the interminable anchor debate.

But no, people keep talking about holding tanks.

Certainly, there are some places where pumping the head overboard is simply forbidden – others where it is just not nice. Think about it: A curry last night and you get up to find the family downstream have decided to take an early morning dip in the crystal-clear water…

With the Jester Challenge sailing to Newport R.I. in 2022, I had been making tentative plans and one of them was to find some way to comply with the stringent United States effluent regulations. The obvious thing, of course, is a holding tank.

The only experience I had of these things was on a flotilla charter in Greece: Under the forward berth was a big, black floppy plastic tank which, with six of us aboard, seemed to fill up remarkably quickly. This wasn’t a problem because every day we sailed on somewhere new and as soon as we were five miles offshore, we opened the valve and the “contents” drained obediently overboard to contribute to the Mediterranean Circle of Life.

I looked into holding tanks – both rigid and flexible. The flexible kind did give me nightmares – I couldn’t help thinking about what happens if it bursts (you know perfectly well what happens. You just don’t like thinking about it.)

But the main trouble is that holding tanks take up a lot of space and they certainly complicate the plumbing.

For a while, I spent my days trawling through Facebook and the Composting Toilet groups. These were an education: Composting your bodily waste (lovely euphemism) generates a sort of religious fervour in some people. I imagine they wear sandals all the year round. There’s a lot of talk about living “off grid”.

The most interesting thing to learn about composting toilets is that the “solids” don’t smell unless mixed with the “liquids”, so it is important to separate the two. Another interesting fact is that the “liquid” consists of 95% water – with only five percent of potassium, phosphorous and whatnot. In other words, there’s absolutely no reason why that can’t be pumped overboard – even in a marina. However, if anybody objects (in the Caribbean they say it upsets the coral) then you can always keep a five litre bottle and pee straight into that and then take it ashore (disguised in a shopping bag to pour down the loo).

Meanwhile, it is the “solids” that are the problem – and yet there is a simple solution –  the easiest, simplest and most efficient solution you can imagine. I tried it. It works. It costs next to nothing. It takes up no space – and if you think it “doesn’t sound very nice” you haven’t stayed on one of those Greek islands where all the plumbing is 25mm diameter.

¥ou’ll soon get used to it. Also, you’ll be very glad you don’t have to spend the rest of your life maintaining some pretty unpleasant plumbing and constantly searching for pump-out stations.

Here’s what you need: |A five-litre plastic water bottle. Some doggie bags. Some newspaper.

That’s it.

The free newspapers they give away in marinas and chandleries will do very nicely.

Here’s what you do: Deposit the “liquids” into the toilet first and pump out. This is most important – remember, we don’t want them to get mixed up with the “solids” and all that entails. If you really can’t pump out, then that is where your five-litre plastic bottle comes in. Just empty it once a day in the loo ashore.

Now for the interesting part: Pump the toilet dry and line it with a double sheet of newspaper.

Deposit the “solids” onto the newspaper. You will be surprised to find that the smell is not unpleasant – but you can always use an air-freshener if you wish.

Put the toilet paper on top of the “solids”. Then put one hand into a doggie bag and delicately fold the edges of the newspaper over everything and enclose it in the bag. Squeeze out the air, twist the neck of the bag and tie it tightly as you would if walking the dog.

Then it goes in with the gash to be deposited in the normal way next time you go ashore.

Of course, if you are not going ashore, you might not want to carry this little cargo with you on a long voyage. Don’t worry: As soon as you are well offshore, simply snip the neck of the bags one by one and drop the newspaper and its contents into the sea, where nature will take its course.

Now can we talk about anchors?

1 Responses to Holding Tanks

  • I agree with this idea BUT the U.S. Coastguard won’t. They come on your boat and check your plumbing and inspect to see a functioning holding tank or composter. They even found a frozen Y valve on my plumbing stuck in the sea pump out and not the deck vac out position. I got red flagged but replaced it that day. They aren’t going to trust that you don’t direct deposit if your plumbing is set up that way so be prepared.