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. Anyway, it’s sterile. The “solids” are what presents the problem.

Then, in answer to my question, somebody came up with the easiest, simplest and most efficient solution you can imagine. I tried it. It works. It costs nothing. It takes up no space.

Admittedly, it doesn’t sound very nice but, believe me, you’ll soon get used to the idea and be 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: Some kitchen pedal bin liners. Some newspaper.

That’s it.

Here’s what you do: Deposit the “liquids” into the toilet first. This is most important – remember we don’t want them to get mixed up with the “solids” and all that entails…

Pump out – remember there’s nothing nasty in the “liquids”.

Now for the interesting part: Pump the toilet dry and line it with the plastic bag. Then spread a couple of sheets of newspaper in the bag.

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

Put the toilet paper on top of the “solids”. Then fold the edges of the newspaper over everything and lift out the bag. You will need to expel the air before you tie the handles. 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 open the bag and drop the contents over the side. Since everything was wrapped up in newspaper, you can even use the bag again!

Now can we talk about anchors?

One Response 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.