composting head vs marine head [Answered]


When it comes to sailing or paddling, choosing the right head is crucial for a comfortable and stress-free voyage. Two popular options for on-board toilets are composting heads and marine heads. While both have their advantages and disadvantages, it’s important to know which will work best for your particular needs.

In this post, we’ll take a closer look at composting heads and marine heads, including how they work and what benefits they provide. We’ll also examine maintenance tips for both, and explore alternatives for those who may be searching for a different solution. By the end of this post, you’ll have a better understanding of these two crucial pieces of equipment and be better equipped to choose the best option for your vessel.

Composting Head

A composting head is essentially a waterless toilet that relies on the process of decomposition to break down waste. The waste is broken down by aerobic bacteria and turned into compost-like material that can be safely disposed of, often in a garden or other outdoor area once on land.

One of the primary benefits of a composting head is that it does not require a connection to a holding tank, which can be especially beneficial for smaller vessels. Additionally, because solid waste is broken down and turned into something usable by plants, composting heads are considered a more environmentally-friendly option.

Maintenance is fairly simple with a composting head. The toilet typically needs to be emptied every few weeks, depending on usage. Some models come equipped with a urine diverter to separate liquid and solid waste, reducing odor and making the composting process more efficient.

Alternative options to consider include DIY composting toilets, which can be made from basic materials and might be a more cost-effective solution for some.

Marine Head

A marine head is a conventional toilet that is specifically designed for use on boats. Marine heads generally use a holding tank to store waste until it can be properly disposed of onshore.

The primary benefit of a marine head is that it closely resembles a standard home toilet, which can be appealing for those who value familiarity and convenience. Additionally, with the use of a holding tank, there is no need for any decomposition to occur, which makes maintenance fairly straightforward.

However, one significant downside to marine heads is that they rely on chemical treatments to break down waste and control odor, which can be harmful to the environment over time. Additionally, holding tanks require regular pumping out, which means scheduling pump-out visits or finding proper disposal facilities on shore – this can be a hassle or even a significant limitation for remote areas.

Alternative options to consider for those looking for a more environmentally friendly solution might include portable toilets, which can be removed from the vessel for ease of disposal, or composting toilets, which do not require a connection to a holding tank.


When deciding between a composting head and a marine head, there are several factors worth considering.

  • Environmental impact: Composting heads are considered the more environmentally friendly option, as they do not require chemical treatments and turn waste into compost-like material. Marine heads require chemical treatments and rely on holding tanks for waste storage.
  • Maintenance: Composting heads require more regular emptying, but maintenance is generally simpler and less involved. Marine heads require less frequent emptying, but tanks need to be pumped out regularly, which can be logistically challenging depending on the vessel’s location.
  • Space: Composting heads tend to be smaller and lighter than marine heads, which can be helpful for smaller vessels or those with limited storage space.
  • Cost: Composting heads can be more expensive up front than marine heads, but over time can pay for themselves in reduced cost and hassle associated with proper waste management.

Ultimately, the decision between a composting head and a marine head will depend on the specific needs and preferences of the captain and crew.

Related: Best Kayak Sail: Find Your Perfect Sail and Make Every Paddle Effortless


What is a composting head?

A composting head is a type of toilet that uses natural processes to break down waste into compost.

What is a marine head?

A marine head is a traditional toilet system that uses water to flush waste into a tank.

Are composting heads more environmentally-friendly?

Yes, composting heads are generally more environmentally-friendly because they don’t require water for flushing and produce compost instead of waste.

Are marine heads more convenient to use?

Marine heads can be more convenient to use if there is easy access to pump out services or if the boat is equipped with a holding tank.

Do composting heads smell?

Properly maintained composting heads should not produce any unpleasant odors.

How often do I need to empty a composting head?

The frequency of emptying a composting head depends on the size of the unit and the number of people using it, but it typically ranges from every few weeks to once a month.

How often do I need to empty a marine head?

The frequency of emptying a marine head depends on the size of the holding tank and the number of people using it, but it typically needs to be emptied every few days to a week.

Can I use a composting head in saltwater?

Yes, composting heads can be used in saltwater, but the composting process may take longer due to the salt content.

Can I convert my marine head into a composting head?

Yes, there are conversion kits available that can turn a marine head into a composting head.

Can I switch back and forth between a composting head and a marine head?

It is not recommended to switch back and forth between the two types of heads as it can interfere with the composting process and cause clogs in the marine head system.

Real experience

Sally loved the freedom of living on her sailboat and traveling to new destinations. But with that freedom came certain responsibilities, including choosing the right type of head for her boat.

At first, Sally opted for a marine head system. It was familiar to her and seemed like the easiest option at the time. But after a few trips, she realized how much water was being wasted in the process of flushing waste into the holding tank.

One day, Sally met another sailor who had a composting head on their boat. Intrigued, she asked questions and learned about the benefits of using a composting head. It was eco-friendly, produced compost instead of waste, and didn’t require regular pump-outs.

After some research, Sally decided to make the switch to a composting head. It took some getting used to, but she quickly learned how to properly maintain it and was amazed at how well it worked.

Not only did Sally feel better about her impact on the environment, but she also enjoyed the convenience of not having to worry about finding pump-out services or dealing with odors associated with marine heads.

Sally realized that sometimes choosing the right option isn’t always the easiest, but it can make a world of difference in the long run. She was happy she made the switch to a composting head and continued to enjoy her freedom on the open waters without compromising her values.

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Choosing the right head for your vessel is a crucial decision that can impact both comfort and environmental impact. Composting heads and marine heads are two of the most popular options and each offer their own set of unique benefits and drawbacks.

Those looking for a more environmentally friendly and lightweight option with simpler maintenance might want to consider a composting head. Those who prioritize familiarity and convenience might prefer a marine head, though it is important to consider the environmental impact of this option.

Ultimately, the decision should be based on the unique needs and situation of the captain and crew. Remember to consider factors such as environmental impact, maintenance requirements, space, cost, and convenience when making a decision.

Whichever option is chosen, it is important to prioritize proper waste management to maintain a safe, hygienic and comfortable vessel for all on board.

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