Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Don’t Do What I Did

October 1, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

ddwid title

A marine sanitary device (MSD), aka toilet or head, is one of the most disliked pieces of equipment on a boat. That’s because an MSD’s equipment frequently breaks down, and if it’s not clogging, backing up, or overflowing, it’s not reliably containing its foul odor.

An MSD serves as a handy garbage disposal for clueless guests who’ll carelessly toss in all kinds of paper goods, bandages, wrappers, and lids before complaining, “Your toilet’s not working.”

There’s certainly no fun or glamour in emptying a camping-style flush toilet into a holding tank, and besides the challenges of hailing a pumpout boat or finding a marina with the proper facilities before matters get too dire, emptying a tank full of you-know-what is just not how you want to spend a lovely boating afternoon.

Many open and/or smaller vessels don’t have the room for MSDs, and too many skippers seem not to have the patience to fool around with congestible and breakable marine devices. Men think they have the advantage of peeing over the side, but in no-discharge zones (or frankly, anywhere), this is an environmental no-no.

More than 25 years ago, I tried to address the problem of where to go by installing a portable john on my 18-foot catboat. Almost immediately, the downsides to this solution arose. Porta potties have a small waste compartment that must be carried ashore, usually to a marina, to empty. My home slip was adjacent to the marina’s restaurant with an outside tiki bar and tables, which was lovely for dockside dining, but the patio lay between my boat and the bathroom where I’d need to empty my accumulated output. What was I going to do?

I squirted the tank with some of my wife’s perfume, trying to gauge what was enough to mask the stench without encouraging questions on what was emitting such a lovely scent as I breezily passed by. I gamely hoisted the cargo onto my shoulder, pulled my hat down over my face, and gingerly inched my way around tables full of happy couples enjoying their cocktail hour. You can bet I didn’t make eye contact with anyone for two reasons. One, I was mindful that a single false step would be a catastrophe. Two, I was dreading a fellow boater bellowing out, “Ah, here comes the main course” during my walk of shame. I had to repeat the whole process on my return, even though at that point I could easily carry the empty tank hanging by my side. My mood wasn’t lightened when someone’s dog growled as I walked by.

st_boatingtimes[1]Faced with such a mortifying march to empty my porta potty, I confess that I sometimes crawled up on deck in a dark harbor and leaned over the side for relief. Late one night, I anchored myself by wrapping my left foot around a shroud when the boat suddenly rocked and I rolled headlong into the briny deep. I hurt nothing more than my pride, but it could have been worse, as the U.S. Coast Guard reports that most sailors who fall overboard at night and drown have their flies unzipped. As for me, I was so surprised by my tumble that I forgot to even do what I stealthily intended to do!

The author is the Division 5 – Staff Officer Public Affairs, First District Southern Region, for the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, the all-volunteer, non-military arm of the Coast Guard, teaching boating safety education and conducting search and rescue operations. Visit to join the Auxiliary or for class information.

By William C. Winslow


is Division 5 – Staff Officer Public Affairs, First District Southern Region, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, and a freelance writer for marine publications. His work has appeared in Sailing, Wooden Boat, and Good Old Boat; he is also the author of Cat Boat Tales.

Comments are closed.