Tips on removing the holding tank and head in 1980 38ft

SteveOO

Junior Member
Hi all,
I have a 1980 38ft ericson and the head has started backflowing. Rather than get in and change the seals, I'm thinking I'd rather rip out the holding tank and toilet and switch to a composting toilet. In terms of the removal, I'm wondering how big of a job this will be, and hoping I can do it while still in the water (I'm in the PNW).

Can the holding tank fit through the companionway? I guess that's my main concern.

Is it relatively straightforward to remove this system, or any big gotcha's people have run into?
I'm currently not planning on hauling the boat out of the water until spring, at which point I could have those thru hulls closed off (for now I'd just keep the valves in place and closed).

Thanks
 

Loren Beach

O34 - Portland, OR
Senior Moderator
Blogs Author
I have a 1980 38ft ericson and the head has started backflowing. Rather than get in and change the seals, I'm thinking I'd rather rip out the holding tank and toilet and switch to a composting toilet. In terms of the removal, I'm wondering how big of a job this will be, and hoping I can do it while still in the water (I'm in the PNW).
Probably it's just me, but I am not sure what problem you are having.
99% of the time, if by "back flowing" you refer to waste returning to the bowl after use, this means that the Joker Valve is no longer sealing as it should. Or, that in addition to that, the holding tank ('HT") is full or the hose to the tank is somehow plugged. Or, the vent line is plugged even if the tank is only partly full.
You refer to "change the seals" and that reference puzzles me.

Does your boat have an old, or at least 20+ year old head plumbing system that needs replacing?

Many many of us have replaced vintage heads, hoses, valves, and holding tanks and in the process figured out improved plumbing routes.

As for changing to a composting toilet, there are pluses and minuses to that. In the strictest "legal" sense, are you boating in no-dischage waters, treated-discharge waters, or in Canadian waters often where a Y valve is still ok in many areas?

If you do some searching on this site for head upgrades and hose and tank solutions you will find much useful into.

Do not be discouraged though, on any boat over about ten years old it takes regular hands-on maintenance to keep the "waste handling system" (a sanitary way to phrase it...) in good working and odor-free. To me, it's the signal difference in lifestyle to living on land where we just push a little tiny lever down and gravity takes all the nasties away.... :)

Buy a box of vinyl gloves before continuing, BTW.
 

SteveOO

Junior Member
Probably it's just me, but I am not sure what problem you are having.
99% of the time, if by "back flowing" you refer to waste returning to the bowl after use, this means that the Joker Valve is no longer sealing as it should. Or, that in addition to that, the holding tank ('HT") is full or the hose to the tank is somehow plugged. Or, the vent line is plugged even if the tank is only partly full.
You refer to "change the seals" and that reference puzzles me.

Does your boat have an old, or at least 20+ year old head plumbing system that needs replacing?

Many many of us have replaced vintage heads, hoses, valves, and holding tanks and in the process figured out improved plumbing routes.

As for changing to a composting toilet, there are pluses and minuses to that. In the strictest "legal" sense, are you boating in no-dischage waters, treated-discharge waters, or in Canadian waters often where a Y valve is still ok in many areas?

If you do some searching on this site for head upgrades and hose and tank solutions you will find much useful into.

Do not be discouraged though, on any boat over about ten years old it takes regular hands-on maintenance to keep the "waste handling system" (a sanitary way to phrase it...) in good working and odor-free. To me, it's the signal difference in lifestyle to living on land where we just push a little tiny lever down and gravity takes all the nasties away.... :)

Buy a box of vinyl gloves before continuing, BTW.
Thanks for the reply. Yeah by replacing the seal I meant the joker valve (was spacing the name). And replacing the hoses. The whole system doesn’t smell great in general if there’s much in it.

I’m tempted to rip it out because I really don’t like having black water onboard that needs to be pumped out. The current plumbing issues are just a possible excuse to finally do the project.
 

Christian Williams

E381 - Los Angeles
Senior Moderator
Blogs Author
Either is a big job. Backflow probably easy to fix.

Smell? If nobody previous has bothered with maintenance on your head, it's due. Wipe a moistened cloth (or finger) on the hoses. If they are permeated, the stink will transfer. Need new hoses.

What toilet is it? Some models are hated, hard to rebuild, ought to be replaced. Others can be worked on successfully, Joker valve and other gaskets changed.

Is your boat equipped for overboard discharge? In areas with 3-mile limit available, a holding tank is a temporary thing. In an environment requiring a pump-out station, the holding tank should be pumped out soon after use--even when using Odorlos or other treatment. But six months of sludge are common. So is a blocked holding tank vent line, which emerges on 38s at a fitting on the port side.

In my opinion a good marine head is worth maintenance--and hiring somebody to do it, if possible.

But we, and Google, have vast stores of info on how-to, the overall takeaway being ugh and ick. The systems can be complicated and access challenging. For what it;s worth, I really, really like my overboard macerator pump.



 
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Prairie Schooner

Jeff & Donna, E35-3 purchased 7/21
@SteveOO - Hi Steve,
Below are a couple references that I've squirreled away regarding composting toilets. Without re-reading them, my recollection is that running the vent hose for the composting system was a challenge.


We decided to keep our original system. I rebuilt the toilet and put in a new hose from toilet to tank. I've got the parts for routing fresh water flushing. After that, the next step is to replace the pump-out hose and maybe the vent hose.

Good luck,
Jeff
 

Pete the Cat

Member III
Just a suggestion: plumb your head intake to the sink drain and flush the head with fresh water. I agree with Christian that some heads are worse than others (the Groco Headmate is the worst engineered piece of plumbing I have ever encountered) but even it did not stink when flushed properly with fresh water--it just leaked constantly. Also--you probably know this--that if anyone puts paper in a marine head it turns into paper mache that will eventually foul all the valves. A big challenge with guests is to instruct them not to put paper in the head and pump 10X after the bowl is clear--you do not want any waste left in the tubing to stink and solidify. I delivered a boat with a composting head and I was not impressed--but that may have been the installation, and- each to his own.
 

G Kiba

Sustaining Member
I had the worse smelling head. Changed the joker valve and the hose that connects the head to the tank. Flush with only fresh water and no longer flush paper. What a difference! When I leave the boat, I do a final flush to clear the hose and leave a little water in the bowl with a squirt of Raritan CP cleaner.
 

Navman

Member III
I removed and replaced my holding tank on my E38 with no problem. When disconnecting the influent hose you will get some flow. However, when the tank is out, clean up and sterilization is easy. I replaced all hoses and the vent. I also replaced the joker valve, pump assembly and a few other "Knick Knacks". Totally worth it. No smell in 4 years. The tank was easily found at Ronco, who was the original supplier. I believe it was a R130. It fit perfectly. Good luck!
 

Bobby Steele

Member II
We gave a 34-2 and the tank was in the cockpit lazarette. It was a chore to get at it, but we replaced our system with an AirHead composting toilet and have lots of added storage now. I had to saw the Steele reinforced hose into sections - which was the most difficult part
 

SteveOO

Junior Member
@SteveOO - Hi Steve,
Below are a couple references that I've squirreled away regarding composting toilets. Without re-reading them, my recollection is that running the vent hose for the composting system was a challenge.


We decided to keep our original system. I rebuilt the toilet and put in a new hose from toilet to tank. I've got the parts for routing fresh water flushing. After that, the next step is to replace the pump-out hose and maybe the vent hose.

Good luck,
Jeff
Thanks for the info Jeff
 

Tooluser

Flǎneur
Whoops! I misread. He removed the FUEL tank!
But that said, I find the composting toilet idea very compelling. If I have a head failure, I'll probably look into it.
 

ConchyDug

Member III
I have a composter on a 38, it's pretty much zero maintenance. Plumb it thru the old holding tank pump out port with a pancake vent. Be mindful of a couple things with a vent on the deck you can "bury the rail" say during racing maneuvers which will clog the vent line(so close it to prevent water ingress), also when more crew/guests are on the boat keep an eye on the liquids tank. A dude on Etsy 3d prints a 60mm fan housing so you can throw a larger computer fan on it. Both systems have tradeoffs but I think the holding tank just adds to much infrastructure to a small sailboat that needs to be maintained. When I removed mine I got a lot of space back, removed 2 thruhulls, and reduced overall maintenance.
 

Shankara

Member II
I have experience removing an old head system and installing an airhead. It is a lot of work to remove the old system and it’s kind of gross, but you can do it.


For the removal of the hoses and everything I would recommend a nut driver set for all of the hose clamps. A few sizes of hack saws and a multitool is good for cutting the hoses where necessary, as the process is a lot of removal of hose clamps and cutting away sections of hose. A curved carpet knife was needed to get the hose off fittings sometimes. Have a wet dry shop vac handy also. Once it’s all out of there, seal off the seacocks properly and clean.


For the airhead install, I cut a hole in the deck and added a passive vent.

IMG_4874.jpeg
Once a proper hole is made, remove exposed core, drill oversized screw holes, and fill both with epoxy. (In case water does leak into hole or screw holes water would never touch core or wood.) I installed the vent with 3m 4200 sealer.

IMG_4877.jpeg


On the inside, I had to remove the ceiling panel and build up an airtight passage all the way through so no vented odor escapes back into boat.

IMG_4970.jpeg

A 12volt connection was added for the vent fan.

69673707310__988B1617-FB31-4BEA-827F-C6EF37B07185.jpeg

A custom McGiver method was employed to be able to detach vent fan housing and close passive vent in case of green water over the deck in heavy seas.

IMG_5165.jpeg

There is zero smell ever in my boat now, although sometimes outside you can catch a whiff of coconut coir medium doing its thing.


IMG_5172.jpeg
 

K2MSmith

Sustaining Member
Hi all,
I have a 1980 38ft ericson and the head has started backflowing. Rather than get in and change the seals, I'm thinking I'd rather rip out the holding tank and toilet and switch to a composting toilet. In terms of the removal, I'm wondering how big of a job this will be, and hoping I can do it while still in the water (I'm in the PNW).

Can the holding tank fit through the companionway? I guess that's my main concern.

Is it relatively straightforward to remove this system, or any big gotcha's people have run into?
I'm currently not planning on hauling the boat out of the water until spring, at which point I could have those thru hulls closed off (for now I'd just keep the valves in place and closed).

Thanks
I have an E33 and both fuel tank and waste tank are under starboard berth . Both are straightforward to remove after removing wood ( with screws ) .
 

Cutbait61

Member II
Replaced the original marine toilet on my E29 with a composting toilet last year. The vent/fan is crucial to top performance. No smell whatsoever. Dumping/changing the medium about every 45 days is easy. Again no smell or mess
I use the bricks of ground coconut shells for the medium. Also you can put the paper in as well. A case of the coconut bricks from Amazon last a year easily. I installed the "Nature's Head" brand ...not cheap but worth it if you choose to go that route. I'm on a lake and pump out facilities are not convenient. I empty the "bucket" into a large construction bag and throw it in the dumpster at the marina..I admit I was dreading the emptying the first time but it wasn't much different than fresh dirt.
 
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