8 Tips That Keep Our Head Working

After cruising over 9,000 miles, from Annapolis to Cartagena and back, we have never had to deal with a stopped up head (knock on wood).   It seems like everyone has a different idea of what works and what doesn’t, but here are 8 tips that work for us:

1.     Exercise the Y valve and seacocks regularly, so that when you need to close them and return to the USA, you don’t have a stuck Y valve.  Exercising all your seacocks on a monthly basis helps to keep them working smoothly.  Similarly, be sure to open the deck waste fitting regularly so it doesn’t freeze shut.

2.     Clean out the holding tank vent – salt and corrosion build up especially if you are not using it because you are cruising outside the USA.  For us this project entails removing a wall to access the hose and fitting, but better to do it annually than to try to remove six years of build-up.

3.     Check the joker valve annually – many cruisers replace it annually.  We only change it when it begins to leak which, for us, is every few years.  We always carry a spare, just in case!

4.     Replace the sanitation hoses every few years and be sure to use the right kind of hose.  The prior owner of our boat used water hoses which was not a good idea.

5.     We are commuter cruisers, cruising for six months a year and leaving the boat in a foreign marina for hurricane season.  Before we leave the boat for even a week, we shut the seacocks, dump about a gallon of fresh water in the head and pump it through to flush out the salt water.

6.     Our Raritan PH II likes a substantial dose of grease annually.  We remove the pump from the base, pump a large squeeze of Teflon grease in and work the pump to distribute the grease.    If you’re not sure how to do this, Peggie Hall’s book “Get Rid Of Boat Odors:  A Boat Owners Guide to Marine Sanitation and Other Sources of Aggravation and Odor” gives exploded diagrams of the most popular brands of heads and provides a good starting point.

7.     I know it’s controversial, but we’ve been using the “salad dressing” approach to  routine head maintenance.  Once a week I put a couple of cups of white vinegar in the head and let it set for as long a possible – overnight is good timing for us.  After flushing the vinegar, we put in a half cup – or more – of vegetable oil, let it sit for an hour and then flush it through.  The oil seems to keep the innards lubricated and working and the vinegar helps to break down any salt/corrosion build up.

8.     Last but definitely not least, we NEVER put ANYTHING extraneous down our head, not even a single square of toilet paper.

Do you do something differently?  What works for you?


  1. Jan – I too at one time used vegetable oil but then when we came back to the states and bought head lube. I find it works better when storing the boat. Pour it in the head after flushing with fresh water, pump through and then add enough to cover any water you can’t get out. When you come back it flushes right through. The boat was on the hard for 8 months in very hot Guaymas, Mexico and no problems at all from seals drying out. Not even a drip.

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