I’d Rather Poop Like A Dog

Warning: Today’s post is disgusting, hopefully funny, and definitely filled with too much information.

Please be advised that its content may be too much for people with delicate sensibilities. If that is you, please leave now and come back later in the week for cute dog pictures and happy stories.

For the rest of you freaks, here is why I’d rather poop like a dog.

Honey the golden retriever naps in the cockpit of Meander.

Oh no, this is going to be one of those posts.
I think I’ll take a nap.

Poop Is Easy For Dogs

Honey woofs. I grab her leash and take her outside.

Once there, I say, “find a spot.” Honey does her business. I scoop it up in a bag that I then flush in the toilet or toss in a dumpster.

See? Easy peasy.

Thanks to her good diet and excellent digestive system, it doesn’t even smell too bad.

Poop Is Easy For (Some) Humans

You might be wondering what the big deal about pooping is. After all, modern sanitation in the developed world separates humans from their leavings quickly and efficiently.

Even people with septic tanks can rely on companies to flush out their tank quickly and easily (although it’s not always a perfect process; as a tween I was traumatized while standing behind my house’s glass storm door when someone in the septic company flipped the wrong switch, showering our entire house with shit).

But poop isn’t easy if you live on a boat.

The Marine Head Is Your Friend

Life aboard is great.

Imagine cool breezes flowing through the cockpit. A sundown cocktail in your hand. Ahh, that’s the life.

But there’s a reason only a small minority of people move aboard boats.

It’s the marine head (toilet). I swear it.

Marine head on a Beneteau.

This is in a boat about 6 feet longer than ours. So yes, it’s much roomier than our head.
But ours is prettier.

Here’s how it works.

Imagine you really need some relief.

First, you open a valve that allows seawater to enter. Then you pump a handle several times to bring water up into the bowl. You do what you came there to do. And then there’s the matter of toilet paper.

Some boaters insist everyone toss their used tissue into a bag which is then thrown out with the garbage.

Marine head.

A marine head on a much bigger boat than ours. Note the conveniently placed trash can for used paper.

Others take their chances. But they use the tiniest piece of the thinnest paper in the world, preferably torn into pieces first to aid in moving it through the plumbing.

Now it’s time to pump the waste out of the bowl.

You may need to switch the valve so you don’t bring more water into the bowl. Then you need to pump, pump, pump until you’re certain all the waste has moved out of the pipes and into the holding tank located somewhere nearby.

Finally, you close the valve so no more water enters the boat and you’re done.

Do you understand why you so rarely see fat sailors? It’s because they avoid eating whenever possible and when they have no choice, they burn off all the calories pumping out the head.

Large marine head.

Another marine head, also from a much larger boat than ours.
And yes, lots of boaters leave little instructions for their guests. Because no one wants to rebuild a clogged head.

Are you starting to understand why I’d rather poop like a dog?

Wait. Because it gets worse.

How Do You Know When Your Holding Tank Is Full

Learning to live aboard a boat full-time has a steep learning curve. Everything is harder than it is on land. And some things that you must remember on a boat, don’t even happen in a land-based home.

One of those is keeping track of when your holding tank is full.

You have to figure out how long it takes the number of people aboard your boat to fill it and then arrange to pump it out before it gets too full.

How do you know when it’s full?

Well, from personal experience, first you smell an odor that is cruel death. It makes your eyes water.

And when you think it was an odor produced by your husband, you reconsider inviting him on this little adventure and even question the past 26 years of marriage.

Then you notice that your sheets and blankets are wet. And stinky.

Yep, the holding tank is under the front berth. Where we were sleeping. And which has now overflowed because it was too full.

Thank DOG For Motels

Okay, the holding tank is full. We just have to motor the boat to a pump out station and get it taken care of.

Except we don’t have the ownership papers yet for the boat.

It’s one thing to move our stuff in. It’s another to take it off the dock.

So there’s no way to take care of this until we get the bill of sale which should be around 2 p.m. today.

Luckily we found one, count it, one, motel that allowed dogs. It’s over 30 miles away from the boat.

But it’s clean and cheap and has hot showers and flush toilets.


Meanwhile, the boat is locked up with only two ports open for ventilation while everything we own is absorbing the fetid smell of feces, urine, and salt water in a concentration more deadly than James Bond on a good day.

Good times. Good times.

No vomiting in the marine head.

If you want to piss off a boat owner, ignore just one of his little notes about using the head.

I’d Rather Poop Like A Dog

Are you starting to understand why I’d rather poop like a dog?

Honey poops with the wind blowing through her fur with no embarrassment. Her personal valet whisks her leavings away. She doesn’t even bother with toilet paper.

I wrote a lengthy post, What Do You Do AFTER You Scoop The Poop, detailing the pros and cons of the many ways to dispose of dog waste. And of the methods I detailed, none of them was a tenth as complicated as a marine head with a holding tank.

And that’s why I’d rather poop like a dog.

Because sailing away is about more than sunsets and warm breezes.

Sometimes its just about poop. Lots and lots of poop.

Sailboat cookie.

What a lovely cookie my sister and brother-in-law bought for us.
I’d eat it but then… well, you know.

Your Turn: So who’d like to visit us for a short stay on the boat sometime? 

photo credits: The Head via photopin (license), Head w/tile Retrete via photopin (license), Toilet paper via photopin (license), NO BARFING via photopin (license). Click on the images to learn more about the photographers.


  1. The realities! I’m so very sorry you discovered a full tank the hard way, yuck. You do have a point … a dog’s poop handling method is so much more civilized than travelers who carry our crap with is for days at a time. Feeling for you.

    • Somehow I knew you’d sympathize.

      Curious, did someone walk you through all the procedures for caring for your home? Or are you figuring it out as you go?

  2. Your ‘Your Turn’ made me LOL. OMD, I can’t imagine the situation you found yourselves in. May the ownership papers arrive promptly, and the sailing to the pump-out station be smooth.

  3. Oh no! I had no idea the tank had gotten too full AND that you weren’t able to dump and rinse it right away. I hope the sea breezes are swift and efficient in removing the smell. In the meantime remember that one day you’ll look back on this and it will be funny.

    • In truth, it’s already funny. Disgusting. But funny.

      What else can you do but laugh?

      Oh, and there’s one other thing that makes this something would you wouldn’t experience on an RV. After I climbed into the V berth and got all the water picked up and wiped, a large fishing boat went by creating a wake. Which, caused more “effluent” to seep into the berth I had just cleaned.

      I’m starting to appreciate a mobile home that stays basically still once it stops. 🙂

  4. Okay, I get it. So do you have a “poop deck”? BOL. I think I’ll remain a landlubber.

    • I entirely understand.

      BTW, poop has a different meaning on a boat. When you get “pooped” it means you’ve just had a wave pass over you flooding your boat.

      Yep, scary. But a lot less smelly. 🙂

  5. Oh dear. I don’t even know what else to say, other than UGH…that is a learning experience you probably could have done without!
    Is moving aboard a sailboat kind of like having a child or getting a puppy? No one really tells you about all the bad stuff that can happen until it’s too late? 🙂
    Hang in there…it has to get better!

    • People do talk about the bad stuff. But it’s usually storms.

      I don’t find many horrible head stories. So either people are more reluctant to talk about such things than I am. Or no one else is stupid enough to let their holding tank get too full. 🙂

  6. I admit, I couldn’t read the whole thing…

    • Yeah, I tend to be on the easily grossed out side. I’m taking this as a message from the universe that I need to toughen up.

      I hope you never get the same message. 🙂

  7. Ugh. That sounds like way too much. And who designs it to overflow under the bed?!

    • Unfortunately, it’s pretty common in a sailboat. Also under the bed is one of our two 40 gallon water tanks.

      Unlike RVs, sailboats have no square corners. So you have to stick tankage anywhere you have big volumes.

      I bet we’ll never make this mistake again, though. 🙂

  8. My dogs love to sneak into the bathroom where i am sure they wonder why i am adding complications to what is a simple process to them. We must be constant puzzles to our dogs.

    So did the sellers hand over the boat with a rather full holding tank as a sort of Rite of Passage? Or will you always need to stay in sight of a dumping station?

    • You are so right about dogs. They must think we’re nuts.

      And no, the sellers handed over a boat with an empty holding tank. But it doesn’t take long to fill a 12 gallon tank; especially when you’re working day and night without any other toilet nearby.

      As long as we’re cruising within sight of land, we’ll have to arrange to pump out about every 3 days. You probably don’t want to know this, but once boats go off shore (at least 3 miles out), they can legally dump human waste (but not trash) directly into the ocean. It’s one reason those big cruise ships are such a disaster ecologically.

  9. Not the life for me! Kind of reminds me when we used to camp, and had to call for the “Honey Wagon” to come pump out the trailer.

    • Don’t you ever wonder who came up with the term “Honey wagon?” Some places with lots of boat traffic have floating pump out facilities they call the “Honey boat.”

      Hopefully my horrible story makes you appreciate your lovely bathroom just a little bit more. 🙂

  10. Your detailed explanation of what needs to occur to use the head and what happens when the holding tank becomes too full just put a crimp on my dream of sailing off into the sunset! Hope the papers arrive soon so you can head to the pumping station.

  11. Whoa, who knew something so basic could be so complicated on a boat?! Hope the papers arrive on time. 😉

    • I always try not to take life’s luxuries for granted. And clean water, hot showers, and flush toilets are among the best. 🙂

  12. There was actually an episode of Dirty Jobs where Mike Rowe pumped the head aboard a ship and did some repairs. I recall even his strong stomach having some issues.

  13. Yikes!! Never thought of that before…Under the bed though?! That’s terrible!

    • Since boats are “boat-shaped” instead of square, tanks go into the few places where there are big empty volumes. The forward berth is one and the aft berth is the other.

      Yup, it’s yucky.

      It’s the price of the romance of a sailboat. But it’s making me even more interested in a composting toilet which would get rid of the holding tank issue and most of the moisture.

  14. Ummmm, I think I’ll stay close to home, or a clean motel, thank you. Hope everything is aired-out by now!

    • My husband stopped by the boat last night. He said it wasn’t horrible smelling–except for the head itself where some of the effluent backed up into the bowl. I guess I’d rather have it there than spilling out on the bed.

      But I bet you will take your nice bathroom a little less for granted, right? 🙂

  15. If I hadn’t read thru the comments first, I was going to ask if the previous owners pulled a fast one on you and stuck you with a full tank…..

    It’s funny, but I had totally blanked out the whole head procedures thing (pumping the handle, etc, etc). We never did have a run over like you just experienced, thank goodness. We were 5 or 6 people out o the bay for 10 days so I bet it got pumped out and I was oblivious….young love with the boyfriend and all that 😉 But now that you have revived my memories, I do remember waking in the middle of the night and needing to use the head but being too embarrassed because of the close quarters and noisy equipment. I also remember a lot of peeing over the side by the males 🙂

    • Yep, someone was taking care of that boat for you.

      And yeah, I’m having to get over all kinds of bathroom delicacy. There’s no room for it on the boat.

  16. Aaah, the post I’ve been wondering about… 😉 Well, that stinks (pun intended) that you had to discover how much your holding tank is able to hold in this way …hope the night at the motel will be a somewhat relaxing one! Guess you’ll be using a ton of good smelling candles and maybe Febreze? I believe I’ve seen a few blog posts about it around on the web lately 😉

    • So far I’m going with vinegar and Borax. Borax did a great job on human feces when we cleaned out the crack house I lived next do so I’ll be relying on it again.

      Lots of pet bloggers have been doing Febreze campaigns. I find that such things only make the stinky stuff smell like stinky stuff with chemicals. 🙂

  17. And this is how you will out the rest of your life! I give you credit.

  18. Oh no! What a way to get started, geez. Maybe this is some kind of naval initiation and it will all be smooth sailing once you get things cleaned and aired out. Hang in there. 🙂

    • If the sea gods have any mercy, hopefully we’ll get a break for a little while.

      Or we’ll just get much smarter much faster.

  19. Poop really does make for the best stories. LOL

    I do hope the papers got turned over and you were able to rectify this situation. I have enough with handling the dog’s poop, so I will leave this tiny holding tank under the bed issue for you. 😉 I’m sure there will be more funny stories once you get sailing.

  20. You are a stronger woman than I. I would have burned that boat to ash if that had happened. I’m not a fan of the open water anyway but this post definitely puts me in the category of: Not no way, not no how, will I EVER go sailing. I mean – you can’t even vomit in the head??

    I’ve often thought of getting an RV but the thought of driving around with my own waste until I can dispose of it is enough to give me pause. I always thought I was sort of “roughing it” on certain hikes where I’ve had to use the port-a-johns or other rustic restroom-type facilities. But that is luxury compared to what you are facing. I’m sure you will eventually get used to it…

    Thank you, Lord, that I have access to a normal toilet system. Amen.

  21. I never knew the holding tanks were so small! Bless your heart! My digestive system is not cut out for a tank so small 🙂

  22. You are such a great storyteller. I am so, so sorry this happened to you all, but cannot help but laugh.