Winterizing the Sailboat: The Head

There is no way to eliminate the “disgusting” quotient when talking about toilet disassembly, and the only way to illustrate the process without bringing in yucky images is to use squeaky clean new parts. Well, I don’t have those on hand right now, but I do want to write a timely post, so please bear with me. If yucky toilet parts make you queasy, perhaps you should skip this article.

Last summer, returning from the annual Watkins Rendezvous, we had an unexpected marine head failure (it was practically new) which is chronicled here (about 2/3 through the article). After that experience, I determined that the way to avoid any subsequent failures was to disassemble and rebuild the head yearly, and not leaving propylene glycol (antifreeze) in it.

I’ve also stopped using strong cleaning chemicals in it, as these often deteriorate the rubber parts. A mild dish soap solution cleans it fine, and since we flush with fresh drain water from the lavatory, it doesn’t develop the characteristic marine head smell.

Upon disassembly last winter, I determined that the rubber interior parts were nearly new and did not need replacing. As I inspected them this year, I decided to replace them, as they are looking a little worse for wear. I think they are still serviceable and I’ll keep them as spares, but will replace the large flapper valve and the joker with new parts. Similarly, I’ll disassemble the pump and replace the valves and seals.

Today, I simply dismounted the pump assembly, drained the system, and plastic-bagged the old joker and flapper valve. As a bonus to do this in 35-degree weather, the screws that hold the assembly together were easy to remove – surrounding material (plastic) is slightly smaller in the cold, therefore the tension on the fasteners is less. First, I donned latex gloves, then soaked up any remaining water in the toilet with wads of paper towels, dropping them directly into a lined waste basket. Used nearly a roll of paper towels.

I removed the flush water outlet hose first, then disconnected the joker valve housing and removed the joker. Following that, I removed the four screws retaining the pump on the assembly, then drained any remaining water. Finally, I used my heat gun to warm and soften the white sanitation hose for the flush water inlet. This was probably the hardest part, as it was cold and took 5+ minutes to get it pliable enough to work off of the fitting. Here are few photos:

Ricky Bailey removes pump assembly
Pump assembly removed and drained
Rick Bailey sailboat head repair
his is the pump stand. The large diameter hose in back is where the joker valve resides, the collar fitting.
Rick Bailey sailboat head repair
The bagged joker and flapper

The whole process, including preparation (need to have your supplies and receptacles ready to minimize the mess you make) was about 45 minutes. Reassembly will take slightly longer.

Next step is engine oil and lube filter change, then I’ll be ready to take her across the creek for haul out in early December.

This is the second of a three-part series on winterizing the sailboat. Read Part 1. 

Rick Bailey

Rick Bailey sails the Chesapeake Bay with his wife, Ruth, on a Watkins 27 coastal cruiser. Rick is retired and writes the "middlebaysailing" blog (

rick-bailey has 25 posts and counting.See all posts by rick-bailey

%d bloggers like this: