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Where's your head at?

No I'm not referring to the 2001 Alt-rock hit by the Basement Jaxx. Nor am I speaking about the single most asked question of my parents when I was growing up. For those nautically unaware, a "head" is sailor-speak for a toilet on a boat, and the most frequently asked question when customers step aboard our dive boats for the first time, is "Where can I find this?" The short answer is, "You can't. We don't have one." The immediate follow up question is of course: “why not?”

This is most certainly not what you will find on a dive boat.

It’s hard for our staff to give a more detailed answer to this question, and this is because of the massive flood of horrible thoughts that immediately pop into our minds. When a customer asks me this question, I will stare at them and blink repeatedly for 10 seconds, while my brain spins its wheels frantically trying to change the subject.

So if you refuse to accept this at face value, and you really must know the reason, it is because a marine head is a disgusting pit of hell, and divemasters working on boats equipped with toilets, spend most of their time unclogging them covered in feces. If they are lucky, only up to their elbows. That’s not something you’ll see on the PADI professional marketing materials by the way. If this answer still is not sufficient, I've explained it all in great detail below. You've been warned.

Divemasters working on boats equipped with marine heads would very much like to imagine this.

When writing this article, I looked up the word ‘hell’ to find a suitable synonym to describe the marine head. Immediately Google’s definition appeared: “ Hell is a location in which evil souls are subjected to punitive suffering.” Replace the words ‘evil souls’ with ‘dive instructors’ and you know what? Hell is the right word to use here. To help our readers better understand the reasons why we do not have a marine head, let's examine the situation pragmatically.

In 2013, I began working as a deckhand aboard the MV Spree - a Key West based liveaboard owned and run by Frank and Mel Wasson. Prior to departure, Frank would give a 90-minute boat briefing to the customers, 84 minutes of which discussed how to properly use the boat's 3 heads. Boat toilets are finicky things after all, and certainly don't work like your home toilet does. Of course divers being divers, only a third of the customers paid any attention, and the boat's sewer system was routinely clogged.

In addition to being the Dive Boss, Mel was also the chief toilet unclogger. Mel will forever have a place in my heart, because on the countless trips we made, she never once asked me to unclog a toilet or fix the septic plant. This was most likely because of 3 reasons:

  1. Mel is a great person.

  2. She wanted the job done correctly.

  3. The sound of me retching and dry heaving would have easily been heard through the hull and down 3 atmospheres of water, frightening customers.

Of course a liveaboard has to have toilets. But what about a day boat, that never travels more than 2000 yards from shore? Let's examine the strategy of Divetech.

Since I began work here in 2016, I've refit and overhauled 3 vessels for the company. When the vessel arrives in boat yard, I'm given a list of tasks to perform or coordinate, which is always the same:

  • Check everything for proper function and fix the broken stuff

  • Paint the hull pink

  • Install tiny plastic flamingos on the helm

  • Remove the marine head, and burn it

You thought I was kidding, didn't you?

Why this hatred for the marine head on a day boat? Let's examine this further:

  1. Even the most pristine toilets by their nature are gross devices. I mean their whole purpose in life is for humans to eliminate into them.

  2. There is a direct correlation between a toilet’s cleanliness level and the type of facility you find the toilet enclosed in. For example the maximum state of cleanliness a toilet will ever achieve is when it is created at the factory. Even when installed at the Ritz-Carlton Monaco, it’s all downhill from there. At the top of our toilet scale, we have luxury hotels in countries where after use, your undercarriage is patted dry with scented powder. On the low end of our scale, we have a gas station in a city known for heavy methamphetamine use, and a severe shortage of cleaning products. Marine heads on even the best dive boats, fall on the low end of our toilet ranking.

  3. The toilet ranking derives from 2 things. The humans using it, and the humans cleaning it. Divers come from all walks of life. Doctors, laborers, saints and sinners have all found their common love of the ocean. But despite what niche of society you hail from, if you’re a diver, there's a pretty good chance you're weird to some degree. On a dive boat, all sense of decency, normalcy, and decorum goes right out the window. Even a well-respected trauma surgeon will have no problem defecating into a plastic garbage bag when he or she is on a dive boat. (Yes this exact scenario happened once.) When it comes to the people cleaning the head, well let's face it - Divemaster's aren't known for their stellar life choices.

  4. Unless you are diving off a private yacht, (which no one reading this blog is,) you’re on a dive boat where space is at a premium. This means the marine head is jammed into some tiny enclosed corner, surrounded by items like life jackets or rental dive gear. You know, things that are meant to be worn close to your face, or even in your mouth. If the marine head has been used just one time, there is a 104% chance that whatever surrounds the marine head now has at the very least, a fine coating of urine. Since we have previously ascertained that we are in fact, in hell, the urine will be from someone severely dehydrated, who drank lots of alcohol the night before and ate only asparagus for dinner.

  5. Marine heads do not operate like regular toilets. They are very finicky. They all have to have their waste pumped out of the bowl, sometimes by a hand pump. And they can take nothing remotely solid. The rule of the marine head is “nothing can go in the bowl that has not passed through you first,” which includes toilet paper. With Murphy's Law being what it is, the more finicky a marine head is, the more likely the customer will try to flush their dive computer down it, then leave casually without saying a word.

So we’ve established public toilets are finicky and gross, and that divers are odd people. Now I want to add the final element of this toilet hell-quintet: Take the very bathroom you are trying to pee or poo into and make it pitch, roll, and yaw like you're John Glen training for his Mercury spaceflight. The head is after all, on a boat. Boats sit on the ocean, which even the best of times, has waves. Even if you have impeccable aim (man or woman,) the ocean will take care of the rest for you by kindly sloshing your bodily waste all over the bowl, seat, surrounding compartment, and the Captain's dry bag.

All of these things together are a recipe for complete disaster, and this is why we do not have marine heads on our dive boats. To our customers, you can pee in the "great blue loo," and if you have to make a poop.... wait until you get home.

This is about what is't like to be in a toilet on the open ocean.


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