Heads Up! What You Need to Know About Your Formula's Head System
This issue of the Action's Boat Care column is everything you've ever wanted to know about your Formula's head system. Although this is an issue that isn't exactly a subject of general conversation, it is important in that it will affect the enjoyment of your boat, whether you own a 252 Bowrider or a 41 PC. If you've ever had a boat full of children and a full holding tank, I think that you can understand what I mean!
The beauty of your boat's head system is that it will provide you with years of dependable service if you follow two basic rules:
1. USE IT PROPERLY
2. MAINTAIN IT SCRUPULOUSLY
That sounds simple, doesn't it? In fact, it is. The problem most of us face is that the last thing we want to deal with when we're enjoying a great trip on the water is the sanitation system of the boat. A few minutes of learning or reviewing proper operation (or passing that information on to your family and guests) and dealing with maintenance as it is required will go a long way in making your time on the water enjoyable.
Before I get into details, let me clue you in on one hard and fast rule: Other than marine grade toilet paper, never, ever subject your waste system to anything you haven't first consumed. Anything else - paper towels, feminine hygiene products, razor blades and the like - will clog or damage components and ruin your day. Don't use it as a garbage disposal. Enough said.
Let's first take a look at the proper operation of the head system. What is required depends on your boat model and the options you've chosen.
THE PORTABLE HEAD
Not exactly the same amenity you would see in your average home, but it is simple, compact and utilitarian. This is the standard head you would expect to see in a Sportboat, smaller Sun Sport or FAS³Tech. Basically, you just need to remove the upper portion of the head, which contains the freshwater tank, fill it up with water and add some treatment fluid to the holding tank portion. The treatment fluid is available at your marine supply store; read the instructions for the amount necessary. To use, simply pump the flushing bellows at the back of the head to add some water before use. Then, pull the waste valve handle, pump the bellows a couple of more times to flush, and push the valve back in.
The waste level indicator, located at the front of the holding tank, will alert you when it is full, turning from green to red. To empty, simply remove the portable head from the boat and empty it into a toilet ashore or, if the boat is equipped with the pump out option, take the boat to a pump-out station and have the waste removed by the personnel there.
Your boat may also have the optional Y-valve with the macerator. If so, you must not be in a freshwater lake, river or stream, and you must be at least three miles offshore in order to use the macerator. Coast Guard fines are not covered under your warranty, so don't call me if you get caught being naughty. Your Y-valve directs the flow of waste toward either the dockside pump-out fitting or the macerator depending on whether the lever on the valve is flipped up (pump out) or down (macerator). Here's the macerator discharge drill:
1. Open the seacock for the macerator located in the bilge. If you don't, your macerator will be trying to pump waste with no place to push it. The result could be a burned-out macerator or if a fitting were to let go, the creation of a brand-new holding tank: Your engine compartment.
2. Turn on the necessary breakers to power the macerator.
Push the macerator button until the holding tank is emptied. I would then recommend flushing the head and macerator with some fresh water by putting some water into the toilet bowl then flushing it through. Fill the freshwater tank and add your treatment fluid, and you're ready to go again.
MANUAL PUMP HEAD AND VACUFLUSH HEAD
These units are typically found on the larger boats and all are much more similar in appearance and function to the toilet found in your home. All empty into a larger, remote holding tank; their main differences are in operation.
The manual pump head uses raw water, requiring you to open an inlet seacock, and a manual pump, similar to a hand-operated pump for inflatables, to both draw in fresh water and to pump waste water to the holding tank, depending upon which way the handle of the pump is oriented.
The Vacuflush units use the freshwater system of your boat for their water supply and flush using a vacuum generated by a pump and a vacuum holding tank. Using them requires turning on the waste system and/or the head pump breakers at the cabin electrical panel, allowing enough time for a vacuum to form, and pushing down on the flush lever. Before use, you will probably want to lift up on the flush lever to draw some fresh water into the bowl. The vacuum draws the waste through a constricted opening at the bottom of the head, fragmenting it, before it travels to the holding tank.
Whether you have the Vacuflush head or the manual flush head, never overfill the holding tank. There is a holding tank monitor located in the head compartment, which will keep you informed of the level of the holding tank. When the Vacuflush system is powered, so is the monitor. In the case of the manual flush head, you will need to turn on the waste system breaker at the cabin electrical panel to power the holding tank monitor. Overfilling the tank can cause holding tank failure or force waste up the vent line into the vent filter, ruining it.
After you have emptied the holding tank, add a fresh supply of holding tank deodorant to the holding tank simply by flushing down the toilet. Your sanitation system requires the regular addition of a deodorant product to reduce malodors and to help break down holding tank contents. These units have similar discharge options to the portable head, and should be operated in the same way.
Maintenance for all types of units is simple and will save you a lot of headaches in the long run. It basically boils down to this:
KEEP IT CLEAN!
Every time you empty the holding tank, fill the toilet bowl with water and flush. Pump this out of the holding tank, using the macerator if you have one. Periodically, or when leaving the boat for a long period of time, use a larger amount of water and diluted, biodegradable detergent to clean the system. Run a gallon or two through the portable head to clean out the holding tank, hoses, macerator or valves. Five gallons is appropriate for the manual pump head and Vacuflush heads. Run it through all the components of the system. This will free up most or all of the debris, which may be trapped, and will prolong the life of all the equipment involved. Never use caustic chemicals, such as household drain openers, because they will damage seals and hoses.
When winterizing the system, completely drain all water from the freshwater lines, the head and the holding tank. Add non-toxic RV antifreeze to the freshwater tank and flush enough of the antifreeze through to pull through the hoses and into the holding tank. Never use an alcohol-based antifreeze, it can cause microscopic pores to open up in the sanitation hoses and cause an odor problem. When making the boat ready for a new season, check all hose clamps for tightness, install a new holding tank vent filter and clean the holding tank sensor probes with a stiff-bristled brush. Proper use and maintenance of your head system is important yet simple and straight forward. Your leisure time aboard your Formula can be as convenient and carefree as you would expect it to be in your own home.