In Case You Missed It

Houseboat Sanitation at the 2012 Houseboat Expo

Published online: Jul 23, 2012 Feature
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For the ultimate enjoyment during your boating experience, it is important to be sure your houseboat sanitation is under control. Unsanitary heads (bathrooms), smelly cabins, as well as systems and equipment not functioning properly can really put a damper on your weekend and empty out your wallet.

Houseboat sanitation is important. It is mandatory to know how to prevent future problems while using the right treatments. Despite what you have heard or experienced, it is possible to maintain your houseboat sanitation easily and efficiently so that you can enjoy your boat to the fullest. Three major reasons houseboat sanitation is important is one, it's the law, second, your health and the health of the waters, wildlife and environment around you, and lastly, the enjoyment of your boat.

Kentucky Department of Fish and wildlife states that it is illegal to discharge untreated waste oil or trash into any Kentucky state waters. If you are not from Kentucky, and you're there visiting you may have even more strict laws. In areas such as the Great Lakes, and within three miles from shore in our coastal waters, it's illegal to discharge at all, even treated waste. There are several governing bodies and regulatory documents within the US federal and state governments that control wastewater requirements and regulations.

The US Coast Guard, the Environmental Protection Agency, US ARMY Corps of Engineers and even the Department of Justice can become involved when it comes to wastewater.

The Federal Water Pollution Control, The Clean Water Act, and The Clean Vessel Act are the most well-known laws concerning pollution in the streams, lakes, and coastal waters. The earliest known address of water pollution issues was introduced in the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899. The environmental awareness of the effects of the problems of sanitation, sewage and pollution were introduced with the Public Health Service Act of 1912. So, being law-abiding citizens we of course want to stay within the local and federal laws that have been set before us. But what if we don't? There's up to a $2000 fine for each and every infraction. I don't know about you, but I would much rather spend my $2000 towards a new jet ski or another recreational toy.

Two additional, important reasons that houseboat sanitation should be on the forefront of our minds is our health:Yours, your family, the wildlife and the waters surrounding us right now. Improperly installed or poorly functioning systems can lead to waste material going untreated into the waters. This can lead to health issues in humans such as exposure to harmful, pathogenic bacteria which can cause gastroenteritis, salmonellas, and hepatitis A. The health and environmental risks to our wildlife and water sources are little bit more complicated, but just as severe. Something known as biochemical oxygen demand or BOD is described as a procedure for determining the amount of dissolved oxygen needed by aerobic biological organisms in a body of water and how long it takes the amount of oxygen required by the good bacteria and the other biological organisms to break down waste and other solid organic materials in the water. If the biochemical oxygen demand or the BOD is too high, meaning that it requires too much oxygen for the microorganisms to break down the waste in the water or the or other organic material in the water, the organic material will not be broken down efficiently. So what does that mean to us? It means that when discharging untreated waste we're messing with the systems. If too much untreated wastewater goes into the environment the fish will be battling the lack of oxygen that's available to them as well as algal growth. Waste and wastewater is a very good fertilizer in most cases.

The third reason that houseboat sanitation is important to us is effortless. Use and enjoy your boat.

The US Coast Guard has developed requirements based on regulations set by the EPA regarding the types of MSDs acceptable for use. Commercial and recreational vessels with installed toilets are required to have marine sanitation devices which are designed to prevent the discharge of untreated sewage. The EPA is responsible for developing performance standards for MSD's and the Coast Guard is responsible for MSD design and operation regulations and for certifying MSD compliance with the EPA rules.

There are a few exceptions: If your boat was built before January 30th 1975 or your toilet is not installed, meaning a portable toilet/container then you are exempt from MSD requirements. However regulations still existed to prohibit disposal of raw sewage into our waters.

If you do not fall into one or both of those two categories, your MSD system will need to be one of three types:

Types I and II MSDs are often found on large vessels. Waste is treated with chemicals to kill bacteria before the waste is discharged. These type I devices are typically a physical/chemical based system that relies on maceration and chlorination. Type II is typically a biological or aerobic digestion based system. Both Types I and II MSDs have "Y" valves that can direct the waste overboard or can be shut off in order to retain the waste until you are able to pump out the holding tanks.

The third type of MSD that is acceptable to the Coast Guard and EPA is Type III. The Type III MSD is a device that prevents the overboard discharge of treated or untreated sewage or any waste derived from sewage. This type of device is typically a holding tank and may include other types of technology including incineration recirculation and composting.

It's not just recreational users who can suffer fines from not following the rules and regulations that have been set forth for wastewater treatment and removal. Manufacturers who do not abide by the guidelines risk paying up to $5000 per violation.

Many times when odors are occurring in the head and cabin areas they are caused by permeation through the lines and hoses that connect the toilet or head to the MSD system. If you've recently purchased a boat or are renting one that has been recently purchased, manufacturers have taken great care to reduce permeation i.e. installing non-permeable hoses. So if you have an older boat and your hoses have not been changed in quite a while it may be worth the extra expense to change out the old hoses for a new material, nonporous, non-permeable hose. Changing out the hoses may not get to the source of the problem. In fact, odors can only permeate through a hose if they exist. If you are experiencing odors it may be because do not use any treatment or the correct treatment in your heads or directly into your pump out ports. "Waste degrading stinks". When waste is retained, a biological process takes place. There are bacteria and probiotic microorganisms within our systems that are related to the houseboat sanitation systems. Many of you have seen the Jamie Lee Curtis commercials for Activia --she talks about probiotics, which are essentially non-pathogenic bacteria, helping our internal systems to work more efficiently when breaking down food in our digestion and to help things "flow" more regularly. The same can be said for our marine sanitation systems.

Waste and the systems associated with it are not the only times that we have odors, messes or build up in our boats. One of the other areas of the boat that boaters may have issues with is the galley. There is also a lot of organic waste in the galley. Greases, oils, fats, food particles and the like end up in our galley sinks. These items work their way into the nooks and crannies in our galley sinks, counter tops and even floors. This organic matter can not only create odors and build up, but also create stains and attract pests. There are healthy, environmentally friendly solutions for these issues as well!

 

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