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  • Capt. Eric

Losing Our Head

No I didn't go crazy: Head is the maritime word for toilet. So losing our head doesn't mean we've gone crazy, but that we may very soon if I don't get things repaired quickly.

Tracking down the electrical gremlins

Enfin has a single marine head. On a boat where many essential systems have backups, this is one of the few cruising essential pieces of equipment which doesn't have one.

The main engine has a wing engine backup to get us home should there be a failure. Batteries are automatically interconnected and disconnected to provide backup. We have multiple sources to generate electricity, from the generator, to the 2 alternators and 2 chargers. We have 2 sources of heat, and so on.

But only one marine head. One toilet.

We would have liked a 2 head boat, but the smallest Nordhavn with 2 heads was exactly double the price of Enfin. That makes for a very expensive toilet!

Knowing that, I decided to have the single unit replaced for a brand new one upon purchase of the boat, replacing an old manual (and stinky) salt water unit for a modern and sleek fresh water one. Using fresh water means much less risk of sea water entry in the boat, no risk of smelly algae and critters finding their way into the pipes and decomposing in a horrid smell. It also means the latest and greatest technology to limit fresh water use and is generally a much more comfortable and home-like experience. A brand new unit should give us many years of trouble free service.

So it came as a complete shock and surprise when the head decided to stop flushing at St Helens. Marine toilets are a lot more complex than their simple shore equivalents: Obviously boats cannot go around with water in the bowl as it would splash around in heavy seas. So marine heads have an electric maceration pump, and an electrically controlled flush to let in and pump water into, then out of the bowl.

At first I didn't know if the problem was plumbing (not a pleasant prospect) or electrical. We are extremely careful on the plumbing side: Because of their electrical pumps marine toilets must be treated with care, and nothing other than human waste can be introduced in the system. We know that and respect it religiously, so I was fairly confident we wouldn't have a blockage. Maybe the cold outside had reached the plumbing despite the inside heating? Doubtful.

I set to work, focusing first on what I'd prefer: An electrical fault. Within minutes I figured the electrical circuit, and found that no power was getting to the macerating pump. A quick bypass test revealed it was purely electrical, so now I "just" had to trace the fault.

Luckily I'm handy with testing electrical faults, and after systematic tracing I found an RV style electrical connector that made sporadic contact. Upon resetting it the head flushed and functioned completely normally. Victory!

We're as ready as we can on Enfin, so I had all the necessary upgraded 12V connectors and proper crimping tools to take the RV style plug out and put back proper marine quality connectors in its place.

Crisis averted. We got our head back.

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