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Q&A

Boat Septic Pump Out?

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I am very familiar with dumping septic holding tanks in a camper on land. I do it regularly and safely, either at the camp ground or at home.

I am considering a boat trip on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, which would involve purchasing a boat with a head/toilet. All I know is that is illegal (and immoral) in most cases to dump septic in the river.

What is involved in emptying septic holding tanks from a boat, on major US rivers?

What are the normal fees?

How do I find the appropriate facilities?

I have used portable toilets in campers, I know they can also be used in boats. I am interested in the 'how to' of the integrated type that uses a holding tank integral to the boat.

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The answer to this almost certainly depends to some extent on where in the world you are, but the general idea will be similar anywhere you go.

There are, broadly, two types of heads aboard a boat, and what type you get often depends where you're intending to go. The first is a permanent tank type - the head flushes either directly or via a macerator into a permanent septic holding tank on board - more often found on seagoing vessels. The other is a cassette type (effectively a smaller, interchangeable tank), more often found on river or canal boats.

The process for emptying your tanks, whether cassette or onboard, is only slightly different. If you're using cassettes, you'll take them ashore and empty them in dedicated facilities and usually rinse them out before returning them to the boat. With a permanent tank, you'll use a pumping station ashore, connect a hose to a fitting above deck, and pump out. Pumping stations all do the same job, but they can differ significantly - do what the owner of the facility tells you to, and read the instructions! It's also worth rinsing these out when you're done, simply by flushing some water through the system and pumping it out.

If you're in the US, BoatUS has an article you should read with more information in it.

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