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FAQ: Stinky Head


WHY does it stink?

A statement of the problem...

I have an odor problem and can't figure out what it is. The boat is a 1987 Catalina 34 with an anti-siphon setup in the overboard discharge hose, and that is spliced into the primary vent line for the holding tank, which vents through a stanchion base.. An odor problem started last summer, early in the cruising season. I replaced all of the hoses on the holding tank -- and flushed and flushed the system. I still some odor. I smelled the bilge -- whew! I cleaned the bilge several times with a lot of different products. The ultimate solution was to put a gallon of chlorine bleach in the bilge and let it sit for a day. That got rid of the odor. Unfortunately, the bilge constantly has water in it -- leakage through the mast? I can't find any other source. In a few weeks, the odor returned. I got religion and thoroughly flushed the holding tank out again and started using K.O. holding tank treatment. That seems to work well. This episode was near the end of the cruising season. For winter lay-up, I filled and pumped the holding tank four times, then added antifreeze. I also added the toilet bowl chlorine tablets to the bilge to keep any bacterial growth down. The smell is back. There is water in the bilge, but the smell is no stronger there than in the boat in general. I'm not sure the smell is coming from the holding tank, but I'm not sure the smell isn't coming from the holding tank. I seem to recognize the smell as more like rotting plywood, but maybe I'm deluding myself. However, I can't seem to find any soft wood or localize the source of the smell. Any advice would be gratefully appreciated. I've run out of things to check (Pete Smullen).

Some solutions from the C34 Mailing List

I had a similar problem and decided to convert my starboard water tank to Head Use Only. This solved the problem of smell from dying plankton and other things in the sea water. The fresh water head works much better and now no chance of overflow or sinking the boat. If you are concerned about hose or tank leaking drop a color dye pill in the head and flush into the holding tank. Watch the bilge for dye. As to water in the bilge: Check your packing gland. This should drip on drop every 15-20 seconds. I installed a dripless-teflon coated packing and no more drip or water. I also installed a one way valve in the auto bilge line. I still get some water from the mast, window and station bedding leaks. Did the funny rotting plywood smell you described smell like vinegar? If so, this may be the same smell you get when popping hull blisters. If so check it out ASAP. I was advised buy a surveyor to keep the bilge dry and the keel bolts dry as if they are continually covered with water it starves the stainless steel for oxygen and deterioration of the stainless steel threads can result (R. Norquist).

Start by back flushing the vent line from the stanchion to the holding tank and see if there is a leak. Also check the plastic "T" for the macerator pump, mine cracked once. If you think you may have a leak place food dye in the tank and fill it with water, you should be able to find the leak. If the "T" is cracked you will find it when you pump the tank out. When putting the food dye in the tank place some of it in the toilet bowl and pump it into the holding tank. By doing this you can check for a leak going into the holding tank (Rich, Rebellious #328).

I had the same problem with Juliana, and didn't figure out the answer for more than a year. The problem turned out to be leakage from the female plastic housings that are epoxied into the side of the holding tank. They had been leaking slightly *underneath* the hose nipple, where you can't see, resulting in the accumulation of sludge -- yes, sludge -- under the tank itself. What a mess! I ordered a new tank from Catalina (only $70), tore the old one out, and replaced the couplings. No problem since. Also, I installed a SeaLand charcoal head filter (available from West Marine) on the vent line -- this prevents odors from reaching the cockpit when somebody pumps the head while you're underway (Bryan Pfaffenberger, Juliana, #680).

More information on this subject:
More information on this subject can be found at http://www.planetcat.net navigate to the Head Mistress Section. She has several articles including successful flushing, odor--cause and cure, intake water odors, maintenance and more.

Important: The opinions expressed here are those of the individual contributors to this page, and not those of the Catalina 34 National Association or Catalina Yachts, Inc. Additionally, this material has not been reviewed by Catalina Yachts, Inc. for technical accuracy. This page's maintainer cannot guarantee the accuracy of this information or the desirability of suggested modifications or upgrades. Please obtain assistance from a competent marine mechanic or boatyard prior to making any significant modifications to your vessel.   

Last modified by Al Watson, Aug 10, 1999. Copyright 1997-1998 by Bryan Pfaffenberger or the individual contributors to this page.. All rights reserved.. 

Last modified by Phil Imhof, Wednesday, August 11, 2004 . Copyright 2001 by Catalina 34 International Association.  All rights reserved.