Jump to content
Gunboat1

Sea Stories - Submarine Toilets

Recommended Posts

Sea Stories: #42 Submarine Toilets

Have you ever wondered how a submarine manages the inevitable by-products of human life? A crew of 130-150 sailors, eating the finest meals served aboard any US Navy ship, generates significant quantities of sewage, which must be disposed of. And the ambient pressure of the ocean at the depths where the submarine operates is far too great for gravity drains or even mechanical pumps to overcome. So how do submariners get rid of the material which most other humans give little to no thought to, once it has “been eliminated?”

A submarine toilet is a relatively simple device. But it can occasion serious risk. Of course, space being at a premium aboard any submarine, toilet compartments are built as small as possible. The toilet bowl is a sturdy, stainless-steel affair, topped by a utilitarian seat, also built for durability. There is a seawater flushing valve, which allows the bowl to be filled with a suitable quantity of water, and rinsed when needed. At at the bottom of the bowl is a simple ball valve, controlled by a handle alongside the bowl. Use is easy: partially fill the bowl with seawater. Let nature take its course. And when all is done, pull the handle, thereby opening the ball valve and allowing the contents to flow via gravity down into a collection and holding tank (CHT) which other toilets also drain to. This CHT has a large valve through the hull, which connects directly to the sea. And it is also fitted with low-pressure compressed air lines.

Now is where the danger kicks in. From time to time, the CHT must be emptied. So a crewman called the Auxiliaryman of the Watch goes around making sure that each and every ball valve is completely closed, and he hangs a warning sign on each toilet, advising that the head is secured while blowing sanitary systems. Once all is prepared, the CHT tank is pressurized with compressed air until the tank and its unsavory contents are at a pressure above that of the surrounding ocean. At 1000 feet of water depth, this is about 460 pounds per square inch! And the hull valve is opened, blowing the sewage out into the ocean and making the nearby fish deliriously happy for a brief period of effortless feeding.

Care must be taken to avoid overblowing the tank, thereby releasing an air bubble into the sea which might betray the presence of the submarine. So typically, the tank is not completely emptied. The residual pressurized air now must be vented and the pressure relieved. This is done under control, via a series of charcoal air filters, but the entire boat is inevitably filled with the aroma of tank contents as the air flows back into the boat. This is not a popular aspect of submarine service, but it lasts for a relatively brief time before the air systems scrub away the offending odor.

And there is always a lurking chance of disaster. If the Auxiliaryman neglects to hang a warning sign, or if a crewman is in a hurry and simply thinks the process must be over by now and wants to ignore the sign, or fails to notice it, said crewman may do his business and open the toilet ball valve to the pressurized CHT. And physics takes over. A jet of liquefied waste under high pressure will come shooting up out of the toilet like Old Faithful geyser at Yellowstone National Park. I have heard of one officer who experienced this, was found covered in effluent, and when examined in sickbay had to have “material” flushed from beneath his eyelids. The overhead of the toilet compartment had to be completely scrubbed to clean it.

The next time you flush your toilet at home, consider what life might be like if it had the potential to do that to you.

 

Bowfin-Toliet.jpg

image.png.f35411731d669a043a0996182d3c9c67.png

Edited by Gunboat1
  • Like 4
  • Thanks 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
7 minutes ago, Gunboat1 said:

Sea Stories: #42 Submarine Toilets

Have you ever wondered how a submarine manages the inevitable by-products of human life? A crew of 130-150 sailors, eating the finest meals served aboard any US Navy ship, generates significant quantities of sewage, which must be disposed of. And the ambient pressure of the ocean at the depths where the submarine operates is far too great for gravity drains or even mechanical pumps to overcome. So how do submarines get rid of the material which most other humans give little to no thought to, once it has “been eliminated?”

A submarine toilet is a relatively simple device. But it can occasion serious risk. Of course, space being at a premium aboard any submarine, toilet compartments are built as small as possible. The toilet bowl is a sturdy, stainless-steel affair, topped by a utilitarian seat, also built for durability. There is a seawater flushing valve, which allows the bowl to be filled with a suitable quantity of water, and rinsed when needed. At at the bottom of the bowl is a simple ball valve, controlled by a handle alongside the bowl. Use is easy: partially fill the bowl with seawater. Let nature take its course. And when all is done, pull the handle, thereby opening the ball valve and allowing the contents to flow via gravity down into a collection and holding tank (CHT) which other toilets also drain to. This CHT has a large valve through the hull, which connects directly to the sea. And it is also fitted with low-pressure compressed air lines.

Now is where the danger kicks in. From time to time, the CHT must be emptied. So a crewman called the Auxiliaryman of the Watch goes around making sure that each and every ball valve is completely closed, and he hangs a warning sign on each toilet, advising that the head is secured while blowing sanitary systems. Once all is prepared, the CHT tank is pressurized with compressed air until the tank and its unsavory contents are at a pressure above that of the surrounding ocean. At 1000 feet of water depth, this is about 460 pounds per square inch! And the hull valve is opened, blowing the sewage out into the ocean and making the nearby fish deliriously happy for a brief period of effortless feeding.

Care must be taken to avoid overblowing the tank, thereby releasing an air bubble into the sea which might betray the presence of the submarine. So typically, the tank is not completely emptied. The residual pressurized air now must be vented and the pressure relieved. This is done under control, via a series of charcoal air filters, but the entire boat is inevitably filled with the aroma of tank contents as the air flows back into the boat. This is not a popular aspect of submarine service, but it lasts for a relatively brief time before the air systems scrub away the offending odor.

And there is always a lurking chance of disaster. If the Auxiliaryman neglects to hang a warning sign, or if a crewman is in a hurry and simply thinks the process must be over by now and wants to ignore the sign, or fails to notice it, said crewman may do his business and open the toilet ball valve to the pressurized CHT. And physics takes over. A jet of liquefied waste under high pressure will come shooting up out of the toilet like Old Faithful geyser at Yellowstone National Park. I have heard of one officer who experienced this, was found covered in effluent, and when examined in sickbay had to have “material” flushed from beneath his eyelids. The overhead of the toilet compartment had to be completely scrubbed to clean it.

The next time you flush your toilet at home, consider what life might be like if it had the potential to do that to you.

 

Bowfin-Toliet.jpg

image.png.f35411731d669a043a0996182d3c9c67.png

I remember.  Given people's propensity to look down at the toilet while flushing it was definitely possible to get a face full of 'stuff'.

A salty old sailer told me that because the sub was pretty old, the ball valves were scratched.  If you looked down and saw what looked liked carbonation in the water, don't flush.

 

Then there was the time I was doing mess duty and deliberately put capped off bottles in the trash to be flushed out.  The sonar operator was not happy with me.  

  • Haha 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The toilets in my wooden Minesweeper were rectangular stainless steel tubes.  Stall doors and wall separated each toilet seat on the single rectangular tube which went from port to starboard on the ship.

It was considered a joke when at sea and the ship was rolling, to drop a waded piece of burning paper in the seat on the end, and singe each of the users in turn as the water in the toilet washed from side to side.

  • Like 2
  • Haha 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Ha-Ha!!   I never did the idjit watch of Aux Fwd, so didn't mess with San 1.  Being Aux Aft, I did have to line up TD501 to pump San 2 (the tank that got shower and galley waste) frequently. Used to really crank me up when the strainer was full of corn and other galley junk that should have never gone down the sink drains. 

 

I did deal with san 3 and 4 further aft.   The big trick there was to leave the pipe between the tank and crapper pressurised a little bit (only a hundred psi or so)  It was funny to see some missile tech or nuke come out of the can covered with doo-doo. 

One idjit in A-Gang dropped a crescent wrench down the hole in San 1 while changing the ball valve seats on a toilet.  Captain found out, and didn't want it rattling around during patrol.   I was tall and athletically slender, so I had to go fish the wrench out in knee high nasty water.   The forward crews quarters stunk bad for a week after we opened that hatch. 

  • Like 2
  • Haha 1
  • Sad 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

We had something we called the " Aerospce Lift Station " or ALS for short. It was a 200 gallon tank on the bottom floor of the three story high control center about 80 feet underground. The top floor of  CC was the kitchen, bedroon and shower and toilet.  The middle floor was the  area that was always manned - that's where the launch key switches were.
The ALS pump was on a float level switch that would turn on and pump crap topside to a holding pond - yes, it was called the turd farm - for bio-remediation. Think uncovered septic tank. When the tank was empty the float switch would tell the pump to turn off and then wait until it filled again and repeat the process. There was a one way valve in the main pump out line to stop " stuff " from siphoning back down.

One night on alert about 4:00 AM in the morning I and the MFT heard a big hammer and shudder and the beams all rattled dust off the beams raining down on us. We looked at each other and said, " WTF ? " We looked around but could not see anything on the second level, but could not check any where else upstairs or downstairs because of the two man policy.  This happened  more times through the morning but we still could not determine what was going on.

Finally I smelled something bad and looked at the enlisted guy. He looked at me and said , " I didn't do that ; I thought you did. " We had to get the other two crew member up early to check what was going on. When the got down to the third level, they saw what the problem was.

Evidently the check valve had failed in the ALS pipeline pumping out to the turd farm. The high level would make in the tank, stuff gets pumped out, low level switch hits and turns off the pump, with no check valve now it siphons back down to fill the tank again , spins the pump backwards and turns the pump on and then the process repeats ad infinitum.  The noise and vibration we were hearing was water hammer from the pump starting against a full head. By the time they had found it ,the water hammer had blown out some pump and pipe seals and brown " stuff " was spraying everywhere. That was when we noticed the  " smell ".  We blocked everything in and closed the "Plumbing Shutdown " -usually only used in a wartime footing.

We called it in and got people coming out to clean/fix it up, but luckily the other crew showed up for relief and we got to leave. We beat feet as fast as we could.

It must have been hell for those guys for a few days; it still smelled a week later, but nowhere near as bad,

  • Haha 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

These are some real crappy stories. Thanks for your service!

The old Ryan's Steakhouse incident comes to mind.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 11/15/2020 at 9:01 PM, MO Fugga said:

These are some real crappy stories. Thanks for your service!

The old Ryan's Steakhouse incident comes to mind.

MACARONI AND BEEF!

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Polish Navy just throws it out the Window..

 

Yeah, i know its an old Joke.

 

IIRC there was a German U-Boat that sunk itself due to a Faulty Toilet Back Flushing and flooding the Ship.

****ty to way go..

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
5 hours ago, holyjohnson said:

Polish Navy just throws it out the Window..

 

Yeah, i know its an old Joke.

 

IIRC there was a German U-Boat that sunk itself due to a Faulty Toilet Back Flushing and flooding the Ship.

****ty to way go..

We had something like that happen (the back up not the sinking). The flush is saltwater.

Batteries are directly below crew’s quarters. 

Saltwater + battery = chlorine gas. 

Some lucky guys’ mattresses were appropriated to sandbag the access plate.

First time I was glad my rack was all the way forward in crew’s berthing.

 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
23 hours ago, MO Fugga said:

Just finished watching season one of Das Boot. I can't imagine living in a deathtrap like that.

Those diesel boats were rough. Nukes were palatial compared to them.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


×
×
  • Create New...