Head (watercraft)

Last updated
The head on the beakhead of the 17th-century warship Vasa. The toilets are the two square box-like structures on either side of the bowsprit. On the starboard side, there are still minor remnants of the original seat. Vasa-toilets-2.jpg
The head on the beakhead of the 17th-century warship Vasa . The toilets are the two square box-like structures on either side of the bowsprit. On the starboard side, there are still minor remnants of the original seat.

The head (pl. heads) is a ship's toilet. The name derives from sailing ships in which the toilet area for the regular sailors was placed at the head or bow of the ship.


In sailing ships, the toilet was placed in the bow somewhat above the water line with vents or slots cut near the floor level allowing normal wave action to wash out the facility. Only the captain had a private toilet near his quarters, at the stern of the ship in the quarter gallery.

The plans of 18th-century naval ships do not reveal the construction of toilet facilities when the ships were first built. The Journal of Aaron Thomas aboard HMS Lapwing in the Caribbean Sea in the 1790s records that a canvas tube was attached, presumably by the ship's sailmaker, to a superstructure beside the bowsprit near the figurehead, ending just above the normal waterline.

In many modern boats, the heads look similar to seated flush toilets but use a system of valves and pumps that brings sea water into the toilet and pumps the waste out through the hull (in place of the more normal cistern and plumbing trap) to a drain. In small boats the pump is often hand operated. The cleaning mechanism is easily blocked if too much toilet paper or other fibrous material is put down the pan.

Submarine heads face the problem that at greater depths higher water pressure makes it harder to pump the waste out through the hull. As a result, early systems could be complicated, with the head fitted to the United States Navy S-class submarine being described as almost taking an engineer to operate. [1] Making a mistake resulted in waste or seawater being forcibly expelled back into the hull of the submarine. [1] This caused the loss of German submarine U-1206.

The toilet on the World War I British E-class submarine was considered so poor by the captain of HMS E35 that he preferred the crew to wait to relieve themselves until the submarine surfaced at night. [2] As a result, many submarines only used the heads as an extra storage space for provisions. [2]

Aboard sailing ships and during the era when all hands aboard a vessel were men, the heads received most of their use for defecation; for routine urination, however, a pissdale was easier to access and simpler to use.

Related Research Articles

Submarine Watercraft capable of independent operation underwater

A submarine is a watercraft capable of independent operation underwater. It differs from a submersible, which has more limited underwater capability. It is also sometimes used historically or colloquially to refer to remotely operated vehicles and robots, as well as medium-sized or smaller vessels, such as the midget submarine and the wet sub. Submarines are referred to as "boats" rather than "ships" irrespective of their size.

Torpedo boat Small, fast naval ship designed to carry torpedoes into battle

A torpedo boat is a relatively small and fast naval ship designed to carry torpedoes into battle. The first designs were steam-powered craft dedicated to ramming enemy ships with explosive spar torpedoes. Later evolutions launched variants of self-propelled Whitehead torpedoes.

Q-ship Heavily armed merchant ships with concealed weaponry

Q-ships, also known as Q-boats, decoy vessels, special service ships, or mystery ships, were heavily armed merchant ships with concealed weaponry, designed to lure submarines into making surface attacks. This gave Q-ships the chance to open fire and sink them. The use of Q-ships contributed to the abandonment of cruiser rules restricting attacks on unarmed merchant ships and to the shift to unrestricted submarine warfare in the 20th century.

HMS <i>Ark Royal</i> (91) 1938 aircraft carrier of the Royal Navy

HMS Ark Royal was an aircraft carrier of the Royal Navy that was operated during the Second World War.

HMS <i>Prince of Wales</i> (53) King George V class battleship of the Royal Navy

HMS Prince of Wales was a King George V-class battleship of the Royal Navy that was built at the Cammell Laird shipyard in Birkenhead, England. She had an extensive battle history, first seeing action in August 1940 while still being outfitted in her drydock when she was attacked and damaged by German aircraft. In her brief but storied career, she was involved in several key actions of the Second World War, including the May 1941 Battle of the Denmark Strait where she scored three hits against the German battleship Bismarck, forcing Bismarck to abandon her raiding mission and head to port for repairs. Prince of Wales later escorted one of the Malta convoys in the Mediterranean, and then attempted to intercept Japanese troop convoys off the coast of Malaya as part of Force Z when she was sunk on 10 December 1941, two days after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

HMS <i>Denbigh Castle</i> (K696) British Castle-class corvettes

HMS Denbigh Castle (K696) was one of 44 Castle-class corvettes built for the Royal Navy during World War II. The ship was completed at the end of 1944 and was assigned to the 7th Escort Group at the beginning of 1945. While escorting her first and only Arctic convoy to Russia, she claimed to have shot down a German torpedo bomber. Denbigh Castle was torpedoed in early 1945 by the German submarine U-992, with the loss of 11 men, near the Soviet coast. The ship was beached in an effort to save her, but she was pulled off by the ebbing tide and capsized. Her wreck was declared a total loss.

This is a glossary of nautical terms; some remain current, while many date from the 17th to 19th centuries. See also Wiktionary's nautical terms, Category:Nautical terms, and Nautical metaphors in English. See the Further reading section for additional words and references.

Capsizing Action where a vessel turns on to its side or is upside down

Capsizing or keeling over occurs when a boat or ship is turned on its side or it is upside down in the water. The act of reversing a capsized vessel is called righting.

British K-class submarine British class of submarine

The K-class submarines were a class of steam-propelled submarines of the Royal Navy designed in 1913. Intended as large, fast vessels with the endurance and speed to operate with the battle fleet, they gained notoriety and the nickname of "Kalamity class" for being involved in many accidents. Of the 18 built, none were lost through enemy action, but six sank, with significant loss of life, in accidents. Only one ever engaged an enemy vessel, K-7 hitting a U-boat amidships, though the torpedo failed to explode with what has been described as typical "K" luck; K-7 escaped retaliation by steaming away at speed.

HMS <i>Affray</i> (P421)

HMS Affray, a British Amphion-class submarine, was the last Royal Navy submarine to be lost at sea, on 16 April 1951, with the loss of 75 lives. All vessels of her class were given names beginning with the letter A; she was the only ship of the Royal Navy to be named after a particularly noisy and disorderly fight.

Naval ram Type of naval weapon

A ram was a weapon fitted to varied types of ships, dating back to antiquity. The weapon comprised an underwater prolongation of the bow of the ship to form an armoured beak, usually between 2 and 4 meters in length. This would be driven into the hull of an enemy ship to puncture, sink or disable the ship.

Draft (hull) Vertical distance between the waterline and the bottom of the hull (keel)

The draft or draught of a ship's hull is the vertical distance between the waterline and the bottom of the hull (keel). Draft determines the minimum depth of water a ship or boat can safely navigate.

Harbour Defence Motor Launch

The harbour defence motor launch (HDML) was a 72 ft (22 m) long British-designed motor vessel used for harbour defence during World War II. Nearly 500 were built by numerous Allied countries during the war.

HMS <i>Sickle</i> British S-class submarine

HMS Sickle was a third-batch S-class submarine built for the Royal Navy during World War II. Completed in 1942, she made her initial war patrol off the Norwegian coast. Sickle then sailed to Gibraltar, from where she conducted one patrol, then to Algiers, French North Africa. From 10 May to 10 October, the boat patrolled the Gulf of Genoa five times and sank a German submarine as well as three minesweepers and an escort ship. She then moved to Beirut, French Lebanon, and conducted two patrols in the Aegean Sea, sinking three caïques and a merchant ship, in addition to landing resistance operatives in Greece.

Ship camouflage Form of military deception

Ship camouflage is a form of military deception in which a ship is painted in one or more colors in order to obscure or confuse an enemy's visual observation. Several types of marine camouflage have been used or prototyped: blending or crypsis, in which a paint scheme attempts to hide a ship from view; deception, in which a ship is made to look smaller or, as with the Q-ships, to mimic merchantmen; and dazzle, a chaotic paint scheme which tries to confuse any estimate of distance, direction, or heading. Counterillumination, to hide a darkened ship against the slightly brighter night sky, was trialled by the Royal Canadian Navy in diffused lighting camouflage.

USS Constitution vs HMS Guerriere was a battle between an American and British ship during the War of 1812, approximately 400 miles (640 km) southeast of Halifax, Nova Scotia. It took place shortly after war had broken out, exactly one month after the first engagement between British and American forces. Guerriere had been detached from a squadron which had earlier failed to capture Constitution and was proceeding to Halifax for a refit. When Guerriere encountered Constitution again, Captain James Richard Dacres engaged, confident of victory despite the American ship being larger and more heavily armed. During the exchange of broadsides, Guerriere was dismasted and reduced to a sinking condition. The Americans removed the crew and set Guerriere on fire before returning to Boston with news of the victory, which proved to be important for American morale.

Ernest Martin Jehan DSC was a British officer in the Royal Navy during the First World War. Jehan is best known for the sinking of a German U-boat by him and his crew aboard the smack Inverlyon. He began the war as a warrant officer and was decorated and commissioned after sinking SM UB-4 (2).

German submarine U-652 was a Type VIIC U-boat of Nazi Germany's Kriegsmarine during World War II. The submarine was laid down on 5 February 1940 at the Howaldtswerke yard at Hamburg, launched on 7 February 1941, and commissioned on 3 April 1941 under the command of Oberleutnant zur See Georg-Werner Fraatz.

Italian submarine <i>Berillo</i>

Italian submarine Berillo was a Perla-class submarine built for the Royal Italian Navy during the 1930s. It was named after a gemstone Beryl.


  1. 1 2 Jones, David; Peter Nunan (2004). U.S. subs down under Brisbane, 1942-1945. Naval Institute Press. pp. 28–29. ISBN   1-59114-644-5.
  2. 1 2 Mackay, Richard (2003). Precarious Existence British Submariners in World War One. Periscope Publishing Ltd. p. 88. ISBN   1-904381-17-0.