Head Call

Hull tech heaven (Navy Times photo)

After years of delays, USS Gerald R. Ford has been commissioned, the revolutionary electromagnetic launch and recovery system seems to work, and all people can talk about are the… bathrooms.

Specifically, the urinals, or lack thereof.

For the first time, every bathroom on the Ford — known throughout military circles as a head — is designed to be “gender-neutral,” meaning all of the urinals have been replaced with flush toilets and stalls, Navy officials say.

There are certain practical benefits to such flexibility, even if a ship’s crew is only about twenty percent female.

But this is not the real reason for the design. I’m going to give away a secret here. When James Cameron made that record-setting dive into the Mariana Trench a few years ago, he discovered Something The World Isn’t Supposed to Know (no, not that city from “The Abyss”): the ocean floor is made up not of rock, nor of sand, but actually of discarded Navy urinals.

Because urinals are the worst.

They are maintenance nightmares. Salt builds up in the pipes and clogs up the system. People spit dip where they shouldn’t. And other factors you’d rather not think about. Anytime you walk into a head, you can expect half the urinals to be inoperative. So what do the hull technicians (ships’ welders and plumbers) do? They pull the urinals off. Lots are removed during planned maintenance periods… others, well, they go to sea and somehow don’t make it back.

Either way, once a ship is commissioned its urinal count begins to steadily diminish. It’s basically a law of physics.

So while the self-righteous people of the world are congratulating the Navy on gender equity or something, and the old salts rail about the days when ships were wood and men were steel and peed in wall-mounted porcelain, all the Navy really did was save its overworked engineers a lot of time and effort down the road.

Historical note: throwing urinals into the sea is a well-established tradition.

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