USS George HW Bush – New $6 Billion Aircraft Carrier Without Working Toilets

The USS George HW Bush, the tenth of the Nimitz class, is the US Navy’s newest aircraft carrier.  It cost $6.2 billion to build and is powered by two nuclear reactors which can develop 260,000 shaft horsepower.  The carrier can carry 90 fixed winged aircracft and helicopters. The ship’s crew numbers 3,200 with an additional 2,400 serving in the air wing.  The one thing that the ship does not have, apparently, is working toilets.

Since it deployed in May, the new carrier has suffered from widespread plumbing failures, which, at times, rendered the entire ship without a single working head.   With remarkable understatement, the crew has complained that the lack of toilets has “affected their morale, health and job performance.”   The problem has been ongoing for six months. The Navy is blaming the sailors, who are blaming the design of the vacuum toilet system.

Carrier Bush suffers widespread toilet outages

The problems were first reported by Mary Brotherton, a blogger and mother of a Bush sailor. 

The issue, according to sailors and the ship’s internal newsletter, is the vacuum system that moves waste through the ship’s pipes. The system breaks down with little warning, making it impossible to flush, they said. This forces toilets and urinals throughout the ship to go offline as crews examine the carrier’s 250 miles of pipe to figure out what’s wrong and restore vacuum pressure. One shipwide breakdown required one department to work a 35-hour stretch with no rest to fix, according to the January edition of the carrier’s newsletter The Avenger.

Complicating the matter, some working heads are secured with a lock, letting only sailors who know the combination inside, the sailors said. 

So far there’s no backup plan for when the system goes offline, the sailors said. Sailors report the ship does not have portable toilets. Nor are wag bags — sealable plastic sacks designed to hold human waste — available for use until heads are fixed. Given the circumstances, whenever the heads on the ship break, the 5,000 sailors onboard must either ignore nature’s call or find inventive ways to relieve themselves until they can find a proper bathroom.

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9 Responses to USS George HW Bush – New $6 Billion Aircraft Carrier Without Working Toilets

  1. Bill Whalen says:

    NCIS is investigating this but they have nothing to go on.

  2. Steven Toby says:

    I’m remembering similar reports on the vac-u-flush system first installed in Spruance class destroyers in 1977. By the time I did sea trials in 2 different CG 47 class cruisers (same basic design as the Spruances, in the 1980’s) the system worked perfectly. But carriers of that time had an older system with gravity drainage. Is the Bush system the first installation of vacuum flushing on a carrier? Maybe the equipment can’t handle the larger extent of piping?

    Whatever the problem, 6 months is plenty of time to fix it. Crewpeople shouldn’t have to relieve themselves over the lee rail.

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  4. K.L. says:

    Don’t believe everything you read. My husband is on the Bush and we have received a personal email from the Captain explaining the issue and the contents of this article are not accurate. Shame on the Old Salt Blog for not getting its facts straight before publishing an inaccurate article and continuing to spread untruths.
    Never at any point in time was the entire ship rendered without a single working head. And yes, heads were secured with a lock, letting only sailors who know the combination inside. Yet all sailors had access to THEIR OWN heads. They were forced to do this to maintain some sort of control and to “flush” out the guys that were abusing the system. Yes, believe it or not, grown men were flushing inappropriate items down the toilet and consequently creating this problem. Shirts, silverware, eggs…just to name a few. So be careful that you know the truth before you judge or pass along incorrect information.

  5. Rick Spilman says:

    The source we used was the magazine, Navy Times.

    I frankly do not believe the claim that these problems were caused by sailors flushing “shirts, silverware, eggs” down the toilets. Do you have any sort of explanation why sailors would intentionally sabotage the toilet system on this ship and not others? The article also notes that “The statement [by AIRLANT] also acknowledged that the system is different from older systems “in that disruption in one head can impact a broader area. A vacuum outage affects every commode in one half of the ship and is not department- or squadron-specific.”” It sounds like the toilet system needs to be fixed.

  6. Bill Collins says:

    Navy Times? You mean “The Fish Wrapper.” Or “Navy Crimes” The CO posted a very detailed explanation of what is going on Facebook. It is not, as stated, that all heads are out of service. And yes, having served 20+ years in the Navy, some sailors will put anything from t-shirts to golf balls down a toilet. I suppose it is fun for them to watch the HTs come in and have to fix the mess. It is the same attitude that allows people to vandalize public buildings.

  7. Rick Spilman says:

    I don’t believe anyone has ever said that all heads were out of service at one time, though that apparently did happen in one instance. There does appear to be a chronic problem nevertheless. Blaming the sailors for broken toilets strikes me as blaming the victims. To my knowledge, this one carrier has a specific and unique problem with its waste handling system that has taken far too long to address.

  8. Bill says:

    I just think it’s funny that a crew member’s wife? had to write in to defend a piece of malfunctioning equipment. You go girl, if you have the combo.