Walking up to your boat, you immediately suspect something has paid a visit.
You nearly stepped in scat. There are signs of forced entry (by claw). Then you actually hear chattering or squeaking—it’s still there!
One thing’s for certain, you need to get rid of critters that have taken a liking to the boating lifestyle. And to do that, you need to know the most effective pest control tips for boats.
The Damage Animals Can Do
I’ve seen it firsthand. Animals can do some nasty damage to our boats and our docks. Bird droppings stain and birds leave fish bones that attract even more animals. During winter storage, mice shred materials and bury into crevices to make nests to stay warm. And in summer months, even insects like wasps and ants will become a nuisance, potentially stinging and biting you or family members.
In reality, you’re in their natural habitat. They’re just going about doing what nature intended them to do in order to survive. So it’s really up to you—as, you know, the evolved species—to outsmart and keep them from coming near your precious boat.
There are a number of ways to do this, from preventative measure to hiring a professional if need be, but here’s a breakdown of deterrents and repellents to keep critters at bay.
The 6 Most Effective, Preventative Pest Control Tips for Boaters
The best thing you can do to critter-proof your boat is to take preventative measures. Pick up food when it falls and clean up sugary soda or juice spills as soon as they happen.
Are you an angler who does a lot of fishing? Well, if your deck smells fishy and you don’t clean up, you’re practically inviting stray cats, raccoons, opossums and even seagulls to a summer seafood cookout. Anything with teeth or claws will tear off your boat cover to get at any lingering odors.
1. Ultrasonic Sound Devices
Ultrasonic sound devices are traditionally used in backyard lawns and gardens to keep away deer, skunk and other residential scavengers. But boaters have recently adapted them to marine environments as well.
This ultrasonic sound device stakes into the ground. I find it a good choice for positioning in front of the dock’s walkway. It’s solar-powered and battery-operated, so you never have to worry about electricity. It repels anything from mice to bats to bears!
2. Pellet Repellents
Pellet repellents are excellent to deter small creepy-crawlies like insects, rodents and basically anything that crawls on your boat’s decking.
Whereas some repellents come in a canister of powder you sprinkle around a garden bed or home landscaping, eventually dissolving into soil, you need something that’s more containable.
I suggest using a product like these Eco Defense Pest Control Pouches, perfectly suitable for placing in boats and RVs.
You’ll never have to worry about vacuuming up pellets from every corner of your boat.
3. Bow Rail Lines
Often times, the first place seagulls or birds land is the railing of a boat’s bow. Why is that, you ask? Well, it’s the same diameter as a tree branch.
But this bow rail line device—if you have an area of railing they love to perch—prevents that.
4. Owl Decoys
But don’t worry, you don’t need a real owl. Just get yourself one of these plastic owl decoys. No rodent can tell the difference.
This owl decoy is fairly standard, but you can also find them with spinning wings or fluorescent eyes to appear even more lifelike. Although some boaters find the wings too distracting or the noise irritating on windy days. I imagine a glowing pair of eyes staring as you return from a night ride could be creepy too.
5. Mothballs and Dryer Sheets
Although some people can’t stand the smell, one tried-and-true method is using mothballs.
Mothballs have a very distinct odor which, to many, reminds them of the smell of their grandma’s house. But if you’re strongly opposed and repulsed by this idea, mothballs can be substituted with alternative pellet deterrents.
Today, scented dryer sheets work wonders and some boaters even swear by certain highly fragrant soap bars like Irish Spring (though I suspect it’s due to the peppermint). As a bonus, it makes everything smell nice when you remove the cover come spring de-winterization.
6. Dori Poles
Dori poles are popular around marinas and areas where there are numerous boats, but they also be used for smaller family docks as well as shared community docks.
They’re long, tall poles that usually have a pennant flag attached. The wind sways them fairly easily which acts as a bird deterrent, spooking ducks, geese and seagulls from flying (or dropping bombs) anywhere near your boat.
The great thing about dori poles is that you can custom make flags. So not only would your dori pole deter wildlife, but it would also act as a vanity plate for your dock. You can tell visiting friends what type of flag to spot to find your dock.
Check out this website for a large selection of poles and pennants of every color.
Laws Regarding Protected Species
At our lake, we have a species of egret that’s often spotted hanging about the docks. And I’ve seen the damage a beak that size is capable of. Just imagine, boat seats plucked away like a burglar looking for stowed cash in a mattress. If you came across your boat with extensive damage like this, you’d be upset.
But before you go and break out your pellet gun, show some restraint—and compassion—and think twice! Not only can you be fined for killing an endangered or threatened species, but it’s just not the right thing to do.
This also goes for using any chemicals that could leak into the waterways. Be sure that what you’re using is non-toxic and isn’t going to kill off any fish or wildlife.
Still have questions about this? I’d always recommend that you contact your state’s local Department of Natural Resources to find out more.
A Few Catch and Release Cages
If you have a smallish rodent that’s just too fast to catch or has made itself home in an inaccessible area like a deep ski well, you can get yourself a cage and perform your own catch and release program. Just be sure to take it far, far away from all boats for the release!
A good manufacturer for these is Havahart. Havahart traps come in a range of sizes, this one is an extra small to fit in a boat’s tighter cubby holes. Their website offers tips on how to bait every animal you could come across.
When You Need to Hire a Professional
If you’ve tried baits and cages—but are having no luck—you may need to seek the help or advice of a professional. And although uncommon, there are dire times when you need to get in touch with Wildlife Rescue Services.
If you come back after winter to find a nest—or an entire family of raccoon, for instance—this isn’t a do-it-alone chore. They’re ferocious and have claws and potentially carry rabies. Call a professional wildlife relocation service! They’ll be able to humanely capture and transport the furry family somewhere safer.
Hiring a professional might seem like a costly endeavor. But it sure beats paying for the repairs and damages to your boat.
A Note Regarding Your Own Pet’s Safety
Some of these items are very safe and non-toxic for larger animals. But if you do have something you’ve hidden in the boat to keep the critters at bay, be sure to pick it up before letting your own pets back on board. Dogs are notorious for swallowing some pretty strange non-edible objects. I’d hate for you to rush to the veterinarian and explain how a mothball got inside Fido’s intestine.
If you’re someone who loves to bring your dog on your boat, this is a big thing to keep in mind.
If you find you have a few stray cats visiting your boat—inside or out—keep an eye on why they’re lurking. While some feral tomcats begin spraying or leaving feces, others will be hunting.
What some boaters forget and fail to consider is cats go after rodents (which can be a bigger issue). Rats and mice can chew through wires, upholstery and fiberglass. And cats won’t mark their territory or leave scent around where they plan to catch a meal.
If you haven’t been bothered by pests around your boat—lucky you! Keep up whatever you’re doing. But at some point, the time might come to think about ways to maintain a safe perimeter from something that seems to be causing a nuisance. When that day comes, one of these pest control products and methods should have you covered.