Tips & Tactics


Pest Control Tips For Boaters

By Ann Dermody
Published: August/September 2014

Waging war on the critters that take a shine to your boat can pose big problems.

Photo of a menacing seagull
Photo: Brutus Östling
Birds, and other wildlife who focus on making your boat home, can be
surprisingly difficult to deter. But don't despair, we've got some solutions for you.

Some years ago, on a fine Saturday morning in May, my husband and I drove down to our boat with the intention of spending the weekend cruising the Chesapeake Bay. It was to be our shakedown cruise of the season — you know, that one you look forward to and plan all winter? Our previous summer's boating season had been cut short by major problems with the port engine, which had taken to billowing black clouds of smoke whenever we turned it on. This season, after large wads of cash had been imparted to diesel mechanics, we were nervous the problem hadn't quite been resolved. So there was a lot riding on this first weekend.

Tip iconDon't let droppings remain in the sun on Lexan and other hard plastics. The heat generated by the sun on the dark spots can cause crazing in the plastic under the spots.

After spending the previous weeks scraping and bottom painting, commissioning the engine, splashing the boat, filling the tanks, and settling her into her summer slip, finally it was time for the first foray of the season, and Ed and I planned to anchor out that Saturday night and cook under the stars in gorgeous spring temperatures.

We spent an hour or two undoing canvases, loading weekend supplies, and getting portable electronics reinstalled. Just as it was time to cast off the lines, I went hunting for the stowable chart table we used on the bridge. Diving under the canvas on the back deck, I made an unsettling discovery. Inches away from my nose, my widening eyes met another's. We had a stowaway. I dropped the canvas in fright, then lifted it again, slowly. She sat there still as a stone. Mouth to bill we were less than a foot apart. No doubt about it, there was a duck aboard, and judging from the elaborate nest she'd created for herself, she had no intention of going anywhere fast.

I'm Irish, so superstition is a given, and I didn't want to risk bad karma with our already limping engine, plus who doesn't have something of a soft spot for hardworking single moms? Dad's only contribution seemed to be quacking loudly from the water. Ed suffered no such issues. His first thought was to throw her and her feathered, squatting behind off the boat. "Evict her?" I shrieked, wanting no part in such bailiff bullying. This rising conversation all took place less than three feet from the duck, her privacy contained behind the canvas but her ears no doubt on full alert.

By now it was midafternoon, too late to get to our anchorage before dark, and the whole weekend's plans were rapidly unraveling. I reasoned there'd be many more trips where we could make up for lost time. Ed silently fumed. But realizing there was no budging Mrs. Duck (without looking to me like a heartless animal hater), he desperately scoured the Internet for solutions. We called the ASPCA, consulted with others on the dock, and asked colleagues about what we might do to move the duck without sacrificing the family she seemed so determined to raise. There were multiple suggestions, none really feasible.

After several weekends spent sitting on the boat at the dock, waiting for what seemed like the longest gestation in history, we came down one weekend and Mrs. Duck was gone. The nest was still there, but it was clear those eggs were not going to produce anything other than Easter decorations. Before I could make some other stalling suggestion, my husband flew the boat out of the slip far faster than was necessary. And the engine? It ran like a breeze all summer.

There's no moral to this tale, but we know hundreds, if not thousands, of you are waging your own battles with unwelcome visitors this summer. If you've got a tip for keeping the wildlife off your boat — and we don't mean the rowdy neighbors from Dock H — email it to us and we'll publish the best ones.

Birds: Drops, Not Quite Heavenly

Photo of pelicans on boat
Photo: Susannah Clark, 2012 Photo Contest Entrant
Unwelcome guests can leave more than just a bad taste in
your mouth. They can also damage your boat.

Turns out an extended number of the bird family are more than happy to take a perch, or hover over your boat as though it had a flashing neon restroom sign on it. When it comes to outwitting them, the birdbrain tends to belong to the humans. Some years ago, our BoatUS Seaworthy insurance newsletter sent out a call asking readers what they'd done to discourage our feathered friends from choosing their boat. The results, like the birds, were large and varied. Unfortunately what seemed to work great for one boater had little effect for another, but clearly birds were a big problem. West Marine sells 13 different items ranging from tape that starts at $5, to bird-repelling spikes ($20+), to a multi-speaker system that emits prerecorded distress calls of geese and runs on a loop every 10 minutes, for $150. Also, here are some do-it-yourself ideas:

  • Stop feeding the birds. It might seem obvious but when you throw seagulls or other birds bread near your boat, they'll keep coming back.
  • Plastic owls work great for some, but problems include the owl blowing away or the birds getting used to it and coming back. One reader wrote that hanging an owl from the spreader, so it moved slightly, made it more effective.
  • Cormorants tend to like being high up (sorry, sailboaters) so one reader found covering the top of the mast with tacks stuck through sail repair tape did the trick. Before you say that's cruel, our reader pointed out it was no different from a thorny branch.
  • Stringing monofilament line on favorite boat perches has worked well for many. Just don't tangle yourself up in it, and don't let it fall overboard. Recycle if you can, and otherwise, dispose of it in covered receptacles.
  • Pinwheels, multicolored flags, and shiny string or ribbon festooned around the boat is another good tip to try.
  • Large wind-driven "rotators" work well, as do bird "spiders." They're easy to put on the hardtop, bow, or back deck, and easy to stow when it's time to use the boat.
  • A large feather duster (preferably ostrich) stuck in a box on the deck allegedly worked for one reader.
  • Got trouble with birds of the webbed feet variety? Hot sauce diluted in water on the final washdown where your unwanted guests like to walk is said to keep them off the boat. No word on whether it'll repel the visitors you want onboard, too.
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