Oh, RATS! Getting rid of rodents aboard

14 Aug


It’s not easy to get rid of rats on board. Preventing rats from getting on in the first place is better, of course. We blame our current dock-bound status for the uninvited visitors, but two other boats have related to us how rats in New Zealand swam to their boats from shore and entered by climbing the anchor chain! These are determined creatures… and if they’re going to find you, it’s good to know how to deal with them first.

Our unwanted rodent remained aboard for four weeks to the day. I’m not going to think about the hours of sleep lost wondering 1) if it would crawl ON ME again, 2) how much damage it had done so far, or 3) when and where I would next hear it scratching around or gnawing wood. But for all the griping I could do, there was goodness.

rat mouse trap snap strawberry jam toast bait

thank you Bill for the traps, and many commenters for the reminder not to use bare hands

Foremost, the whole experience was a great reminder of the unwritten cruiser code to help your fellow boater. One marina neighbor after another offered suggestions, loaned extra traps (and cats!), recommended different baits / poisons, or just offered commiseration. Comments on our Facebook page and blog showed that so many people were generous with ideas, and we tried a lot of them. I mean, I would never have thought that “there’s an app for that,” but of course there is (thank you, Leonid!). We FOUND the rat with it one day (at least, it suddenly got very noisy behind some cabinetry) because we turned on the ultrasonic frequency app, the critter immediately reacted to the unpleasant noise…undetectable to our ears.

The experience also brought out some great reminiscing from Jamie about one of his first jobs. When he was in his late teens, Jamie was a deckhand on the 1907 steamship ‘Sabino’ at the Mystic Seaport Museum. There, Captain Monday regaled him of tales from the 1920s from when (as a teenager himself) he served on a square rigged ship in the South Pacific. His sole friend: a mouse, a gentle companion who only asked to have the occasional nibble shared. I have to admit, thinking about Captain Monday, and looking at our dwarf hamster in his main cabin home, made permanently removing the the sleek brown rat a little hard to contemplate. At least, until we were reminded by friends that a single rat had just done $10,000 worth of damage to wires and cables inside their boat.

dwarf hamster

Totem’s exceptionally cute, relatively domesticated, and totally welcome rodent

What did we learn about getting rats off the boat? That all knowledge is local. We tried many, many things, but what ultimately worked was the type of trap with the type of bait that people in this area had found successful. For a rundown on options and advice, The Boat Galley’s article on the subject is spot on. I’d add two things to it: the app, and sticky mats. The latter are horrible and inhumane, but… well, with apologies to the rat community, we can’t afford to be hit with a $10,000 re-wiring job. We truly tried everything (well, except the mats, which we never found) until one day the conventional live trap delivered the goods.  Well, singular “goods” anyway, in form of a disturbingly cute bright eyed creature.

Perhaps that mental travel brochure for sailing in paradise with beautiful beaches and clear water should include a small disclaimer that says- Warning: paradise may at times involve coexisting with unwanted guests.

Wily trappers know we love it when you read this on the Sailfeed website.


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  14. albert r

    Bob’s reply of aug 16 worked for us when nothing else did. Duct tape up the whole boat, vents and hatches and ports, and pipe in the exhaust from a gas engine while you drink a few beers. Generator, pickup truck, motorcycle, etc. In three days the smell will tell you where to go to pick up the remainder. Works for even the most stubborn rats. Had to sail to Alaska to rid the boat of roaches as the exhaust gas did not bother them. It sure was fun to watch them slow down as the temperatures dropped. Slow scurry to dead stop. Ha!

  15. Pingback: Oh, RATS! Getting rid of rodents aboard | Sailing Totem

  16. Terence Disley

    I have found spring mice/rat traps to be the best and most efficient but you do have to be a little cunning …. place trap in a known trail/area allow restricted free by-pass, this forces furry friend to have no fear of trap . Do not immediately bait trap but after a period of time (1day) bait trap with food/bait but DO-NOT arm the trap yet ,let your new friend enjoy his last meals in peace !!! then load trap with customary feast and arm trap …. they die happy worked for me every time .

  17. Libbie

    Local knowledge is best. We had a problem leaving Haiti with a rat on board. It was a BIG rat, and our cat was terrified of it. She would cower against me in the V-berth when the rat was out ranging around at night! We tried sticky tape (only fur left behind) and traps and various baits, but it wasn’t until someone pointed out that ours was a Haitian rat and we needed to use MEAT as bait. Some smelly canned tuna in a trap did the trick in a very short time!!

  18. Michelle

    Cut the bottom out of a 2-liter soda bottle and put it on the chain/dockline neck towards the boat. It works as a cone and the rats can’t get around the slippery round base. I heard this tip from people in Mexico.

  19. Bob

    I also had the displeasure of a rat entering on my chain and disrupting the whole boat. At first I thought it was a bird.
    Here is what I did, I borrowed a friends small portable generator, opened up all the cabinets and floorboards. I filled the generator with gas, turned it on let it run all night while I was away.I closed all hatches and ports. The next day the critter was toast!!

  20. john mccartney

    We lived on a sailboat in NYC & Philly area for 5 years. A number of boats in the marinas had an occasional rat, but never ours. We had a big grumpy cat that kept them away.

  21. Nick

    The old saying “Rats leaving a sinking ship” is based on fact. Rats seem to know when a ship is going to sink long before people do.
    Consequently it seems prudent to keep a few rats as residents on board to warn owners of any impending doom to their vessels and themselves.

    Alternate perspectives, no matter how insane, seem to be the order of the day in this crazy century. Just doing my part to keep this politically correct.

  22. Capt. Wes

    An interesting problem. An ounce of prevention is worth 10 pounds of cure. Around ranchs and farms a “shock” tape on fences is used to control animals. Some of these units are solar powered and work really well. I know ’cause I got on the business end of one, once. I see no reason why this same unit couldn’t be wrapped around dock lines for about a yard or so to repel the critters. The anchor chain would have to be insulated from the shock tape. A split hose or duct tape would do, then spiral wrap the shock tape onto the insulated section.

  23. James Williams

    Rats indeed! We picked up a pair of them at a marina dock on Florida’s Big Bend coast two years ago and didn’t discover their presence for at least three months (when the boat was laid up in her home berth in St. Pete during the hurricane season), Our discovery? Turned on the water to discover leaking hoses everywhere. Every fresh water line in our 36′ cutter had to be replaced (including the water–maker lines), plus a new coaxial cable for the cockpit VHF. It took a full month to trap the buggers. Poison, poison everywhere. But we finally discovered how they got aboard and plugged the entryway. Just remember, there are more rodents on earth than humans.

  24. joel weinbaum

    Most large ships use what are called “rat guards” installed as shields on lines and anchor line to block vermin from coming aboard. All wharfs around the world have a ready supply of hungry vermin(rats and mice). But docking without a “camel” to keep your boat away from the dock, along with absence of rat guards, they will come aboard.

  25. Lisa Dorenfest

    Great news to hear that you are rat free. Loved this post, especially that ‘there is an app’ for rat ridding and the cute little picture of your ‘domesticated rodent’.

  26. Georgina

    Well done Totem. Sounds like a sense of frustration ending in victory!
    Having had a winter of 12 mice in my home pantry and a boat full of cockroaches for the first time in history, I totally understand the experience. Like you I’ve tried many methods and finally won…I hated to think a few small creatures could outsmart me. May they stay away from us for a very long time!

  27. Michael Robertson

    Totem crew! Glad you got rid of the rat, surprised the bucket trap didn’t work (I watched the video link and it looked fantastic). Whatever happened with the engine? Did I miss the update on how you solved the overheating? All the best, Michael

  28. Rose

    In twenty years of cruising in New Zealand I have never heard of anyone having a rat problem. I thought it was mostly a tropical thing. After nearly a year on board, we now have cockroaches, and are reflecting that a New Zealand winter would be a great way to kill them!

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