Maintenance / POSTED 02-Sep-2022

Critters are Attacking my Boat!

Taking some simple precautions can prevent animals of all sorts from making a mess on your boat and costing big money for repairs
When Frank Wilhelm visited his house on Lake Norman last winter, he walked out to the dock and hopped on his Suncatcher® pontoon, thinking he would run his Yamaha VMAX SHO® 225 for a while to keep it in mid-season form. But when he turned the key…nothing…no trim, no lights and never mind turning over, the starter wouldn’t even click. He had the battery on a trickle charge so he knew it had juice and figured the problem was something simple like a blown fuse so he took it to the local shop for a diagnosis.
The Worst Phrase a Boater can Hear 
A while later he got a call and heard the words all boaters dread: “I’ve got some bad news.” As it turns out, muskrats had chewed the rubber off his wiring harness and transducer wire like they were ears of corn, and the estimate to fix it was in the thousands of dollars because once the wires within are exposed, everything shorts out. What was weird is the destructive ‘rats didn’t touch the wiring harness coming from the engine because it stayed underwater in the splashwell. Instead, they had found egress through a small opening in the rear of the center pontoon he didn’t know existed. Wilhelm noticed the muskrats didn’t touch his bass boat, which was on a lift so part of the solution was to do the same for his pontoon. He also sheathed the repaired wires in stainless steel mesh and fabricated a screen to close off the opening in the pontoon.    

Love at First Sight
Unfortunately, boaters aren’t the only ones that love boats. There’s a lengthy list of other critters that find boats irresistible. Some want to chew, others want to move in, burrow or leave deposits aboard your pride and joy. Learning how to discourage them requires preventative steps specifically targeted toward the pests in your area. If you are new to an area or boating, it’s a good idea to ask around to see what lurks in and around the waters you will frequent.      
Semi-Aquatic Mammals 
In addition to muskrats, otters, beavers, mink, and nutria are other semi-aquatic animals that can damage a boat.

The Problems:
  • They love to chew plastic, rubber and upholstery.
  • They produce large quantities of fecal matter.
  • They like to chew the bellows in older sterndrives, which can sink a boat. 
  • Nutria are particularly fond of burrowing in the Styrofoam® that is used in boat floats and docks.
The Solutions:
  • Keep your boat on a lift. Cover your boat with a fitted tarp. Wrap all rubber hoses and wires with a protective metal barrier like Electro Duct.  
  • Create a physical barrier to areas where wiring exists.
  • Clean your boat thoroughly after fishing. Mammals like otters love fishand are attracted to any leftover smell. 
  • Employ motion-activated alarms.
  • Use humane traps to relocate problem animals. 
For Clean-ups:
  • Usually, a scrub brush with soap and 
  • water followed by a high-pressure hose rinse will be sufficient for the digestive residue. Sometimes a more potent 
  • cleaner is needed. 
Seagulls and ducks are the main culprits but in coastal areas, pelicans and wading birds like herons are also present.
The Problems:
  • The copious amount of fecal matter left behind (pun intended) makes up the biggest nuisance.
  • On boats that don’t get used a lot, nesting can take place, and usually, 
  • it’s illegal to disturb it until the chicks have left.
The Solutions:
  • Items that produce motion like the Bird Spider 360®, which has long wiggling appendages, work well.
  • Flashing reflective objects are a good deterrent. 
  • A large fake owl with oversized eyes scares birds.
  • Cover the boat and motor.
  • A vigilant dog will guard his territory.
The Solutions:
  • A high-pressure hose works well for 
  • guano. Staying on top of the problem keeps the mess from drying out. 
  • When that happens, stronger 
  • cleaning methods might be needed.
The Problems:
  • Spiders make up the biggest nuisance to boaters because of their sheer number. It’s estimated there are quadrillions (a million-billion) spiders on earth or about 4 million for every human. They are especially troublesome for boats in covered slips north of the Mason-Dixon Line.
  • The numerous, tiny, tar-like fecal matter stains left on upholstery and gelcoat are hard to remove. 
The Solutions:
  • Spiders hate the smell of peppermint so either make a spray of peppermint oil, vinegar, soap and water. or buy a ready-made product from companies like Star Brite®.
  • Cover the boat with a tight-fitting tarp. Use a pole with an industrial duster on the end to reduce the number of spider webs at the top of covered slips.
For Clean-ups:
  • Special cleaners are needed to fully remove the stains. Avoid using plastic based cleaning pad, which can harm the upholstery and gelcoat. One of the best products is Star Brite® Bird & Spider Stain Remover.  
The Problems:
  • In addition to mice and rats, squirrels and chipmunks can also do serious damage to boats. 
  • They chew rubber wiring covers as well as upholstery and foam cushions.
The Solutions:
  • A tight-fitting, custom tarp will halt most rodents from entering your boat.
  • Use barriers on your dock lines.
  • Like spiders, rodents don’t like strong smells and they especially hate mint so use a spray like Mighty Mint’s® Rodent Vehicle Protection.
  • Never use poison as it can also kill predators that eat rodents. 
For Clean-ups:
  • A vacuum will do the job quickly

Clingy Things
The Problems:
  • Up north, zebra and quagga mussels are a huge problem. They are invasive species that will attach to anything left in the water and are incredibly destructive to boats, motors and docks. 
  • In coastal areas, barnacles can also do damage.
The Solutions:
  • Anti-fouling paint is needed for boats left in the water.
  • Use a lift to keep the boat dry.
  • Keep your boat on a trailer.
  • A device called The Dock Disk is an effective electronic repellent for mussels.
Shrink-wrapping your boat for winter is usually the best way to keep critters from making a home inside your boat. Don’t forget to close off any openings to your engine to prevent rodents and insects like mud daubers from taking up residence.
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