Removing Rats From Your Boat or Home

Yes, that's my right foot next to one big rat.
Yes, that's my right foot next to one big rat.

How to Effectively Evict Rodents from Your Boat or House


My first experience with furry boat invaders happened years ago when I borrowed a friend’s boat for a long range cruise. The first night out my girlfriend at the time heard strange clicking noises coming from the bilge and was convinced we had a rat problem. I set a trap and spent hours searching every nook and cranny, and found nothing but a rusty screwdriver and a can of beans. I told my problem to an old salt I knew and he laughed, “those were mating shrimp you were hearing, Rookie!”

Mariners around the globe know that the only way to absolutely avoid having pests on board is to avoid owning a boat. They also know (to the chagrin of first mates everywhere), that because boats offer food, water, and shelter, pests will come aboard even the cleanest, most well-maintained vessels. There’s nothing to do but prepare to deal with it when it happens.

Aside from man, the rat is by far the most destructive creature on earth. Each year they consume one-fifth of the world’s agricultural products, and cost the US over $500 million in economic losses. They are truly omnivores, devouring almost anything they can get their little noses into—up to 40% of their body weight every day. And what they don’t eat they chew: wood, PVC, plastic, paper and electric cable are but a few of the things rats like to use for bubble gum.

Hard to believe, but the ubiquitous rat is not indigenous to North America. We have the European settlers to thank for their introduction to the Norway rat in the sixteenth century, when the little stowaways boarded their ships the same way they got on mine: via dock lines. Captain John Smith complained of rats cleaning out their grain stores in Jamestown, and they quickly infested all thirteen colonies and moved westward with the settlers. Since then they have had their own version of manifest destiny, sweeping the continent with the exception of Alberta, Canada, which has had a successful eradication program since the 1950s.


Oh, Rats

So, being a boat owner for eight years, I guess it wasn’t a matter of if we would get a visit from these commensal varmints, but when. Our “when” happened recently when I went aboard for a final prep before a weekend outing and discovered dozens of small rice-like feces on almost every horizontal surface, and almost every piece of paper shredded. What a mess! And then I saw what amounted to the final straw: the rat had chewed through a plastic bottle that held a fifth of MountGay rum. I gnashed my molars and ruminated out loud: “I hope you enjoyed that cocktail my drunken little friend, it will be your last.” It was now a battle to the death twixt me and Mr. Rat.

I abruptly canceled the trip with a fabricated excuse. I mean, can you imagine my family’s reaction to seeing a rat on board at a secluded anchorage? Not a pretty picture. The local hardware store had rodent control products, but no one there could make a recommendation based on actual experience. A call to a local exterminator revealed that although they had no experience on boats, they considered a building with up to 20 rats a “light infestation”.

I tried the humane route first: I placed a couple of glue traps on the sole, but it yielded only grey fur a day later. Great, now I had an angry rat on board. I delayed our outing again and went beating a path for a better mouse trap.

As I searched for a way to eliminate our uninvited guest, I came across the following troubling info in Robert Hendrickson’s book, A Social History of Rats & Men:


-It is estimated that there is one rat for every person in North America

-Rats can swim a half-mile against the current in open water (is your boat on a mooring?)

-They can jump four-feet horizontally and two-feet vertically

-They can get through a hole as small as a quarter


There is perhaps no more apt metaphor than to say that something, “breeds like rats.” The females are almost constantly in heat and will, provided there is sufficient food and shelter, produce 30 or more offspring per year.

I bought a tried and true snap trap, and just for kicks I tripped it with a pencil to see how well it would work. It snapped it cleanly in two. I then set it with peanut butter (much preferred over cheese), and placed it on the sole by the galley. A day later the trap was still set, the trigger mechanism licked clean. I reset it and let another day pass. When I pulled the companionway boards on the third day I saw the largest rodent I had ever seen outside of the movie “Willard”. The photo does not do it justice. From seven-feet above I could tell the color of its eyes (black like a shark) and count its toes.

I bagged it and before locking up I thought, just in case, to re-bait and reset the trap. A few days later I came on board to prepare again for a sail outing and….whoa, another dispatched rat.

After removing Mrs. Rat I felt that it was time to get the marina owners involved. After all, those rats had to pass about 75 boats to get to mine, there was a good chance that other boaters were having problems too. The nature of this information can instinctively put someone on the defensive, so when I phoned the dock master I tried to be as delicate as possible. She gasped at the news, and claimed that in seventy-years I was the first slip holder to ever complain of a rat. I paused, and refrained from saying that I didn’t buy that for one minute, and I let the matter drop.


Evicting Unscheduled Passengers

Ralph Waldo Emerson may have said, “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door”, because he had to deal with rats on board. If you’d like to avoid being the host of the Rattus norvegicus, make sure that your boat is sealed up tight. Do you have screens on your dorades? I’m convinced that hatch and companionway screens keep out more than bugs. Our rats probably entered the boat the same way we do, and use of the screens at night should prevent a repeat. But if you have a little rodent problem of your own, here are products that work:

Rat Snap Trap: Cheap, effective, reusable, easy to remove from boat.

Drawbacks: Has potential to injure people and pets. Can break bones if touched or stepped on. Site of dead rat can be disturbing to gentle eyes.

Rat Poison: Cheap, effective

Drawbacks: Danger to onboard pets and small children. Potential for rat to consume and expire deep within your boat. Rats may detect poison and develop “bait shyness”.

Rat Zapper: Effective, reusable, easy to remove from boat, dead rat is not visible

Drawback: Expensive, AA batteries must be replaced


And here are products that don’t:

Glue Tray: Immobilizes, but doesn’t kill rat. If you don’t check frequently rat will get away. And even if you catch it, what are you supposed to do?

Cat: Cat food attracts rats. Cat may receive nasty injury, or be more frightened than you.

Sonic Repellent: Gimme a break! How about playing reruns of American Idol tryouts instead.


Since then I have been careful to set the trap and seal up the larder before locking the companionway and we have, thankfully, remained rodent-free. But just in case, I keep the rum in a glass bottle.

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Comments 3 comments

hana 6 years ago

THAT'S HORRID YOUR A MEAN MAN ! A BEAST !! I HATE YOU !!

YOU KILLED A RAT !!

I WAS ONLY DOING ITS SURVIAL INSTINKS !! YOU KILLED IT !!

YOU MEANIE !!!1


Mike T. 5 years ago

As a practicing Buddhist and I try to follow the the rule not to kill, but I do make exceptions for the Three R's. Rats, Roaches, and Rattle Snakes. so keep the world safe from the diseased infected varmints is okay by me.


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Captn Robert 9 months ago Author

Sure Mike. My wife is also Buddhist and doesn't like to kill, but she definitely made an exception for those rats. She was pretty happy when I dispatched them.

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