Debugging a boat

SAN DIEGO — Have I mentioned that I hate bugs? I truly loathe ants, cockroaches and other creepy-crawlies that invade homes and boats. Harmless bugs are welcome outside – just don’t invade our dwelling spaces.

But bugs can arrive in a new-to-you boat. After we bought the Burgundy in Florida, Arv found numerous, fortunately long-dead, cockroaches hidden in her under-deck voids.

Despite being a rotten cleaner, until last year I managed to keep our boat mostly bug-free. Yet after a short absence, I noticed little black bugs – weevils, I think – clinging to pots and pans and surfaces in our galley lockers.

The flour bag, stored in a plastic container on the counter, had become home to masses of critters. More resided in pasta bags, cracker boxes and other flour-based foods not sealed in glass jars. Time for a massive cleanout!

I tossed all the infested food and any outdated food items – including bottles, cans and jars – and scrubbed the pots, pans, lids, shelves and shelf liners with disinfectant cleaners. Following instructions for getting rid of pantry pests I found online on, I washed everything with a solution of a quarter-cup bleach per gallon of water. Then I scattered my shelves with bay leaves, which I buy in bulk, along with super-fragrant herbs and spices, from While I found a few more dead weevils, several months later my food lockers remain pest-free.

To keep your boat or home bug-free, it’s important to clean up spills when they occur and do a deep cleansing of nooks and crannies where food debris hides. It’s important to starve the beasts of their food sources, a special challenge for those of us with pets.

Even if you’re a demon cleaner – which I’m not – you still might find yourself with an infestation because bugs often enter in freshly purchased food or in food packaging. Larval-stage weevils usually arrive in newly purchased flour. To prevent their hatching, freeze your flour for at least four days. Currently, I’m storing my flour in the freezer and other supplies in sealed glass jars.

Cockroaches and ants show up in cardboard packaging or even paper bags, especially in tropical regions. That’s why experienced boating writers such as Carolyn Shearlock of advise boaters to discard all cardboard boxes and packaging before boarding the boat. Be sure to visit her website for excellent advice on preventing and overcoming specific infestation.

Ants are my special bug-a-boo. Fortunately, they haven’t invaded our boat, but, living in coastal San Diego, they periodically invade our home. They’ve emerged from electrical outlets and through previously unknown openings.

Because we have cats and I have a particular aversion to chemical pesticides inside our home, I’ve dealt with ants by having the outside perimeter of our building professionally sprayed. On a boat, I recommend spraying dock lines, power cords and hoses that bugs can crawl up to invade the boat.

I’ve researched natural pesticides that kill critters but are safe for small animals and people. Some options include wintergreen-based insecticides (I’m allergic) and orange-based sprays, such as Orange Guard, which I’ve used successfully. Cloves, whether whole, ground or clove oil, are also natural ant deterrents. Diatomaceous earth, a fine powder available in hardware and feed stores, kills insects and fleas by destroying their exoskeletons; it is safe for humans and pets and sold in a food-grade form.

When I’ve had an ant invasion I’ve created ant moats, setting pet bowls inside a larger bowl filled with water the ants can’t cross, to protect pet food.

With determination and persistence, you really can overcome nearly all bug infestations.

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One thought on “Debugging a boat

  • March 1, 2018 at 11:23 am

    Any thoughts on spiders?



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