Family Magazine

Oh, RATS! Getting Rid of Rodents Aboard

By Behan Gifford @sailingtotem


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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