One of the things I look forward to most in the spring is getting my boat ready to head out onto the water.
The last thing I want to find when I pull off the cover is damage from a mouse that has taken up residence in my boat all winter long.
If you’ve never seen the damage a mouse can do, trust me, it’s bad. Can you see the dollar signs in my eyes now?!
So what are the best methods for keeping mice out of your boat? In all of our research, we have found that mothballs, dryer sheets, and traps are the top three items that best keep small critters away from your boat. Even better is combining two more of these methods for ultimate protection.
Preventing mice from entering your boat starts with putting yourself in the mind of the little furry critter first.
The Perfect Winter Home
As the weather gets colder, mice, like other creatures, will begin to look for shelter. For a mouse, a boat is a choice option, offering not only protection from wind, rain, and snow but also a ready supply of food.
With a tarp or canvas cover overhead, a mouse will start to look for food…the obvious choices will go first, followed by the not so obvious. Let’s start with the obvious and go from there…
First Things First – Purge Your Boat
Remove everything food-oriented, excluding nothing…even old sandwich bags and food containers. Emergency food, like unopened granola and sealed up boxes of crackers must go. Mice will chew through these in no time at all. Dog food and worm bedding, while they wouldn’t be considered deluxe to us by any stretch, are delectable to mice.
Next comes the not so obvious…fabric. In desperation, mice may eat fabric in order to survive, but more often, they are using it to make a nest. Remove all of the following items which a mouse could easily shred apart to make a bed: life jackets, towels, ropes, blankets, cushions, fabric seat covers, straps, clothing and rain gear.
In addition, be sure to take out tissues, paper towels, toilet paper and your bimini (and its cover if yours has one). Fishing rods and “edible” bait also must go.
Furthermore, if possible, cover up any exposed wires and fibreglass…I’ve personally experienced the frustration of finding a wire that has been chewed through (though I’m still not 100% sure what compulsion drives rodents to chew through a piece of braided steel covered with hard plastic).
Suck it Up!
Once everything has been emptied from your boat, grab a shop vac. Vacuum everywhere you can reach. I have three kids. Need I say more? When they eat, even after admonitions to be careful, crumbs are inevitable. Nothing is more tempting to a mouse than a wayward fishy cracker that didn’t make its way to its original destination.
Even if you don’t allow food on your boat, a mouse might find an old leaf a tempting enough tidbit when hunger comes a-calling. Take the time to vacuum and you will be giving the furry critters one less reason to set up shop.
After you’ve removed everything you possibly can from your boat and done a thorough vacuuming, invest in a well-fitted cover. Securely wrapping your boat will go a long way to preventing mice from getting in the first place. Choose a ratcheting type system that will snugly cinch down the cover.
If your ropes end up leaving a small gap anywhere, block off the area, no matter how small, with rat guards or steel wool. Both of these are impossible for a mouse to chew through.
Also, be sure the end of your rope isn’t touching the ground or hanging too close to it. Don’t make it easy for a mouse to climb on and up.
The Top Ten
Removing all your gear, vacuuming, and covering your boat will go miles in protecting your floating investment. The next step is your double-wall, your secondary countermeasure, your coup d’etat…okay, you get the point. Deterring mice from coming aboard your boat in the first place is way easier to deal with than getting them off or fixing the damage they cause.
Following are ten methods that have all shown to be effective in keeping mice out;
Moth balls are very effective; nearly everywhere we researched, it was almost unanimous that moth balls effectively repelled mice. And it makes sense; moth balls smell terrible.
Moth balls are effective, but can be dangerous to YOU. Be really careful!
Composed of either naphthalene or para-dichlorobenzene, mothballs are a highly toxic substance that emit noxious vapors, known to cause harmful effects to humans and animals. Sooo…isn’t that dangerous? Yes. But it is effective. If you’re running up against a little army of four-legged varmints and you’ve declared all-out war on them and their crusade, moth balls may be the best option. Use caution; wear gloves, don’t breathe in the fumes and remove them immediately in the spring. Keep them out of reach of children and pets.
Be sure to avoid putting them directly on any surface of your boat. Instead, opt for trays or open containers. Putting them directly on the carpet or seats or in closed compartments will make getting rid of the fumes that much harder. The smell can even linger on the monofilament fishing line hiding in your rod locker! That’s all the more reason everything should be removed from your boat before you shut down for the winter.
Right up there with moth balls, dryer sheets seem to top the list of effective repellents. But there are some rules to follow here…be selective and only buy Bounce.
I know that sounds a little biased, but trust me, other brands don’t work. The cheaper brands with their weaker fragrances just don’t cut the mustard. Go for the best and you won’t regret it. Now, you might be wondering why anyone would opt for moth balls if wonderfully smelling dryer sheets are just as effective.
They smell great, are non-toxic and relatively cost-effective. Well here’s the caveat…to be effective, dryer sheets need to be super smelly (in a good way). Once the fragrance begins to diminish, effectiveness starts to wane. Your best bet is to replace them in your boat mid-winter in order to be on the safe side. How many should you use?
Thirty to sixty (or like the whole box) is da bomb. Place them everywhere …one or two in every compartment and nook and cranny.
It’s true; it’s hard to improve on the effectiveness of a good old fashioned mousetrap. A regular trap, laced with cheese or peanut butter, works very well in, um…ahem, containing the problem.
Traps should be left outside, around the boat – not inside. Placing a delectably smelling morsel inside the boat will draw mice inside, using any means necessary to gain access. After they’ve made a lovely little hole getting in, and getting caught chowing down on the divine feast you’ve left for them, they may live on for weeks or even months setting up a lovely, cute home in your boat and causing untold problems.
However, if you are lucky and your traps are effective, the little critters will die and begin to stink up your boat. Yuck! Note that sticky traps or glue boards will really only be effective in warm weather, while cold temperatures drastically decrease their effectiveness. If you don’t like the look of a traditional mouse trap, there are discreet and concealed kinds.
Effective – yes…but must be used with care. It can be used inside your boat, but like regular mouse traps, you can also leave poison outside your boat as it’s usually made with an enticing aroma in order to attract mice to feast upon it.
In order to keep children and pets safe, keep the poison in well-concealed areas, close to your boat, but out of arms’ (or paws) reach. One way to keep the poison contained is by using a plastic milk crate or laundry basket turned upside down. The holes in the crate are large enough to let mice through, but small enough that kids and pets can’t get inside.
You could also try an old tin coffee container. Cut a small hole in the bottom and place the poison inside. Not as safe, but if kept out of reach, it provides an effective option. Be warned that if you decide to put poison inside your boat, remove it before allowing kids and pets on board.
Some people swear by these electronic miracles and say they have proven to be ultra-effective at staving off mice with their high-frequency sound waves.
Others, as indicated in this article from McGill University, say that the science behind them is questionable, unproven and that they are worthless.
Fresh cut mint or peppermint extract/essential oil can be effective at deterring mice. Cinnamon also works well. Mice are repelled by the strong odor of both of these natural substances.
Fresh cab can be helpful, but keep in mind that it will not destroy mice, but only repel them temporarily. Even then, you’ll have to replace the cab pouches fairly often. If there is food in the boat, mice/rats will deal with the smell of cab for just long enough to eat the food.
The downfall is that they are only effective while their scent is strong and mice can become used to the smell after time. If you choose to use this method, load up a bunch of cotton balls with the oil, or place fresh mint leaves inside your boat, but be prepared to replace them often in order to keep the fragrance at its peak. One natural product that has seen good results is Fresh Cab. A pouch of Fresh Cab contains balsam fir, lavender oil, rosemary oil, cedar oil, and orange and lemon oil.
You’ll need to replace the pouches every 30 to 60 days, as per instructions on the package. The product comes with a 100% money-back guarantee…which means they stand behind their claims.
A friend of mine swears by Irish Spring. He shaves off sections and places them around his boat. In my research, I’ve found others who claim the same thing. It’s certainly cost-effective, and bonus, your boat will smell like Ireland…or a truck stop bathroom.
Starting to get a little “out there” but just as there are those on the soap-mouse-deterrent team, there are those who use containers of comet on their boat with a good degree of success. Comet is strongly scented and contains a number of noxious chemicals.
Cedar balls or blocks fall under the natural category and their success is varied. Once again, the fresher the scent, the more effective it seems to be. You will likely have to use many in your boat in order to have any success, and, will likely see more benefit from replacing them often through the winter.
Last, but certainly not least, are cats. Long considered the best remedy against mice, cats are without question, extremely effective. Our cat catches several mice a day in the field across the road from our home as she’s taken care of the entire population on our side of the street.
If your boat will be stored in your garage or your barn, getting a cat could be an easy solution to keeping your boat critter-free. And bonus, if your boat is in a barn, a barn owl is also extremely useful in keeping the mouse population at zero.
Your safest bet in keeping mice out of your boat would be to use two or more of the methods mentioned above. In our research we found this to be the most effective.
Am I covered?
Check your boat insurance policy…you might be covered if the worst-case scenario unfolds are an entire city of mice has set up shop in your vessel and causes extreme damage. Most basic policies likely don’t cover this, but you can request comprehensive coverage which may be a worthwhile investment.
Is that it?
Pretty much…just keep in mind, squirrels can also cause damage to your boat. Not only can they chew like their little mousey cousins, but they also can store nuts…in your engine…and that’s not good. Speaking from experience … “sigh”.