How to Get Rid of Ants on a Boat (Crazy, Fire Ants & More)

Flies, roaches, and rats? It’s easy to understand how these pests might make their way on a boat. But ants? Most of us think that ants can only thrive where there’s land to make a mound and thus a nest. Without any soil on your pontoon boat, it’s tough to figure out where and how these ants manage to live on board.

Well, while it might be a bit of a brain puzzle, there’s a perfectly logical reason for those ants being on your boat. And where there’s a logical reason, there’s a logical solution. Find out how to get rid of ants on a boat with these practical tips.

How and Why Do Ants Infest Boats?

It’s not really much of a mystery how ants manage to thrive in your garden, or even in your home. But a boat? Although your trusty vessel might not seem like the ideal place for an ant colony to take refuge, you’d be surprised just how suitable a boat can be for a couple thousand ants to call it home.

Food Residue and Supply

Ants are some of the most well-organized colonies in all of the animal kingdom. With each of their members assigned a designated role, they can accomplish incredibly feats considering their size. One of the many ant job designations in the colony is what we call the ‘scout’, and it’s exactly what it sounds like.

This often lone ant goes out in search of food. And when it finds a source - whether it’s a pantry, a trashcan, or even just residual crumbs and spills on your floor - it heads back to its nest to bring the good news. Then several hundreds of ants come swarming back to your boat to collect what they’ve found.

If there’s a steady supply of food on board, as is the case on most pontoon boats or yachts, then they might decide to stay for good. And since there are lots of little crevices and hidden areas underneath the deck, nest location isn’t too big of an issue.

Dock and Storage Location

Just like a house that might be easily overcome by ants when there’s a nest in the garden, boats can also succumb to an ant infestation if its docked too near to a nest. If your boat is almost always stowed away in a dark garage, then the ants might have come from a nearby garden or from your home.

In these cases, ant infestations might be recurring since the original source is within close proximity to your boat. So even eliminating them from your vessel doesn’t guarantee proper resolve since the surviving ants from the nest will just keep coming back.

Moist Wood

Did you ever squish an ant only to find it emitting a strong wooden scent? That was probably a carpenter ant. These guys love moist, wet wood, and eat that stuff like nobody’s business. And because they eat wood, they live there too, causing serious damage to any wooden parts on your boat.

A bass boat with a wooden deck or a pontoon with wooden flooring are some of the most susceptible to this kind of damage. If the ant problem becomes too advanced, it might be necessary to get rid of the infested wood all together.

Different Kinds of Ants on a Boat

ant on boat

Knowing what you’re up against should make it easier for you to find the right solution. Not all products, repellents, and killers work on every kind of ant. So it’s important to identify your specific ant problem to avoid buying into products that might not work.

Crazy Ants

Sounds like a fun name, but they can be crazy invasive. Crazy ants get their name from the fact that they’ll run around sporadically if you disturb them. They’re not too picky when it comes to choosing a place to live, so your boat definitely makes a suitable home.

They can thrive in both wet and dry environments, making nests in void spaces under the deck or near your wiring. They are considered major invaders and they rapidly increase in number, making them tough to get rid of.

Carpenter Ants

These are the guys we described earlier in this article. They don’t feed on food and trash like other ants, and instead eat away at wet wood. In nature, carpenter ants can be beneficial in that they help in the composting process. They chew away at rotting wood and clean up debris, which is considered a helpful process in the wild.

On a boat though, it’s a different story. Carpenter ants that take residence on a boat can cause serious damage to wooden parts like the decking and boat transom. As they burrow in the wood and eat away at the insides, they cause serious damage that makes the wood brittle and prone to damage, requiring expensive replacements and repairs.

Dark Rover Ants

These guys love sweet nectar like substances, so they tend to thrive where there’s juice, syrup, or anything similar. They don’t bite, which might help calm your mind. But they come in supersized colonies that make them difficult to get rid of. They love making nests in dark damp areas, which might be found under the deck.

Most often, dark rover ants are found in places where humidity and heat are high. They can also make nests underneath untouched, unmoved furniture on pontoon boats, or even just a simple rag or a rock that’s been in the same place for a while.

European Fire Ants

These guys are fire ants, so beware of their bite. They make their nests in gardens and lawns, but when the months get cold, they might try to look for a warm place to stay. And of course, alongside the warm interior of a boat that’s dry docked for the winter could be the perfect place to call home.

They’re pretty big so they’re not that hard to spot, and their colonies might not be too overwhelming in number. However they can be difficult to get rid of because of the seriously painful sting they deliver. They’re also much more resilient than other kinds of ants, so certain sprays might not work on them.

Argentine Ants

The Argentine ant looks like your average, everyday household ant, touting a brownish-red color and a small body. They’re found mostly in the Southern United States and infest homes, gardens, and lawns with their large colonies.

They don’t bite, so there’s really no need to worry about the dangers of exterminating them by yourself. They’re mostly attracted to sweet food and nectar-like residue, and they prefer making nests in small, dark, cramped, and moist areas in and around your boat.

Odorous House Ants

If you’ve got odorous house ants at home, then it’s not impossible for them to find a way on board. These guys let out an unpleasant smell when crushed, which is how they get their name. Again, they don’t bite, but they can contaminate your food and leave their scent all over the place.

What’s annoying about these guys is that each any can live for several years. This means that as they grow their colony, they increase in number exponentially, leading to ultra large nests with several thousands ants in just a few weeks or a month’s time.

How to Get Rid of Ants on a Boat

There are more than a few ways to get rid of ants on a boat. So if you’re tired of always having to deal with those creepy crawlies taking residence on your vessel, you might want to try these tips.

Ant Killer Solution

any killer solution to rid ants on boats

This one’s a stand-alone solution that can work by itself. The stuff is said to kill all kinds of household ants, but carpenter ants might be a potential exclusion since they’re not attracted to food or sweets.

The stuff works to kill ants that you see, and the ones that might be hiding in the nest. What you do is you lay some down on a piece of cardboard and set it where you might have noticed an active ant trail. The stuff is sweet and attractive to ants, encouraging them to pick up a sample and take it back to the nest.

Whatever they take back delivers enough of a dose to kill off every other guy in the colony. And while the stuff might not be dangerous to humans, it’s incredibly sticky. So to keep kids and pets from touching the stuff, it might be best to lay out those traps when your boat is docked. It also doesn’t work instantly. You might have to wait a week or so to completely kill off the whole colony.

We recommend the Terro Liquid Ant Killer.

Ant Bait

ant bait for your boat

That ant killer is probably going to work on its own, but in case you want to improve your chances, you can also try ant bait. This is more of a set it and forget it kind of product, which makes it ideal for boat owners who don’t want to spend all of their waking hours thinking about their ant problem.

The discreet little stations contain ant killer and attract scout and worker ants. They’re great because you can leave them for months without having to worry about them losing their potency. They’re also less prone to tampering since they’re concealed.

Checkout the Terro Multi-Surface Liquid Ant Baits.

Deep Clean

When there’s no food left, then those ants might have to find a new place to stay. This works best for milder infestations when ants might not have established a nest just yet. Spend a weekend cleaning your boat and get rid of any food residue that might have been left behind. Scrub away food stains and vacuum any crevices where crumbs and food particles might be nestled.

Once you’re done, go ahead and spray a generous amount of bug spray just to make the boat a little less hospitable for any incoming ants. If you’ve got a colony well-established though, cleaning might not be enough since they’re probably getting their food from somewhere else and just taking it back home to your boat.

Replace and Treat Wood

any killer spray

If you’re dealing with carpenter ants, then a lot of these strategies might not work. In cases where the infestation might not be too advanced, it could be possible to eradicate the ants with killer spray. Then, set your boat out in the sun to dry the wood completely. You can also treat the wood to prevent water logging and to keep ants away.

For more advanced carpenter ant infestations, you might not have any other choice but to replace the wood all together. Treat it to prevent it from absorbing moisture so as to deter any carpenter ants that might want to take up residence.

We find Raid Ant Killer Spray to work like a treat.

How to Prevent an Ant Infestation on a Boat

How can you keep ants away from your boat in the first place? Try these strategies to keep those ants from invading your personal space.

Secure Boat Lines

any killer powder for your boat

Scout ants can get on board in a number of ways, but boat lines are the most obvious especially when you’re moored on water. You can sprinkle ant killer powder on your lines or tie an engine lubrication oil soaked rag around your lines. This should create a barrier that ants have been found to be unable to cross.

We like using the Zap-A-Roach Roach & Ant Killer Powder.

Protect During Storage

Before you tuck your boat away for the winter, make sure it’s properly protected. Aside from cleaning out any food, spills, and trash, you can surround your boat with a circle of ant killer powder. Some people have also found that a barrier of baby powder can disorient ants and keep them away. It also helps to dry dock your boat away from trees, gardens, shrubs, and lawns where an ant nest might already exist.

Practice Proper Food Storage

Majority of ant infestation problems might be easily resolved with proper cleaning. Make sure all of your food is properly stored on board, and clean up well after each use. Throw away trash as soon as you dock and spray with a disinfectant solution regularly to get rid of smells, crumbs, and spills.

Away With Those Pesky Ants

They can be a problem indeed, but there are a bunch of things you can try to relieve your boat of that ant problem. Now, if you’ve tried all of these strategies on how to get rid of ants on a boat, and the problem still persists, you can always call in the professionals. Just make sure to practice proper cleaning and storage when they’re gone to prevent them from coming back.