How to Get Rid of Termites on a Boat & Hull?

Before you owned a boat, you probably didn’t put too much thought into maintenance. Now that you’ve owned one for a while, it’s probably no secret that those things require a lot of care. And we’re not just talking about cleaning. Unbeknownst to most first time boat owners, boats can become infested with all sorts of pests. We’re talking rats, cockroaches, ants, and yes, even termites.

If you’re dealing with a close encounter of the termite kind, then it’s important that you act fast. These suckers can cause major damage that could require expensive repairs and replacements if not addressed quickly enough. So if you’re wondering how to get rid of termites on a boat, here’s what you need to know.

How and Why Do Termites Infest Boats?

First things first - how exactly did this swarm of termites find your boat and decide to take up residence? Well, it all started when they grew up and moved out of their old folks’ home. When termites reach maturity or reproductive age, they set out to find a mate. When they do, they look for a new place where they can set up their colony and increase in numbers.

Termites feed on decaying plant matter, which of course includes wood. And what many boat owners don’t know is that almost every kind of boat uses wood in some way, shape, or form. Wooden interiors, the boat hull, and trim can be more than enough room to house a swarm of termites.

So, how exactly do they get on board? Well, they fly of course. While some types of termites can swim (like drywood termites) they don’t really need to traverse the waves to get on board when they’ve got a set of wings to easily access your vessel. And because they love warm, humid climates, your boat on a humid dock on a sunny day just touts all the makings of home sweet home.

How to Tell If You Have a Termite Infestation

It takes more than a creaky floorboard to tell if you’ve got a termite infestation. Aside from eating wood, those pesky pests also hide in wood. So you’re not exactly going to find them crawling around your deck the same way that ants and cockroaches would. But even then, there are a few telltale signs you can look out for.

Wings

The thing about termites is that they grow their wings to leave their colony and find a new place to stay. But once the females are fertilized and have found an area they can call home, their wings become useless.

After this swarming phase, they lose the wings and become flightless for the rest of their lives. For that reason, you might find a bunch of little insect wings fallen all over your boat. They might be more prominent in a single area, typically where there’s accessible wood.

Frass

Another thing you might notice on your boat is the presence of frass. This stuff typically looks like wood dust - fine particles of wood-smelling material that sit in little mounds. Lots of people think of them as crumbs left behind by the eating behavior of termites.

But they’re not exactly crumbs. Technically, they are leftovers, but they aren’t fallen wood particles. This frass is actually the fecal matter left behind by termites and the reason they smell and look like wood is because that’s all the termite’s diet contains.

How to Tell the Extent of Infestation

Again, termites aren’t all that easy to detect. If your boat is often moored at the local dock, then wind and water splashes can easily blow and wash them away. So a lot of times, boat owners don’t realize the problem until it’s more advanced.

Here are some of the signs of a termite infestation that has progressed beyond the early stages:

Visible Damage

Any visible damage to wooden parts of your boat means that your termite problem might be a little more advanced. Things like creaky wood panels, an appearance of bloating, cracks or breakage on the surface of the wood can signify that the termites have eaten through substantial amounts of wood.

Strong Smell

As the termites break down your wood and excrete frass, they can heighten the scent of wood on your boat. In certain areas, you might notice that the wood smells stronger, taking on an odor similar to mold and mildew. If there aren’t any signs of mold and mildew growth on your boat, then termites might be the culprit.

Maze-like Tunnels

Termites work through wood systematically, which is why they burrow in organized mazes that you might be able to see if you take a closer look. If there are parts of wood breaking off at the surface, then you can try breaking off a piece to see if there are mazes beneath.

Types of Termites That Infest Boats

Termites come in more than just one type. There are various termite species that can infest your boat, and knowing which one you’re currently dealing with should help you come up with a more effective solution.

Subterranean Termites

These guys are common in Africa, known for their aggressive behavior that creates large obnoxious mounds that are impossible to miss. But in the United States, they seem to be far more careful and insidious.

In nature, they thrive in muddy, loose, damp soil where they dig deep to create elaborate networks underground - thus their name. When they take residence in a home or boat, the damage they deal might not be as obvious until it’s finally full-blown.

Drywood Termites

These are perhaps the most common on a boat. As their name suggests, they eat through loads of drywood and generate loads of damage over a short period of time. Like most other termites, they aren’t easy to spot so they could cause serious destruction before you notice they’re onboard.

Damp Wood Termites

If drywood termites like dry wood, well, you already know what these guys like. Boats that are primarily made of wood, with wooden parts often soaked in water, are most prone to this type of termite. They’re a little slower than the drywood variety though, which means you could be able to pick up on their presence before they completely destroy your wood.

How to Get Rid of Termites on a Boat

termite stations to get rid of termites on boats

Fortunately for you, there are quite a few methods you can try to get rid of termites on a boat. Here are a few ways you can kill termites and banish them from your vessel for good.

Replace Infested Wood

It might be a little expensive, but this has to be one of the best ways to get rid of termites on a boat. If the infestation is localized to just an area or two, then it might not even cost you a fortune.

But more than just replacing the wood, see to it that you treat the wood to prevent termites from taking residence. Borate can be a simple yet effective method for repelling termites in the future.

Check out Bora Care Natural Borate Termite Control.

Use Termite Bait for Boats

A termite bait station contains chemicals that are attractive to termites, but contain poison that can kill an entire colony. They work by luring in a termite which then eats up a certain amount of the bait.

When they return to the colony, they carry this food into the tunnels which is then shared to other termites in the nest. It doesn’t kill them on the spot, which gives the termites time to pass the poison from one mite to the other. If they tale enough to the colony, you should be able to wipe out the whole nest.

We recommend the Advance Termite Bait Stations.

Try Termiticide

In case you’re dealing with an infestation that’s more advanced, you can try termiticide. This stuff full on kills existing termites to completely wipe them out in one go. You use it by pumping it into the ‘kick out holes’ which termites use to keep their tunnels clean of excrement.

Keep pumping the stuff until you see it pushing out of other entry and exit holes that are part of the maze. Leave the stuff in to take full effect and kill off any other termites that might be in deeper parts of the nest.

We like using the Bayer Premise Foam Termiticide.

Increase the Temperature

Termites can only handle certain temperatures. Excessive heat can kill them and destroy their nests. If you’ve got a heater in your garage, then you can crank up the temperature to around 120°F to get the termites to scram. But then again, this method can be one of the least effective since some termites have adapted to hotter climates.

Safety Tips for Getting Rid of Termites

  • Wear proper safety gear to prevent inhalation when using termiticide. See to it that children and pets don’t have access to your boat when the termiticide is applied.
  • Do not leave your boat unattended if you’re using hot air blowers to increase temperature as this can cause a fire.
  • Keep your boat in a well ventilated space if you’re using any sort of chemical to get rid of termites.

If all else fails, call in the professionals. Termite fumigation can get rid of termites for good, but will require the expertise and experience of professionals. They’ll likely seal off your boat for the time being, and they should offer a warranty on their service.

Termites, Be Gone!

Knowing how to get rid of termites on a boat should keep you ready for anything that might come your way. And while they might be a major pain, there are lots of things you can try to kick them overboard. Try these methods to say goodbye to that termite problem and make sure you protect your boat with the right treatment and storage practices to prevent them from coming back.