Boat bugs! Understand the difference and how to save your boat from infestation

Ahoy and welcome to my blog about bug infestations on a boat.

A cringe worthy reality of living in a high humidity lifestyle alongside other travelers. Unfortunately for us, we learned all about bug extermination and we want to share our knowledge with you so you arent wasting your precious time on google researching bugs and everything that comes with your newest crew mates.

BED BUGS– A travelers worst nightmare- Now amplify that and add it to all of the cracks and nooks that are in a boat


We caught Bed bugs in a marina whos laundry room only had 2 working dryers and two who werent drying at all. I had told the front desk that 2 were not working and she told me that they are working on it . She said to try drying smaller loads and didnt offer a refund to help with the $6 wasted. We decided to let our cloths dry on the safety lines and our crew mate who was sleeping in the pilots birth said his cloths were dry enough and kept them in his laundry bag. It wasnt till our crewmate headed home a few weeks later and john felt sick that we found the bed bugs. He was quarinteening incase it was covid, in the pilots birth. He complained about being itchy and he thought no seeums were getting through our bug nets and getting to him..  after he was feeling better I changed the bed sheets and picked up the mattress to remove the bedding. It was in this moment I spotted some black spots in the zipper. I poked it and several bed bugs scattered.  I thought they were bed bugs but  it had been so long since I have seen one , I had to pull out the google and research. For those who dont know what bed bugs looks like.. This is what they look like.



In the mornings after they have fed on you all night they are plump and you can see how much blood they have in their body. GROSS! The genders can be identified by shape, The male has a more pointed body form and the females are round. They are super fast at night and will leave trails of bites all over your body. This is what the bite pattern looks like.

We came to the conclusion that we dried our clothes a second time and the other dryer which is what my crew mates was using did not dry his clothes but he has nylon and easy to dry clothes so he wasnt too worried about it and brought them home. Bed bugs can be killed in high temperatures so when you are researching how to kill them, every article will tell you to wash everything and double dry. The eggs will be killed in the dryer. If the dryer doesnt work you then just have dizzy bed bugs awaiting to borrow and hide in some clothing. Because John didnt really leave the bed for 1.5 weeks we were able to control the infestation because they had a secure place to sleep, hide, and endless blood supply ( sorry John ) As he started to feel better and roamed around they then began to spread. I found a couple in my son’s stuffed animals and a couple in our room after we descovered what was happening and had to live with them until we had a shipping address to send stuff too. It was only an extra couple weeks but every day I combed through everything in attempt to slow down the infestation and kill as many as I could every day. For some reason they were attracted to my instrument cases, and anything with a zipper. 

Habbits of a bed bug and their reproduction cycles

So .. Bedbugs are the worst of the boat bugs. Unfortunately they are common with traveling lifestyles  but they arent too quick to invade. Bed bugs only lay 1 egg a day, and each egg takes about 10 days to hatch. They like to hide in the smallest and darkest of places. This includes zippers, mattress sheets, bags, cloths, honestly where ever and everywhere. The key to hunting them down manually ( without powders and bombs ) you have to be up early in the morning , or stay up late at night and catch them running around seeking for food and then in the morning check everything again! I’m going to share with you what I did to kill them and make sure all the survivors didnt survive for long… Bare with me this is my process..’

I'm a sexy Exterminator now.

So, I decided to tackle the project on how to properly exterminate these little buggers while John researched how he’s going to handle a big boat project. I went online and bought bed bug killer. I chose the Harris brand– because it wasn’t too toxic, It was safe to live around, and it was safe to have it around food and sleeping arrangements. Unlike the flea bombs who penetrates food wrappers, and keeps you out of the house for 4-7 hours. We decided to do both and full cleanse the boat from any hitchikers we may have picked up in our travels  like palmeto bugs or spiders. So first I bought a package ofnbasic bug bombs. The first night I set that off and we slept at our friends house. Bless their souls for taking in the risk of having us stay there while we worked out this nasty reality. Click the photo to be redirected to Amazon to see what other products they have. 

First I bagged up all of our clothes. I investigated every inch of the clothes and kept them in a sealed bag for a week in the trunk of my friends car in the summer hear after I had washed everything. I then went into every cabinet, nook and cranny to investigate how bad they were. Honestly, we caught it early and the worst of it was in the pilots birth.Some had made their way into our room and 2-3 found their way into my sons room but they were not in the cabin space, floor boards or galley. The hardest part of it all was my room. Mainly because my room used to be two beds, a full and twin but we put a board over the separation and converted it into a queen bed space for us. Unfortunately all of the space under our bed was storage and more storage, and cheap wood with cracks, I had my sewing fabric down there and the bugs had found their way into the darkest of corners. So, What I did was put everything into garbage bags after investigating every single item. Everything stayed in garbage bags for 3-4 weeks after the extermination was complete and carefully investigated again before I opened the garbage bags later down the road. Once everything was bagged I put all the bags in one room and stripped out our bedroom to its bare wood. I brushed in the bed bug killer into every crack, every corner, I placed a line of it against every wall. I covered every Inch of the room with this stuff and let it sit over night. The next day I vacuumed it up and did it again. As precaution I laid down the powder in every room just to make sure survivors weren’t hiding in with the tools or under our couch cushions. I did this procedure followed by a bug bomb for three nights. I wish I had taken more photos but I wasn’t sure I was ever going to share this information with anyone so I didn’t document it…Now, here I am writing it for the world to consume. Oh how life changes… 

After three days of full day extermination I was convinced I had done a good job and I could focus my energy on the deep clean up and then to the major boat repairs we were doing at the same time >.<


After care >.<

So I must admit, I was a bit obsessive about making sure this didnt evolve into something crazy. I spent 2 weeks after my proper extermination doing bed checks every morning, and checking out my sons stuffed animals, shoes and our clothes before we went anywhere, checking for bites , and so on.. I found 2 alive bugs after my extermination but you could tell they werent doing to well, one came running across the bed in the middle of the day like a week later.. The sight of it almost brought me to a hysteric mental break down because this was the first bug I had seen since the extermination period but John helped come back down to earth and honestly it was the last bug I saw in the boat.It was out of charactor for it to be active during the day. I did find one more in my sewing fabric which was in one of the garbage bags. I washed and dried the contents in the bag once more and that was the end of it. A month later I could comfortable say I did a good job, They were done, and my friends who housed us for a whole month was bed bug free and happy to send us on our way lol. 

 When doing this extermination I had found little clear bugs that I was convinced were baby bed bugs. Turns out we picked up other hitch hikers and I found out what they were after our extermination when I found them inside of a carboard box. Which leads to our next boat bug..

Book lice!

Yea… These little buggers are pretty harmless, minus the heart explosion I received thinking they were baby bed bugs while doing my checks. I found these little guys in our shoes, in food that was contained in cardboard, in all off our books. I realized I had brought these little guys aboard when I adopted a book from a marina library. I remember picking up the book and looking inside and seeing a little bug run around. I didnt think much of it and put it back on the shelf but later on took in another book without looking inside. It was a book about fish and thought it would be a good asset to our book collection. A few weeks later I opened it and found a whole community of book lice living inside! I’m pretty sure this book was the reason they had found home withint out boat.  I then found them all over ! but luckily they dont bite, they die easy ( slightest pressure pops them so putting pressure on the books does wonders) and they aren’t bed bugs phew! They are tiny and love to be in moist environments. I ended up putting the bed bug powder all over the books and that took care of it. After two years of full time cruising I now understand that these little guys are pretty common and take a long time to become invasive. They die pretty easily too so if you clean your boat regularily  you wont get over run by them. I think its more or a mental warp knowing you have bugs then an actual problem. They just trying to live their best humid life and we got the perfect environment for them. If you have noticed these little guys and are trying to clear your boat from them here is some tips and tricks to avoid book lice growth

  • Eliminate cardboard!- They love it and eat off of it 
  • Cover your books with a plastic cover 
  • Always look at several books in a public marina library before taking a book home. Make sure that the books are bug free by scanning through the pages. 
  • Dehumidifyer in the boat helps, it dries them out. 
  • Wipe down the walls and clean cubbies regularily. I go on a full boat cleanse once a month 🙂
  • Lay roach killer around the walls of what ever cubby you store books in.
  • Dont allow your cloths and towels to be thrown in the corner of your bedroom for too long. Take the time to put them away and keep cludder organized.
  • Put cubbies that have a lot of paper in them– in water proof bags. You can buy them from amazon here

This is what book lice looks like– They are tiny!!

Cockroaches VS palmeto bugs!

These bugs sneak onto your boat at night when you are docked to a marina. Everytime we have an extended stay at a marina we end up bombing our boat at least once. We do this mainly because I hate turning on a light at night and watching them scurry but also because we dont want to carry them to a new port. 

It was when we were at the same marina that we aquired book lice >.< Had we witnessed the worst roach/palmeto bug infestation ever seen in my entire life. Once the sun set these bugs would take over the dock! and I’m not talking about 20-30 bugs as you make your walk to the bathrooms I’m talking like jesus dividing the water to lead his people to safety extremes! You would pull out the flashlight and they would be scurring to get under the docks by the hundreds!! I have never seen so many ever in my life! ( Hurricane Boat yard located in South Carolina ) A neighbor boat who had been there for months ( bless their soul I could not! ) gave us some tricks that has worked for them. 

The one major thing that truly worked and is a regular practice for us when we stay at a marina is to put borox around the cleats and left over line. This prevents them from walking up your lines and into the boat AND it also poisens them. So if they come over to investigate they are dead by the end of the night. Now, palmeto bugs are flying cockroaches on steroids. They are huge! and  they don’t necessarily eat your food supply like regular roaches does. They are just scary looking lol. If I see that we have a few visitors who flew past our traps I will lay roach killer around the galley during the night. That seems to do the trick or we bomb at the end of our stay.

Another way to prevent these buggers from coming in is to make bug covers for all the hatches and companion way. I made our companionway bug net with a zipper down the middle so I can unzip and roll off to the side instead of peeling it from the velcro every time we want to enter or leave the boat. 

This is the difference between palmeto bug and a cockroach 

These are the different kinds of roaches
And this is a palmetto bug

Weavils, pantry moths, and ants

We were given a bag of food that was infested with weavils and Pantry Moths. We had no idea and didnt know how to identify it but now we do! Truthfully, They destroy your dry storage and the containers they are in if not put into an air tight container.. Unfortunately the shelf I put this gifted bag of rice and lentils was a cabinet that I did not remove the store packaging and everything was ruined. They chewed holes into everything and then the little eye holes that open up the cabinets were an easy get away for the moths that formed later >.< By the time I realized what had happened everything was chewed through and ruined ( This was our Bahamas storage) >.< But ! Its ok because after a few days of smashing moths and a clean out  that cabinet, our bug problem was solved yet again. As I was doing research into what they were I came across a blog post from a sailor who wrote about how at first they were upset about finding worms in their dry storage and then they ultimately joined the circle of life and just ate them without much thought into it. This made me giggle. Honestly bugs dont make me squirmish and I could see myself looking into a bag of rice and thinking hm.. how would they even know? ( Insert famous tiktok audio )  and cook them into dinner. But in this time of our travels we were all a bit sensitive about bugs and I wasnt interested in traumatizing my family with the idea of eating them casually 🙂 If someone is gifting your food , just check what they are giving you, does it have tiny holed in the bag? Shake it around, do you see anything moving? And look at the bottom. The eggs tend to be in the bottom and they look like little round off white circles in bundles. You can buy a pantry moth  trap on amazon! Click here to be redirected to amazon and buy your pantry moth trap


As far as ants and fruit flies are concerned. Make sure you are putting away food! Dont let it sit out on the counter! Make sure you toss out rotten foods, and wipe down the counters regularily. Ants can be killed with some laundry detergent or borax! Just line your kitchen with it for a couple days and they should be gone fast. 

No se'ems and mosquitos

One big issue with a boat life camping is that if you are anchored near land then you better be prepared if you are in a hot zone for these two kinds of bugs! They tend to hit hard around sunset or sunrise! 

Here are some fun facts about mosquitos :

  • They can smell your blood and sense carbon dioxide being released as you exhale up to 30 feet away! They have to be closer to see that your warm blooded but once you are bitten all the other mosquitos will start to come and swarm because they literally smell your blood. YUCK!
  •  Only female mosquitos bite. They need blood to lay eggs.
  • Those who eat meat regularily and certain types of blood types attract mosquitos more heavily. 

There are plenty more very interesting facts about mosquitos but I dont want this post to be too long so Ill stick to those select fun facts. 

No seems are tiny little bugs that you don’t see until they are biting you. These little bugs come out to eat right as the sun sets and once they come out, THEY SWARM! If you follow sailing la vagabond they get boarded by an army of no see ums and their poor kids got demolished! 

In a pinch-if its hits you by suprise, and their is nothing you can do! Just hide under a sheet till the morning –get in the habbit of closing up the boat at sunset and wait to see if they are bad in your area. They tend to chill once the sun is fully set but if you are swarmed and they have food supply they arent leaving >.< And they fit through bug nets so.. yea.. No see ums SUCK  but if you know their feeding schedule you can protect yourself and crew mates from an ambush. Down below is a photo of noo see ums


THIS IS WHY THEY ARE CALLED NO SEE ‘UMS , you cant see ’em 🙂  As far as bug spray goes we try not to use Deet. Deet has been studyied and has some healthy problems that occurs when it soaks deep into the skin and causing a muscle disorder that results in seizures. It also just doesn’t work as well as lemon grass and neem oils do! If you are ballers on a budget try using essential oils like these ones listed below instead of bug spray. Just add a few drops to a spray bottle and add water 🙂  I personally love Need oil. 

I love the way it smells and if sprayd on canvas it holds the scent and keeps the bugs away.

Here is a list of oils that repel bugs and smells better than bug spray!

  • Lavender– Head lice,flies,snats,anes,bedbugs,moths,spiders,ticks,fruitflies
  • Peppermint– ants, aphids, bedbugs, cockroaches, fleas, fruit flies, gnats, head lice, moths, spiders, stink bugs, wasps
  • Tea tree– Bed bugs, dust mites, head lice
  • Sweet Orange– flies, lice, ants, ticks, gnats, roaches, silverfish, spiders, fire ants
  • Citronella– ticks, moths, gnats, fleas, mosquitos
  • Lemongrass– fruit flies,fleas,ticks,mosquitos
  • Cinnamon– spiders, bedbugs,wasps,earwigs,silverfish,ants
  • cedarwood– mosquitos , flies, silverfish, fleas, mites, ticks, lice
  • Spearmint– headlice, spiders,moths,gnats,flies,mosquitos,beetles, rodents, aphids, squash bugs


Well This wraps up my blog post about bugs on a boat! For those who are new to our channel, Hello new friend! We are a family of three who lives aboard a sailboat traveling and sharing our life as a liveaboards. We are affilliates with Amazon so if you click on any of the products listed above and go to amazon, we receive a small commission  for everything bought at no extra cost to you! Thanks for all the love and support! If you have any tricks about bugs on a boat please dont hesitate to leave a message below! Thanks and have a wonderful day!

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