When living on a sailboat or enjoying long sailing vacations, mosquitos become an everyday problem. There are ways and means, however, for mosquito control on a sailboat. Below lists 10 tips for sailors.
Note: The video, highlighting everything in this article for the 10 tips for mosquito control on a sailboat is at the bottom of this post.
1. Make sure every window, hatch, porthole and companionway has a screen.
Some sailboats are fully kitted out and come complete with screens. Many screens are permanently fixed and others are removable. Some boats have some screens for some windows and not for others. When moving aboard a sailboat the first priority (aside from making sure the boat is seaworthy) is to fit screens to any opening missing them.
The great news about this task is that it’s very inexpensive to make screens, the materials are easy to find and the end result is monumental. For three years we lived with the constant threat of mosquitos in our boat.
We woke to buzzing in our ears and welts on our body.
After making a concerted effort to use screens on the port windows and hatches, make screens for the deck saloon windows and create a solution for our companionway our nighttime visits and welts decreased by 99%. Rarely do we find a mosquito on our boat anymore.
Why we didn’t make an effort to fit screens to every opening from the beginning is beyond me. The results have been nothing short of miraculous.
I suppose I just assumed that if there wasn’t screens on the window they must not be needed?!
If your boat doesn’t have screens for the port windows, please read my article/watch my video on How To Make Port Window Screens. The article/video will demonstrate how to make port window screens for less than $2.50 each and I include links to all the supplies used.
If you need to make screens for hatches or large windows, I used some inexpensive long lasting machine washable screening found on Amazon. Additionally, I hemmed my screens with indoor/outdoor material affixing Velcro with a sewing machine.
Massive Tip: Sticky Velcro will stick fine to the window/headboard/hatch encasement however sticky Velcro will not stick well to material. Furthermore, you can’t machine sew sticky Velcro to material – it just doesn’t work (the needle gets gooey and after about four stitches the sewing machine freaks out). You’ll want to buy the Velcro tape (industrial strength) and then get a roll of one side of Velcro (male or female).
Sticky Velcro: VELCRO Brand – Industrial Strength Low Profile – 10′ x 1″ Tape – White
Velcro for sewing: 1″ White Velcro Tape Loop Only 25 Yard Roll
Screening I used: Saint-Gobain ADFORS CHARCOAL FIBERGLASS SCREEN 48″ X 84″
And for the Indoor/Outdoor material, I ordered it from Fabric.com – just do a search on Indoor/Outdoor material in the color you prefer.
For the companionway I used the same system of screen and indoor/outdoor material however, I inserted rods or bars into the edges of the left and right side of the screen so it hung over the open hatch area and stayed in place. Due to the sliding hatch door, the use of Velcro wouldn’t work nor would it look very attractive. For the bars, my husband, Simon, got them at a DIY store called Focus. The store cut them to the length we wanted. I just took the bars and sewed them into the material.
2. Have netting on board in case of emergencies
On a few occasions we’ve needed to use severe mosquito control techniques. Once, while in Turks and Caicos, islands above the Caribbean Sea, we had an epidemic. All our screens were on, however it started to rain.
The rain was failing in huge drops so we had to act fast. During the process of opening the screen to get access to the hatch windows, flocks (or shall I say ‘herds’) of mosquitos came rushing into the boat. We had hundreds.
Simon tried to kill them all but it was a never-ending battle. In the end, we put up netting over our bed and the three of us (our daughter included) managed to get a good night’s sleep.
The net we use on our bed is a Coghlan’s Mosquito Net. You can get this kind of netting in a variety of sizes. It’s good because you can tie it from four corners. There’s also bed netting that is held up by one point in the center of the bed. Whatever works best for your sailboat, you’ll have to decided?
On our netting we have carabineers, or latches, that hook to our lee cloth fittings, closet door and a handle (watch us put it up in our Mosquito Control Video – it’s below). When we need to get the netting up we can do so very fast.
In our daughter’s room, she’s in bunk beds so it’s easy to tuck netting into the top bunk and hang it over the bottom one.
3. Make mosquitos a consideration on where you anchor or berth
There are places known for mosquitos. There are areas where mosquitos are more prevalent – marshes, near the woods, and rain forest, etc. Read sailing blogger reviews of anchorages and marinas. Look up information on forums and pilot books.
If an area is bad for mosquitos decide on another area or consider anchoring further from shore.
4. To kill mosquitos use the electrified racket
By far, the Zap IT Racket works the best. We’ve had all sorts of contraptions that are supposed to attract mosquitos and kill them. No matter what, the best thing that works is to have the racket nearby and zap them yourself when you see them.
And of course there’s the added luxury of closure when you hear the mosquito pass on.
As a side note, I was told by several people about making a mosquito trap with a large soda bottle, water, brown sugar and honey. I haven’t tried this approach as our screens are now doing an excellent job, but it might be worth a try.
Check out the video ‘how to make a home made mosquito trap’ here!
5. Use Deet but use it sparingly and not as an every day solution
Over the past several years Deet has been found to be safer than it was once deemed. One of the most common bug sprays with Deet in it is Off!.
A while back studies found that Deet caused neurological problems but those findings have been found to be false.
I’m not a fan of Deet or any chemical that you apply to your skin. Whatever goes on your largest organ, your skin, gets absorbed into your blood stream and is pumped around your body.
However, when you’re in an area where there’s West Nile Disease or Zika Virus I think Deet is a necessary evil.
There are alternatives to Deet that are natural and work well. This leads me to tip number six.
6. Natural Oil Based Solutions – Skin So Soft and Essential Oil Mixtures
Since I was a child my family has used Avon’s Skin-So-Soft around our campfires. As soon as the bugs came out, so did the sweet smell of Skin-So-Soft. I’m not sure how a perfumed bath oil became so known for it’s anti-mosquito properties but most families opted for the oil over Deet based applications.
We often use Skin-So-Soft when we’re getting off the boat for a while. Due to it’s oily nature it can cause stains on the cushions, leave marks on the teak deck and make the fiberglass slippery. I put our Skin-So-Soft in a spray bottle and apply it once we’re off the boat.
Better than Skin-So-Soft are essential oil mixtures. Using a combination of water, Vodka/Witch Hazel and some drops of essential oils you can create less oily sprays that work just as well as the Skin-So-Soft.
Furthermore, essential oils can be found almost anywhere in the world now days!
Sienna and I made a mosquito repellant using a 3-Pack Variety of NOW Essential Oils: Mosquito Repellent Blend – Citronella, Lemongrass, Grapefruit found on Amazon.com
The recipe for the mosquito control remedy is as follows:
– 4 Tablespoons of distilled or boiled water
– 1 Tablespoon of Witch Hazel or Vodka
– 15 Drops of Citronella
– 23 Drops of Lemongrass
– 10 Drops of Grapefruit
Put all that in a spray bottle, shake before use and then apply. Note, however, that citrus-based essential oils can cause skin to burn in the sun so read up about essential oils before using them.
Sienna, Simon and I prefer this mixture as it’s not greasy at all. I do still, however, suggest you apply it off the boat or in an area where drops won’t cause the area to get stained or slippery.
And here’s another natural mosquito repellant recipe
– 20 Drops of Lemongrass
– 20 Drops of Citronella
– 5 Drops of Tea Trea
– 10 Drops of Rosemary
– 1 ½ ounces or 3 Tablespoons of a carrier oil
This essential oil repellant is also good to put on bites for soothing relief.
7. Wear long sleeve shirts, pants and/or cover up with a sarong/beach wrap
If the mosquitos can’t get to your skin they can’t bite you. The more you cover your body, the less chance you’ll get nibbled on.
Furthermore, covering up helps to protect from the sun. I have a variety of very light cotton long sleeve shirts and cotton/linen pants that are light enough to wear during the summer.
More than clothes, however, we use sarongs or beach wraps. Considering that I sell the sarongs in my Etsy shop I have one of each aboard the boat. When our daughter, Sienna, isn’t using them to make forts, we all use them to cover us up in the cockpit to protect us from the sun and/or the bugs. Many sarongs are so light and airy that they’re a delight to have wrapped around you. And yes, even Simon will use a sarong for protection!
Real men use sarongs – hehehehee.
8. Eat garlic and onions and keep the beer away!
Mosquitos are attracted to your blood type, the smell of your sweat and carbon dioxide. Anyone that’s exercising outside that’s a blood type O should be vary cautious! Sweat, lots of breath and the blood that mosquitos like best is a recipe for disaster.
So…you now have my permission to be a couch potato! You’ll get bitten far less than those that are breaking out in a sweat. Or so the experts say.
On a serious note, I think it’s necessary to eat raw garlic and raw onions (rather than cooked) to smell bad enough for mosquitos to run the other way.
We managed to get these two stinky foods into our system with one of two ways.
1. We eat lots of Bruschetta. It’s very simple and exceptionally yummy. Tomatoes, garlic, herbs and salt. Get our recipe and watch us make it here: The Admirals Bruschetta
2. Brie or Camembert Cheese with Garlic. Just buy a round brie at the store. Usually it comes in a wooden crate. Slice raw garlic very thin and poke it into the cheese. Heat the cheese up for a few minutes in the oven – it makes the cheese oozy but the garlic stays raw. Then dip with bread. YUM. (And yes, it’s fine to eat the rind).
Regarding the beer side of things…research suggests that mosquitos like beer. If you drink beer you’re effectively increasing your tastiness!
9. Mosquitos can see you!
I always thought that mosquitos had some sort of infrared radar that could find us humans behind closed doors. They can see us breath and are attracted to carbon dioxide but they also are attracted to dark colors. In the video that Simon and I made about mosquito control tactics we suggest wearing camouflage! Hahahaha.
10. Test out a variety of things to determine what works best for you.
There are plug-in devices, contraptions that run on butane and then there’s things like burning coffee grounds/banana leaves, having a citronella candle or plant on board through to electric zappers, mosquito tape and wrist bands.
For us, we’re always looking for something we can do or use every day that doesn’t use energy (electricity or gas) and won’t be a fire threat. Furthermore, my thumb isn’t very green – plants don’t seem to last on board no matter how much love and attention I give them!
By far, our best line of mosquito control techniques is to have screens on every opening on the boat. Failing that, we spray ourselves with something stinky, eat something stinky and use our electrified mosquito racquet!
What tips do you have? Please leave them in the comments below.
Mosquito Control for Sailors – 10 Top Tips Video
Other mosquito control on a sailboat tips sent in by readers:
Fred’s wife used the following spray. She’s usually a mosquito magnet, but didn’t get bit once: Dr Mercola’s Bug Spray, an effective and non-Toxic spray
Alain de Masson recommends a commercial version of the military grade insect repellent he used in the past, located at bushman-repellent.com
David Solowan from Belize recommends a soap that doesn’t have Lye in it called Zote. And then to use ‘Season All’ on meat and salads. No matter what, don’t use perfumed soaps.
Joe uses something called a Bug Baffler
Travor Batts wrote in, ‘Regarding your mosquito challenge, we live in the south also and mosquitos are always a challenge. We have found a few remedies that help, such as dabbing our clothing or skin with peppermint oil. We also have planted several small potted plants from the mint family and lemon grass that help keep a barrier zone around our common public spaces. I know plants on a boat are difficult, but the plants are small and there are a number of creative solutions for keeping plants on boats.’
Paul Terrell wrote, You should try the Skin-So-Soft Bug Guard. It works really well.
Alex Gray sent in this: Regarding mosquitos, get a Mosquito Magnet: These devices are very effective, they use propane (one 20 gal tank lasts for 30 days) to create heat and CO2 which emulates animals and very little electricity to run a small fan. The nice thing about them is that after 2 weeks, which is the mosquito life cycle, the female mosquito population is eliminated and no new mosquitos will be around.
Kerrie Penny wrote, “Hey Kim, we have and are living in tropics for many years! Indonesia, Thailand, Papua New Guinea, Darwin and now in India! The best I have found to keep the mosquitoes off you is oil. Coconut, baby oil, any oil, as they slide off you! I know it is not ideal on bedsheets but beats the mosquito and also sand flies. Another is eucalyptus oil! They hate it.”
Bruce Handley sent in, “Hi, Kim try using a mixture of Detol and Listerine mouthwash mixed together in a spray bottle. Spray on feet etc. it works a treat and isn’t harmful to humans. It works a well here in Africa.”
Rob recommends Thermosell Portable Mosquito Repellers (operates with a butane cartridge)
Nathalie Larouche wrote, ‘As for the mosquitoes, you might have heard about vitamin B? Here’s a link for more information
Nancy Sharpe sent me another essential oil recipe:
Bug spray recipe….Water, witch hazel, peppermint (essential oil) and arborvertia (essential oil). Equal amounts of water and witch hazel. I would suggest 8 to 16 ounces. Use a glass/metal spray bottle. Add 20-30 drops of arborvertia and 10 drops of peppermint. You spray it on yourself, but I think you can also spray it around you.
David Roberts wrote, “Hi Kim, Try taking a 1000mg capsule of Garlic a day, its good for your heart as well.”
Andy wrote, “Having been in the field and camping in swamps with the military we found something that worked great for keeping mosquitoes off us. That was garlic. We would consume a LARGE amount on garlic and it worked. One of our fellows brought whole cloves soaked in olive oil and handed them out to us. We (about 15 of us in the tent) each ate a raw garlic clove. The mosquitos wanted nothing to do with us for about 3 days. (Neither did anyone else). We went unbothered while everyone else in the camp was eaten alive. Might be worth a try?”