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Killing Termites – Before They Eat Your Boat

As the weather warms, the pests are getting more active.

Carolisa Pomerantz had owned her sailboat for years. It was more than a fun time on the water, it was her weekend home when she was done with her work at Sony Pictures.

“One day I opened the hatch and saw what looked like sawdust, which I cleaned. When I came back the next week there was more. As soon as I found the wings, they only confirmed what I already knew. I was no longer alone. I had termites. My boat had been invaded,” Pomerantz told me.

“I tried to fight them with aerosol bombs. That didn’t work. Then I used a spray. When they kept multiplying I knew it was the beginning of the end,” Pomerantz said. She sold her boat, disclosing to the new owner that there was an infestation.

Termites thrive in warm weather, so watch for them this time of year. The pests are sometimes called white ants. They live in large colonies, feeding on dead plant material like wood. There are two basic kinds of termites, subterranean and drywood termites. Subterranean termites live in mud below the earth. Drywood termites propagate through swarming so they can actually spread to boats in Marina del Rey.

Older boats are at greater risk because they have more wood. Even if you have a fiberglass vessel, they can attack the trim and hatch covers, slipping in to devour a teak interior.

If a boat in a nearby slip has an infestation, you could open your hatch one day to find termites. Although the bugs need wings to reach your boat, they discard them to burrow into your boat’s wood, so dropped wings are one of the first signs you’ll find. The good news is that in contrast to subterranean termites, dry wood colonies are usually smaller, so they don't damage as quickly.

After termites eat your wood they expel fecal material called frass that resembles sawdust. If you look closely above the piles of frass, you'll see very small holes where the termites pump their feces out of their nests. Sometimes, the holes will plug up, so if you see a discolored spot of wood above the pile, poke at it. It will give way. At most home supply stores you'll find aerosol cans of termite poison attached to a tube and suction cup surrounding a needle. Insert the needle into the hole and press the applicator for a few seconds.

Don't be surprised if the pressure in the can forces the poison out of another hole a few inches along the wood. Closely examine every exposed wood surface looking for similar holes above the tell tale frass piles. Repeat the treatment. If you are lucky, this is all it will take to kill the pests.

I wasn’t as lucky with the termite infestation on my own boat. Despite numerous applications of termite poison and aerosol bombs the bugs kept multiplying, thriving in the hottest weather.

It got so bad that when I spent the night on the boat, I almost thought I heard them chomping away, doing their best to chew my sloop to dust. But then I would have the last word: termites can’t swim!

In desperation I turned to Iso Tech Pest Management Services, owned by Mike Masterson. At first he did a thorough inspection revealing that the infestation was deeper and had existed for longer than I had been aware. He told me that the colony had reached so big a size that the only way to kill it was to tent the boat and flood it with pesticide. I agreed.

Within a day, a crew swarmed over my boat clipping canvas on and around shrouds and stays insuring an airtight seal. The bottom of the tarp was weighed by sandbags holding it into the water.

The exterminators then flooded my boat with Vikane gas. It sat for a day, then the tenting came off.  As the last roll was removed, Masterson wished me well. He had seen how fond I was of my boat. He shook my hand. “We’ll now leave you alone, Paul, to be with your girl,” he said.

I let the gas ventilate, then the next day took to sea. The termites never returned.

Robert Wray March 28, 2012 at 02:45 PM
I've got formosan termites in my 40 foot ketch. Any idea what vicane fumigation would cost if I do all the sealing up myself? I'm in Charleston SC and they don't have a great choice of experienced boat fumigators...most of the pest control guys want to spray. Thanks. Please reply to bobrosie@bellsouth.net. Bob Wray

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