On the Job

How to Deal with Bugs on Board

5 May 2021 By Kylie O'Brien
How to deal with bugs on board a boat: weevils, cockroaches, fruit flies

Kylie O’Brien has worked on some of the world’s most magnificent vessels with amazing people for more than 13 years. A graduate of The Australian College of Applied Psychology, she is the author of Crew Wanted, The Stewardess Bible, The Chief Stewardess Bible, The Inside Job, and has been a monthly contributor to Dockwalk magazine for more than five years.

So you've got creepy-crawlies on board your yacht... now what? If you can’t access a professional bug removal team, here are some effective tips to deal with them...

Picture this typical scenario: Due to circumstances beyond the captain’s control, the yacht was late crossing the Atlantic from Palma de Mallorca to Antigua. The crew work around the clock to make sure that things go to plan on arrival.

The time on the dock is precious, a full yacht washdown is underway, de-stowing the interior, refueling, provisioning, and the captain’s mad dash to the customs and immigration office all need to happen before the charter guests arrive within 24 hours. The crew are already exhausted from a rough and bouncy passage. Nevertheless, they give it their all to make this first charter of the season a success.

Being the super savvy chief stewardess that you are, you send ahead your thoroughly well-planned-out provisioning list, along with the chef's requirements in a detailed email to the yacht agent who keenly meets you on the dock. Leaving nothing to chance, your detailed lists include brands, quantities, colors, dimensions, and types of flowers with your preferred delivery packaging.

Nothing could go wrong, right?

Once again, due to circumstances outside the yacht agent’s control, the yacht’s provisions are delivered in thick, waxy cardboard boxes, with some unwanted visitors in the flowers.

With no time to waste (and with the internal rant going on inside your head) and a friendly smile, you thank the agent and the provisions come aboard “as is.” You and your team will just have to deal with it as the charter goes on.

Before too long, you find that the yacht has been inundated with little creepy, crawly, and flying creatures. In lieu of freaking out and wanting to Napalm the yacht’s whole interior, you need to come up with an effective insect removal plan so that the guests don’t have to deal with the horrors of finding a cockroach in their cabin.

Insects are commonly found on yachts. If you can’t access a professional bug removal team, try these effective tips to deal with them.


I do apologize to any cockroach lovers out there, but there is something extremely primal in my dislike for these creatures. Possibly because this insect is completely offensive, nearly impossible to kill with household bug spray, and just when you think you got it, two more take its place.

Cockroaches are crafty creatures and have likely hitched a ride on board via cardboard boxes. However, if you are a particularly fastidious stewardess who has time to scrutinize every single package that comes on board, you may capture the culprits hiding out in corners or underneath banana bunches, but you are only human and may miss its tiny cockroach eggs.

To tackle this problem, lay down cockroach hotels to trap them or purchase the square sticky paper so that when they walk over it, they get stuck. You’ll also want to starve them as much as possible. Do this by keeping the yacht even cleaner than usual: dry the sinks out after every use and put the plugs in. This includes all crew areas, pantries, and the galley when not in use. I know that the latter never happens while on charter, but you get the idea. Further, place all food in plastic, sealable containers, including the fruit in the crew mess.

Now, if you still have a cockroach problem, you will have to resort to chemicals, which requires planning because you cannot just let off chemical bombs in the crew mess willy-nilly.

When you have a couple of days off, prepare the yacht as much as possible, i.e., wrap utensils, plates, and condiments. Put all food items in plastic containers and store them in a temporary location away from the bombing area and open all cupboard doors and draws. Then bring in the professionals or deploy the cockroach bombs as instructed.


Weevils are the next pestering critters that are commonly found on board, but they are to a lesser extent easier to deal with because they tend to hang out in food stocks, such as rice, pasta, and flour.

Once again, there are no real preventative measures (in the sense of stopping them coming on board), and most chefs that I know are masters at getting rid of them.

It can be just a matter of ditching all the infected produce and disinfecting the plastic containers, cleaning out the lockers and storage room, and starting again. The only nuisance here is timing and geographical restraints of replacing the produce and storage containers if needed.

Fruit Flies

These tiny, flying, annoying critters love to hang out on bananas and other fruits. These guys are probably the easiest to manage. Either throw the infested fruit away and re-provision, or trap them by simply putting out a few flat dishes of apple cider vinegar mixed with a drop of dish soap around the infected fruit and wait until the morning. Repeat this as necessary but know that the problem will be resolved within days.

Any bugs you find on board will be an annoyance that you’ll have to deal with at some point in your career. The best advice I can offer is to be prepared as much as possible. Buy the domestic bug sprays, cockroach hotels, sticky paper, and chemical bug bombs. For most of the time, they can be stored at the back of your allocated storage space, but rest assured that you have the tools to deal with a bug infestation should the occasion arise.

This column is taken from the February 2021 issue of Dockwalk.


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