Rat aboard!

This morning, as my husband lay in his bunk in Barbados, nestled within the hull of a 65 Farr, he spied a rat. The rat was hiding beneath the pillow of the bunk above him.

A chase ensued.

Excluding its tail, the rat’s body was about 8 inches long. Or, for greater visual reckoning, its body was about as long as the width of two adult hands placed side by side.

The rat was promptly dealt with by the Skipper of the SV Spirit of Juno with a screwdriver and the quick, assertive action of a foot. My husband didn’t provide me with a picture of his rat. And, I will spare you a stock photo.

Prior to this morning’s episode, I had thought that ship rats were the stuff of folklore and fairy tales like Dick Whittington. So, it was alarming to discover that black rats are all over the world, and seem to like coastal areas, which is where we’ll be sailing.

Here is a map that depicts the global distribution of black rats:

Global distribution of black rats
Global distribution of black rats

(Wikipedia Commons: File:Black rat distribution.png)

I don’t like the idea of sailing with a stowaway, and neither do customs agents, apparently. Rats can chew through lines, food stocks and garbage. And, they have been attributed to carrying the bubonic plague. (“Black Death in England”, Wikipedia) To make matters worse, some rats can swim 1/2 mile in open sea and tread water for 3 days. (US Fisheries and Wildlife, The Facts about Rats.)

So, what is a sailor to do?

Carolyn Shearlock of The Boat Galley provides three options: get a cat, use a trap or poison the rats.  We’re allergic to cats. And, poison is not attractive because we have kids. Also, the rat could die somewhere and start to decay and smell. So, traps combined with keeping a clean boat looks like our best option.

Tom Neale provides some great pictures of how to set traps in his article, “Rats! Just what you don’t need aboard“. In terms of prevention, he says that shaking your barbecue grill before using it helps, based on an unfortunate first-hand experience.

Neale has seen rats around marinas of all sorts, and he says that

you don’t need to entice them by doing stupid things, such as leaving dirty grills on the dock. They’re going to get into your life, anyway.

Unfortunately, it seems rats are a fact of sailing life. The upside is that we’ll be more prepared for an unwanted visitor.

Thanks: to Lesley Shepherd’s article Ways to Measure Without Needing a Ruler for providing a visual representation of 8 inches.


  1. Hi,
    hopefully the following link/pic will work… This is something which should be available also in lighter materials, and is very effective when wanting to keep rats from coming onbard via land lines. In addition to rats you might want to have a look at how to avoid getting cockroaches on board… still, sailing is briliant! 😉

    Take care,


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