It’s a tale as old as time— Tina and Chad were out on the yacht; one minute she was sunning herself on the bow cushions, next there were screeches and in the water she went—straight jumped ship. I’ve seen this firsthand, heck, I’ve even been Tina myself. They call this the comedy/horror genre and boy, it gets real right quick. They had something with Snakes on a Plane, but let me tell you--Spiders on a Boat could have been just as good, if not far more realistic. Back when John Goodman was still fat and everything seemed right with the world, in good old 1990 (the year Deckhand Detailing was founded), we were all gifted with Arachnophobia—one hour and fifty minutes of sheer terror (or comedy, depending on who you ask). Unfortunately for many, a 3-hour cruise is just like teleporting into the Jennings Barn or wine cellar, except there is no Jeff Daniels or John Goodman around to save you.
When it comes to spiders, some people are like “hey little buddy, thanks for eating mosquitos” while others feel like the mere sight of any spider instantly turns them into Frodo, encountering Shelob— the giant spider on the path to Mordor. This is why they call it comedy/horror I guess. I suppose this is also why no one ever seems to come running whenever I’m cleaning a spider infested boat and let out a murderous shriek every few minutes- (upon encountering another Shelob, except smaller and in real life). Although spider messes are good job security for boat detailers, we still don’t enjoy hanging out with them and while we can ‘wash them away’—we can almost hear them laughing as they scurry for cover and wait it out till we’re gone. In this regard, spiders are just like birds sometimes, and we must remind ourselves we’re in their territory.
Boat docks and marinas are prime habitat for bugs, birds and spiders, especially on fresh water and even more so around covered docks on fresh water. (Salt water tends to keep the bug issues to a minimum, but I will say the spiders who live on salt water are just plain meaner than those who live on fresh water.) A great discovery was learning what spider droppings look like, and if you know, you know. I had no idea what spider poo looked like before I started detailing boats; maybe I had assumed spiders were just like little Kim Jong-uns, with no exit parts. But, oh man, do spiders poo—tons! One thing that always cracks me up at marinas on fresh water (with covered slips), is seeing spider tarps/spider netting hung from the rafters! When I first saw some of these my mind just screamed “what could possibly keep a spider from crawling through, under, over, or around it?!”. Logically these make no sense and don’t work in my opinion, even a little bit. My advice, don’t waste your money on hanging a ‘spider net’ over your boat if it’s housed under cover. If there is an existing spider ‘problem’ then hanging up a big net or tarp over your boat isn’t going to solve it.
Now the vegan inside us all might say, “but spiders can’t be a ‘problem’, spiders just are, man”. So there are some ethical and even legal questions to contend with in the realm of spider mitigation. Spiders themselves are not a problem, but they are a problem for your boat, if it’s trying to stay clean. One must acknowledge that ‘staying clean’ while living outdoors is, at the very least challenging, and in many cases, nearly impossible. There are some detailers out there who may wonder things like, ‘can spiders swim’, and I am one of those detailers. (The answer is yes, and even somehow worse than yes, so just trust me, don’t google it.) There may be some detailers out there who squish to kill (can’t say for sure). We can only address spiders boat by boat, however— the larger infrastructure of their habitat needs to be considered. We cannot and will not spray insecticides in on or around any boats we work on. Our cruelty-free methods include manual eviction and sometimes using a product called SpiderAway (which, hot tip— is basically white vinegar with some mint essential oil in it if you’re looking to save some money and get a few gallons for the cost of one 22oz name brand bottle- mix until the smell reminds you of pickles). This will work well as a natural spider deterrent, and I have seen great successes using this product for small/regular spider ‘problems’. Spray around the dock edges/dock lines and on canvas regularly for best results (don’t spray directly on gelcoat, but it works great on porous surfaces). For big spider ‘problems’, one must use even bigger mitigation weapons.
While our manual eviction process may ‘get’ many of the spiders, you must know their aunties and cousins are living by the thousands under the dock and on that silly spider netting you might have hung over the boat and... they can swim. If there is a big problem, the big spider net isn’t going to save you. My recommendation for big spider problems is to get the property and marina maintenance staff involved. The primary means to tamp down the spiders in peak season (which is now) is to order up dock pressure washing (and this would need to include the ceilings/rooves of covered slips in order to be effective). This request may make some marina staff go a bit slack-jawed, but it really is the only way (short of using illegal insecticides). Pressure washing the entire dock infrastructure (and sending someone in a dinghy and/or man lift to get up under the dock pylons and the underside of the dock and the roof) is no easy task and it will create a huge mess all over the boats. Luckily for you, we’re happy to come out for a wash. Unlucky for you, this is one request I guarantee you will find immense resistance to from most marinas. Most marinas only do this once a year, if that (and typically don’t get under the dock or roof where spiders reign).
Once the spiders have been evicted, their droppings will need to be cleaned up. Spider poo leaves little black dots or streak stains that won’t wash out. After a wash, little gray or tan dots and stains may remain that need to be faded out by the sun. Sometimes (if caught early enough) these can be cleaner waxed but often times these will need some UV exposure to help fade. Occasionally we run into gel coat staining cause by bird droppings with similar stain power to spider droppings. Sometimes we detailers are left to ask “what did they eat” or “how long has this been here” as the answers to both these questions can have quite an impact on the results we’re able to achieve. It can be down right comedic, or horrifying dealing with arachnids on your vessel but we’re right there with you and willing to lend our deckhands to help mitigate the problem one shriek at a time. As long as you can keep a good supply of SpiderAway on hand and the manual evictions in place regularly, we should be able to keep our Frodos or Tinas from jumping ship.