Cockroaches will always find a way to get onto your boat. They are cunning, sly, and plan their invasions with military precision. If they do get on board, it’s a huge issue. So, how exactly do you get rid of cockroaches on a boat? Here’s the short answer, with a step by step process to follow.

The best way to get rid of cockroaches on a boat is to use a combination of live bait traps, boric acid, and roach sprays. Once done, you should clean up thoroughly and use pest control pouches to prevent cockroaches coming back onto your boat again.

How I managed to rid my boat of cockroaches

I had a cockroach infestation on my pontoon boat last summer. I believe they got on board after we went food shopping and brought some veg and fruit on. I reckon they were probably hiding out, ready to disembark onto my Sweetwater. I’m convinced they had our boat under surveillance for weeks!


The sight of an infestation on my pontoon boat will live in my memory forever!

You can read the steps below that I took to get rid of them, including using boric acid. But, quick disclaimer; I didn’t have great success with boric acid myself. It won’t work on an open-decked boat as simply blows away in the wind.

However, it will work on boat where you have enclosed spaces, galleys, and under deck accommodation where wind isn’t an issue.

1. Plan where you will be placing traps and poisons

All the best generals had a plan before they went into battle, and that’s exactly what you want to do here. Small victories will all add up into winning the war.

Enough with the military jargon though, let’s keep this simple.

Decide which areas you are going to be laying down your traps and poisons. This isn’t just going to be where you have seen cockroaches, but also the areas that the love to hang out and hide in.

On a boat, this will be the dark and damp places.

Once you have decided the target areas, I suggest doing one area at a time. In the next step, I will show you how to do that, but first we need to clean.

2. Clean up all areas thoroughly

Cockroaches love dirt, mold, rotting food, and any type of mess.

Whilst you might think you have the cleanest boats on the seas, the reality is probably very different.

Roaches will find sniff out any scum, rally their troops, and then feast on it. This can be microscopic food debris that has fallen into cracks, mold behind a storage space, dirt ground into marine carpet, and so on.

Wipe down all areas, pull any gear out and clean behind it, scrub surfaces, get scum out of your carpets. Do as much as you can, because once the cockroaches are gone, we don’t want to give them an excuse to come back again.

You can read some cleaning guides on Pontoonopedia that might help, including how to get mold and mildew out of boat vinyl. I also recommend having a decent boat vacuum cleaner.

3. Spray roach killer in the affected areas

You can buy a roach killer spray on Amazon that doesn’t have any harsh chemicals in it. We have kids and a dog on our pontoon boat, so wouldn’t choose anything else.

This one here doesn’t contain dyes, phenols, formaldehyde, neonicotinoids, pyrethrins or petroleum propellants. I have no idea what most of those are, but they sound nasty so I’m glad my spray didn’t have any of them in.

I would not spray heavily near eating areas but would go large on it in any storage areas which you can close up afterwards.

4. Sprinkle boric acid down

As I’ve already mentioned, I tried this step, but the white powder quickly got picked up in the wind, so for pontoon boat owners, it’s a step you can skip.

But, if you have underdeck accommodation and eating areas, you must do this.

Boric acid is non-toxic to humans, but an absolute headache for cockroaches. It kills them and sends a message back to roach HQ that you’re a boat owner not to be messed with.

Don’t be concerned by it being an acid. It won’t eat into your upholstery, carpets, or boat surfaces. In fact, it’s often used as a wood preservative in furniture and even for yeast infections (who knew!).

You can read more about it on Amazon and see how much it costs.

Sprinkle the powder liberally where you know the cockroaches hang out, but not in walk ways where you have people (or pets) walking about – it will get on your shoes and get trampled all over the place.

5. Apply a tougher spray in hard to reach areas 

This next roach killer is toxic, but it’s nuclear – read the Amazon reviews. 

I used this spray to get into gaps I could not reach, and where I knew my dog and kids wouldn’t be going near.

You can spray it down the back of seats, little gaps in between furniture, and other dark places where the cockroaches have been hiding.

It comes with an applicator so you can get tight into spaces and is said to work for up to 6 months at a time.

6. Lay down bait traps 

And the last product you can use to get rid of roaches in your boat would be some bait traps. These are a peace of mind addition, and will trap any tiny bugs on your boat, not just your current roach target.

They are non-toxic and eco-friendly, so ideal for marine environments. You can leave them freely on deck spaces, but they work best being left in the dark and damp spaces roaches love.

You also get that satisfaction of seeing how many of the critters you have caught.

7. Use pest control pouches to prevent them coming back

With all of these methods listed above, you’ve brought a bazooka to a water pistol fight.

However, you don’t want all your hard work to go to waste. There is one final product you can use to stop them coming back all together.

It’s called a pest control pouch (read Amazon reviews).

They last up to 12 months and work very simply – just leave them in the places that cockroaches love and leave them there.

The pouches don’t smell nasty; the ingredients include natural products such as cedar, cinnamon, lemongrass, and rosemary.

More on cockroach prevention

My grandmother used to say to me that prevention is better than cure. And she’s was right ( bless her soul).

Here are some things you can do to prevent cockroaches on your boat in the first place.

  • If your boat is on a trailer or in dry storage, look to close any entry gaps you can find.
  • Keep any food sealed in air-tight containers and stored away securely.
  • Clean up any crumbs or food debris immediately after eating.
  • Dispose of garbage quickly and cleanly.
  • Fit mosquito nets to any portholes as this will help prevent tiny bugs.
  • Spray mooring lines with an insect repellent as roaches like to climb.
  • Check the soles of your shoes before coming on board you boat.
  • Don’t bring cardboard boxes or grocery bags onto your boat.
  • Wash any fruit and vegetables before bringing them on board.

Other ways to get rid of boat cockroaches

Before I hit upon the working method above, I considered multiple different methods.

Below you can read more about some of the products I used in more detail, plus some other ideas from boat owners I spoke to on social media.

Live bait stations

The premise behind a live bait station is that you place it down where you have seen the cockroaches.

One unlucky roach is then meant to walk into the trap, eat some of the poison bait, then wander on back to cockroach HQ.

He should then die, at which point all the other roaches eat him. Sounds nasty doesn’t it, and this cannibalism should then mean all the other members of the roach family keel over and die.

Did it work on my pontoon boat?

Yes, it did, but I ended up going through quite a few before I started using sprays and boric acid. Perhaps I was dealing with a nest of super-roaches, who knows?

I have also used this cockroach deterrent at home, and it worked a treat there. I would still make this part of your roach prevention method as above.

Boric acid

Quick disclaimer before I talk about this; I don’t particularly like it, but only because of my boat type.

Whilst it’s not meant to be overly toxic to humans, it does blow all over the place so it’s hard to a) get it working and b) it’s going to get in food and possibly airborne.

I found this myself when applying a small dust layer of boric acid in my captain’s console. It was gone in minutes, as one gust of wind took it away.

For these reasons, I don’t use boric acid to get rid of boat cockroaches as it’s terrible on an open-decked pontoon boat.

However, I have read countless online guides where other boat owners have used this successfully. But they were in the preferable position of not having an open and exposed deck – so make sense that it would work on a different type of boat.

Bug bombs and foggers

I didn’t even bother using a bug bomb on my pontoon boat; with that open deck it was never going to work.

For those boat owners with a galley and enclosed rooms, it might be a great solution if you want to get rid of cockroaches in your own boat.

However, I did a little research into it and found that bug bombs work by you activating a tab on the can. The bomb fog (which is a pesticide) shoots up into the air, then starts to come down, settling on your surfaces.

I didn’t think this would work too well with cockroaches, primarily because they tend to scuttle around, rather than fly through the air.

My thoughts were confirmed when I read this on a pest control website:

“Because the pesticides don’t reach into many of the nooks and crannies that roaches love, bug bombs are really only effective against flying insects. The Washington State Department of Health recommends avoiding them altogether for most types of indoor pests. Cockroach bombs are also highly flammable because of the aerosol. Moreover, the pesticides used can be toxic and, after use, coat the surfaces in your home.”

To read more about this research, visit the Terminix website.

Pest control services

As a very last resort, you might have to employ the services of a pest control specialist.

They are going to come armed to the teeth with the latest gear to kill and bugs on your boat.

Hopefully though it won’t come to that.

Related questions and FAQ

I feel like I almost became an expert on roach removal on my own boat. Here are some of the other things I found out that you might find interesting.

Why you should rid your boat of cockroaches

Studies suggest that cockroaches can spread a wide range of diseases and can also cause allergies in humans.

If that’s not a good enough reason to want to get rid of them, I don’t know what is. They are nasty looking little things and if not prevented will spread like wildfire.

What attracts cockroaches to your boat?

Any food that has been left out or dropped on the floor, is party time for a roach. I’d also include dirty dishes, crumbs on the floor, and any moisture.

Dampness is something you can never completely eliminate on a boat; it comes with the territory. Unfortunately, moisture is a magnet to cockroaches so try to keep things dry where possible.

Will they die immediately?

Unfortunately, they won’t always die quickly.

I found out that roaches can live for up to 7 days without their head as they are able to breath though small holes in their body. The very thought makes me shudder.

It’s unlikely that you will be decapitating any roaches unless you turn this exercise into some weird kind of blood sport, so the sprays and boric acid should have a very quick and fatal affect.

Will you be left with a dead roach smell?

Dead roaches can leave a nasty smell. When they die an unpleasant oily odor starts to develop.

Once you have completed your ridding exercise, pull out any gear and do a full vacuum of any affected areas to clean up any corpses.

Are cockroaches actually useful?

They are vermin on your boat, and we already know that they can spread disease in humans.

I found out that they actually have quite a useful role ecologically though. According to the Live Science website, roaches can help to recycle dirt, dead plants, and animal waste.

I still don’t want them on my pontoon boat though!

The last word… 

I hope you have found this guide to getting rid of cockroaches on your boat useful. The entire process took me a couple of days before I started to see the results.

The tell-tale sign was roaches dead on their backs – not hard to miss!

How to Get Rid of Cockroaches on a Boat

At this point, you know this critter is finally dead.

I’ve since taken more secure steps when winterizing my pontoon boat, and in the season since haven’t had a roach infestation again – fingers crossed that’s the last time they mess with my pride and joy.

I am sure they won’t be the last critters I need to get rid of – in fact, I had a similar situation with ants one summer.

Whilst you’re here, you might also be interested in some other guides I have written about boat pest prevention and cure: