Mosquito Control [Updated May-2018]

Alaskans are often acknowledged as experts at dealing with things that bite; bears, killer whales, fish, some tourists, mosquitos, biting flies, gnats [AKA midges, no-see-ums, etc.]

You get the idea... And with some bites there comes a low probability of survival...

Thankfully bug bites don't [usually] fall into that category [though they might drive you to a state of considering self-harm...]

It is said that if you think you are too small to make a difference,  you have never been to bed with a mosquito!

This post is all about what we have found to be very effective dealing with mosquitos and gnats while on the boat and/or in the field.

What attracts them to us in the first place? 
Mainly heat, carbon dioxide, movement, certain scents and odors, and, believe it or not; old tires... 
Therefore, all this is moot if you can discipline yourself to stand very still in an ice cold shower and hold your breath...
Baring that approach, strategies we have used with success over the years include the usual:
  • Physical barriers to prevent contact with the bugs 
    • Mosquito/no-see-um netting
    • Specialized clothing
      • Netting 
      • Dense weave fabric
      • Repellent laced clothing
  • Repellents [Chemical barriers]
    • Chemicals you wear on or close to your body
      • Repellents
    • Chemicals in the air around you
      • Mosquito coils, area sprays, etc.
  • Population control [Traps, insecticide, gene splicing...] 
    • e.g., Mosquito eaters [At our home in Fairbanks. Very effective, but not a consideration on the boat... Must deploy early in bug season to reduce breeding population...]
    • Trap made from an old tire...
    • The boat is not conducive to the use of insecticide either, both for safety and since we are always changing locations [i.e., finding new populations of bugs...]
    • Gene splicing- Should we kill all the mosquitos?  [Hell yes!]
Thankfully, now that we have relocated from the interior of the state [where, at a distance, it is often difficult to discern mosquitos from bald eagles...] to Southeast Alaska, where we have far smaller and less frequent populations of biting insects to deal with. [But it only takes one bug to ruin a night's sleep...]

For those of you thought who may have thought I was exaggerating a little, above...

We try not to use chemicals on our skin or clothing for all the usual reasons including we are sensitive to the odors and suffer breathing difficulties because of them. 

Also, many of these chemicals in liquid or spray form can damage many plastics including the windows on our dodger, hand held radios, screens on electronic devices [permanent finger prints on your smartphone anyone?], etc. 

Additionally it can stain fiberglass and dull our brightwork [varnished wood...] Despite all of this, we still carry 100% DEET repellents in our emergency kits. [Emergency like our ditch bags if we had to abandon ship and go to shore to camp...]
Regarding DEET in our ditch bag: we double vacuum bag it as a leak could damage other items in the bag...    
We saw this recently when we had our life raft repacked; the sunscreen had leaked and greased a lot of items in the survival bag, rendering them unusable...
Another trick with DEET is to put it on your clothes; not your skin. There are even absorbent mesh outerwear made for soaking in DEET and putting on loosely over your clothes... 
Another reason we stay away from strong scents like mosquito repellents- especially while on or near land [like when kayaking]- is bears [black and grizzly] are curious about them... 

We kayak and hike quite a bit. Even most islands- small and large- have bear populations... [Bears are excellent swimmers- documented as easily going 40 miles in one session...]

We figure having DEET in our ditch bag is the lesser of the evils if we ever had to spend days with the bugs [and bears...] waiting for help... 

For the same reasons, repellent techniques that create smoke aren't desirable to us either. [e.g., campfires, mosquito coils, etc.]
Common, damn it! What do you use then? [You ask...]
We use a combination of appropriate physical barriers [made of no-see-um netting which is a much finer mesh than typical mosquito netting...] and airborne repellents that don't interfere with our requirement for air...


Specifically we have found the small, butane powered [but flameless] Thermacell Portable Mosquito Repellers to be stupendous. 
Thermacell Portable Mosquito Repeller

They are for outdoor use, and do emit an odor, which is only detectable if you are very close to the unit. Otherwise, it is not detectable and does not interfere with our respiration...

Each [non-refillable] butane cartridge lasts for 12 hours, and each repellent pad lasts 4 hours. If you remember to turn them off when you close up for the night, they are quite cost effective... [What would you pay to hold a swarm of mosquitoes at bay?]

Thermacell also makes lanterns for those of you boating/camping where it gets dark during bug season...
Whatever you do, please remember this stuff is not for us to breathe; only the bugs...
Camping on land in the height of biting bug season, we have successfully set two or three of these units around us in a circle and had zero bugs infiltrate that zone. This in conditions where you otherwise would quickly loose weight both through blood loss and the coordinated efforts of thousands of flying insects trying to carry you off to wherever they have their picnics...

These units are relatively cheap to purchase and operate. [We figure it costs us about 55¢ per hour for the consumables to operate one, and one is all we usually need while on the boat in proximity to these pests...]
If this sounds expensive to you: Ask yourself what you would be willing to pay per hour next time you are deluged with bugs. [We will gladly rent you some of our Thermacell units at that price!]

Physical barriers:

Window and hatches have no-see-um netting in place. [As do our tents for shore excursions.]

For situations requiring personal wear [on land...] we use these compact, extremely well made Canadian Bug Shirts. These are absolutely the best. [They make other designs, child sizes and pants too...]

Canadian Bug Shirt

You can see through the face net well since it is tightly stretched. [It looks like a space suit from a distance...] And these are usable for survival situations on land because the face portion unzips allowing nutrients to be consumed orally... [Hint: Wear a baseball cap or full brim sun/rain hat underneath for maximum comfort...] 
We have camped in very buggy situations with no breeze where, while wearing our Bug Shirts, we had to walk rapidly to create an artificial breeze to keep the bugs from our face region to enable us to spoon food into our faces in between opening and closing the face shield... all while speed walking...Try that with a head net...
Here is a brief third party review of the Bug Shirt. 
Almost as effective [but at least they are more expensive... (not a typo...)] is the ExOfficio line of bug repellent clothing. These work well from our experience, and are good for several dozen washings before their effectiveness starts to wane...

If you go that route, you will still need a good head net.

Yes, a cheap head net over a baseball cap [or better yet; full brim hat] will work, but you won't be able to see well through it, nor drink or eat without also inviting many bugs to do the same... on your face...

No-see-um Head Net

The idea with a head net is to pick a design that keeps the netting away from your skin because the bugs can still bite through the net...

All of the above find a place in our coastal cruising ditch bag... [Along with a two person tent, sleeping bags, food, bear spray, etc. This is a second ditch bag in addition to our emergency one...]

Old school approach:

In my days as a wildlife biologist in Northern Minnesota, we used Shaklee Basic H on our skin and hair to keep the mosquitos and biting flies off of us. 
I believe the deer flies that were in constant orbit around our heads had miniaturized, portable drill motors with them because even new denim jeans were no deterrent. And they would land on your head and dig down through our hair to find the scalp... It felt like an 1/8inch drill bit when they struck! And when you smacked them, if it wasn't a welt raising perfect strike, they flew away to recoup and attack again...
We used the Basic H when trapping and radio collaring animals as the scent from mosquito repellents would reveal the trap locations to the animals and foil our efforts...  

It worked great, and had the added advantage of making it easy to clean up by at the end of the day... [we were pre-soaped...] The trick was to wipe just a few drops on your hands, arms, legs [it kept the ticks off too- we also duct taped our pant cuffs shut tight...] and other exposed skin. But do not try and rub it in because the hair on our arms would make it start lathering... On hot sweaty days we didn't put it on our foreheads so it wouldn't run into our eyes when we worked up a sweat.  

I haven't used it since then [3+ decades...] and have no idea if the product offered today works as well [Shaklee changed the name to Basic H2 from Basic H; did they change the formulation too?] But I wanted to mention it as one of the few things that worked really well against biting flies [and mosquitos...]

What is our usual routine when the bugs visit us at anchor?

Our typical day at anchor finds us with nets on any open hatches, and a single Thermacell going near the cockpit by the outside opening to the dodger and bimini. Not close enough to fill the area with fumes, but near enough the opening to keep the bugs from entering... 

Our dodger/bimini also has side windows and screens so we can totally enclose the cockpit area if we want, obviating the need for a Thermacell... 

This frees one up to accompany anyone wishing to recline [work...] on the foredeck.
Many times we have watched swarms of biting bugs slowly work their way toward our anchored boat- often in Prince William Sound- as the evening breeze dies down and allows them forward progress... It looks like faint wisps of smoke from an unseen campfire. This happens even when we are 100s of yards from shore. I'm guessing they sense the 'heat bloom' from the inboard engine- especially when we just anchored- and other sources like the stove, oven, and heater on cooler days... 
Therefore, our ditch bags include liquid DEET repellent and our Bug Shirts, which we also take along on our kayak expeditions and forays ashore...

With just a Thermacell onboard, you really can find tranquility at anchor.

When bugs make their way into the boat, and if we are feeling sporting, we use electric paddles... ZZZap!

Electric bug zapper [Revenge is sweet...]

Treatment for the itch?

We have tried lots of things for decades, and most work to some extent. 

The dauber types of remedies are the most convenient for us and afford some relief on fresh bites. [e.g., AfterBiteStingEzeBenadryl, etc.] Get them all and see what works for you and your 'biting' insects [We find we react differently to the bug bites from new sub-species when traveling to different areas...]

We have also had success with the topical treatment we use for wasp and bee stings; papaya tablets. [Wet each new sting and hold a papaya tablet against it for a few seconds... Relief!] 

The papain enzyme immediately neutralizes the sting from fresh wasp and bee stings. [We like the tablets as they are easy to carry in a 1st aid kit, pocket, etc. There are powders also available.] Papaya enzyme also works on fresh mosquito bites most of the time... 

On those rare occasions when we eat too much, papaya pills to the rescue. [They really helps with digestion, and taste great!]

I learned about papaya enzyme when I spotted some meat tenderizer [papaya based as it turns out] in a hospital emergency room medicine cabinet. I asked the attending physician for their recipe...

Here is a medically reviewed list of home remedies for relieving the itch...

We hope you find some of this useful.

Have you found and personally used anything that is even better than what we have mentioned for bite prevention and/or itch relief?  
Please share with everyone by leaving us a comment!

1 comment:

  1. I'm in Florida right now but spent the better part of a year traveling almost all of Alaska's roads when I was up there just exploring the state. I have found on my boat that I can get by without mosquito netting by having the companionway cracked open about 3 inches and the forward hatch open about 10 inches. I have a 120v household fan blowing air out the forward hatch. Basically the mosquitoes find you by following your exhaled CO2, they can't or won't fight the flow of air coming out the forward hatch, and normally have no reason to venture in the open companionway. I can sleep unmolested better than 95% of the time like this. The other 5% I might have one or at most 2 mosquitoes that need slapping. Don't think this is because there are no mosquitoes, if I go out at night there are at least 5 on my bare legs in 30 seconds.


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