We boaters tend toward a fondness for our marine wildlife friends, including the flying types. The kingfisher, heron, crane and other winged creatures are entertaining, but we often end up in combat with the ubiquitous seagull. The scavenger of the sea, and sometimes a scavenger on land, the seagull takes up temporary residency on our boats and, well, leaves his mark.
Cleaning up is neither lovely nor pleasant. I have yet to make a cruising plan that incorporates seagull cleanup before the cocktail hour or after my morning coffee and bagel with cream cheese.
And yet, the circle of combat continues. Seagulls will look for food anyplace they can find it (imagine a teenager at Costco during the free sample hours). These birds have figured out that a vantage point off the water is optimal in the search. But flying all the time is energy intensive, so it makes sense to sit atop a nice boat while keeping watch for the next meal. These birds particularly like flybridges and tuna towers.
Can we deter the seagull? Yes, we can. But let’s first talk about deterrence options that do not work, at least in my observation.
First, there is the rubber owl. Tie it down to a high point on your boat, as a natural predator (supposedly) of Mr. Seagull. Of course, eventually, Mr. Owl falls over, and Mr. Seagull figures out that this thing poses no threat. I’ve seen seagulls land on rubber owls; maybe the material is pleasing beneath their webbed feet.
Next, there are high-pitched noisemakers. They are supposed to emit a sonic sound so unpleasant to Mr. Seagull that he is compelled to vacate our boats. But their batteries get depleted, or the sound emits in one direction, say, toward the bow, and Mr. Seagull just heads for the stern.
Then, there are the twirling wire doodads. They’re all basically the same: A spinning or bouncy wire apparatus is supposed to signal a no-fly zone. Mr. Seagull, however, knows math. After calculating the limited sweep radius of the doodad, he takes up a perch just beyond reach.
How about rigging lines and bungee cords around areas that attract seagulls? This method calls for creating a spiderweb-style trap. It’s a method my father used for years, and on more than a few occasions, I found myself being the one who was trapped.
What about seasonings? I have seen people douse their boat with paprika or cayenne pepper to create a scene that Mr. Seagull finds distasteful. Aside from the mess and the general failure of such efforts, those spices could be put to better use in a chili pot. And pity the captain who gets cayenne pepper on the binoculars and then in his eyes.
Now, the choice of color in our canvas and Bimini tops may be a contributing factor to the lack of a cease-fire. Seagulls like a well-delineated landing spot. A location that, from the sky, contrasts with the surrounding sea will attract Mr. Seagull’s attention.
Some years ago, my brother and I co-owned an 18-foot Larson bowrider with a 140-hp Suzuki outboard. It had a red and white exterior and interior, so we chose a red canvas. For the next 10 years, the seagulls loved sitting atop that boat, even when dozens of other boats were moored along the same stretch of waterfront. Like a well-marked landing pad for a helicopter, our canvas attracted seagulls three- and fourfold.
At another time, a friend and I were enjoying a beverage while discussing the unpleasant blight that seagulls bestow upon our boats. The ideal deterrent, we concluded, would make our boat less attractive than other boats to the seagull; have a reasonable cost; require virtually no maintenance; be environmentally friendly; and be easy to deploy and remove with no permanent boat modifications required.
We settled on the $6 water-ski flag. It’s bright orange, attaches to an 18-inch plastic pole or rod, and has a dual-direction suction cup to secure the assembly to the boat. There are no moving parts, and no modifications to the boat are required. And they flutter.
I purchased seven flags for the 18-foot boat: two at the bow, two along the windshield by the helm, two for the cockpit, and one atop the outboard.
Now with the upper hand in the battle, I have never had to clean droppings from either my boat or my canvas. In a stiff wind, a flag or two may fall off, but I place them so that they fall into the boat. I am going on five years with the same set of flags.
Does the setup look a little goofy? Well, as they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. While my neighbors recognize me as the guy with orange flags on his boat, I am sufficiently comfortable with the knowledge that I will not be smelling, handling or cleaning seagull waste.