Rats and ships

In one of my classes the other day, or on TV, or on this message board, or somewhere else, someone was talking about rats on ships. Namely, that there are always rats on ships.

Rats in houses I can understand. Rats in the ground? Sure. Warehouses? It wouldnt be a warehouse without a rat. But I dont see why you cant prevent rats from getting on a ship.

  1. A ship is a self-contained thing. When building your ship, just make sure no rats get in. How hard can this be? It’s not like rats are these little microscopic things that can burrow down into the threads of your ship screws and then come out once you have unknowingly transported them onto your ship. They’re big - they’re hard to miss - just dont let them on.

  2. If they do get on, just starve them out before you put anything on the ship that they can eat, or gas the ship with rat-killing gas and kill them all off (Of course, I dont support rat killing in any form, but I am trying to figure out how the rats get on and stay on)

  3. A ship is out on the ocean. Rats do not live in the ocean, unless there is some sort of deep water rat I am not aware of, in which case it would be a fish. Fish are not rats. So if you get your ship out to sea without any rats, there will be no rats sneeking aboard while you are riding the ocean waves.

  4. When you are at port, rats might try to hide away in your freight, or in people’s luggage. If they are hiding in the luggage, dont let the people on your ship. If they are hiding in your freight, either keep them locked up with the freight and deliver them with the freight, or remove them before you put the freight on the ship. Again - they’re rats. Hard to miss.

I have nothing against rats, of course. But this has been stuck in my head for quite awhile now and it is preventing me from concentrating on my homework. There is something deeply, deeply bothersome about a bunch of rats running around in the bottom of what is essentially a giant floating can. Will someone please explain why rats and ships go together like cheese and wine?

Thanking you in advance,

Sneeze, honey…

If a ship isn’t tied to a pier or dock, it will float away, never to be seen again.

That’s how rats climb aboard ships, on the lines that tether it to the pier.

The US Navy (and I’m sure most commercial vessels, although I’ve not seen commercial vessels in port) uses metal cone-shaped items called “rat guards” to prevent the rats from reaching the ship. These are strung on the lines about a third of the way down from the ship. They’re large enough that a rat can’t climb or jump over them.

Simple solution to a simple problem.


Thank you msrobyn - does that mean that ships and rats are not really the plague I thought they were?

“Just make sure no rats get in”?? That’s like saying, when building a house, “Don’t let the wind blow through the framing.” Yeah, if you wanted to hire a bunch o’ guys whose sole purpose was to keep rats off the work-in-progress, it might work, but your Rat Patrol would get in the way of the REAL workers, and cost a pretty penny to boot.

Rats are damn clever and adaptable. If there is any possible way for a rat to get to a food supply, rats will get to that food supply. Rats will find ways that you never thought of as possible.

Rats aboard ship are not the problem they once were. More effective rodenticides and other passive measures (the rat guards mentioned by msrobyn and better food storage strategies) mean that they are not the plague they were during Captain Aubrey’s day. One would be hard pressed to find a rat on a USN vessel today, but that is mostly due to superior rodent control.

The cliche was developed a long time ago…

Say you were building a box instead of a ship. A really big one. If you can get the box up without any rats inside (so you have a big, empty box) then it should be easy to keep the box empty while you work inside the box.

If you could construct a house fast enough to that you got all the walls up before a wind came along, then you could build a house without letting the wind blow through the framing, and then you would be free to work inside the house without fear of getting blown on.

That was what I was thinking of. Build the exoskeleton of the ship (or box, or house, or whatever) up, and if there are no rats inside, and rats inside would be easy to spot if it was just a big empty hull, it would be easy to finish the ship from the inside, rat free.

But if rats arent the big problem they used to be - whatever works.

Rats getting on when building the ship isn’t the issue. I would venture to say that most rats on ships are not aboriginal residents, they are immigrants.

The statement “a ship is a self contained thing” is rather faulty - not if it’s to be useful it isn’t. Not only do you tie it up to the pier, people and cargo get on and off it. As msrobyn says, they have rat guards on the mooring lines, but cargo ships are STILL loaded with cargo that came from your aforementioned rat-infested warehouses. Contrary to what you suggest, a rat IS easy to miss in a great big box of something, and it is not economical to pack everything in airtight containers if it doesn’t need to be. A rat can get through a surprisingly small hole.

When we colonize the moon, I’m sure the rats will follow us. I’m not sure how, since we won’t explicitly make spacesuits for them, but the little buggers will find a way.

Trust the government to have this all written down someplace, in exhaustive detail.

Rats in the U.S. Navy.


And there’s tons of stuff here on rat poison, and looking for urine runways with UV light, cool stuff… :smiley:

Silly yabob.
Everybody knows we can’t get to the moon. Those pesky radiation belts will get us everytime.

However, if you look very closely at the footage of the Apollo missions, you can see that they couldn’t keep the mice off the set.

In frame 35-6-zx of reel 189d, you can clearly see a rats tail.

We never had rats aboard the ships I sailed for summer work in college. Of course, there is not an awful lot to interest a rat in a big steel tub filled with 25,000 - 32,000 tons of taconite ore pellets that only sails between desolate loading docks in Minnesota and barren steel mills in Indiana or Ohio.

Ships carrying materials that make good nesting and cargoes of food between docks where food is stored are probably more interesting to rats, in general.

It is no longer true that you “cannot” have a ship without rats, (for the reasons described in previous posts), and they are probably rarer, now, than they have ever been.

…Inqusitive beasts, and will climb onto/into any structure that doesn’t scare them or kill them. Ratguards are still a d*mn usefull item, even in the age of steel vessels. In Penang, Maylasia, there was a rat sitting on a mooring line, and it had it’s front paws on the rim of the ratguard. That’s a BIG rat. I was reaching for my sidearm…