No-see-ums and other insects can quickly ruin a beach BBQ or quiet evening in the cockpit. But what can you do? Most bug sprays are formulated for mosquitoes and not effective against the little invisible sets of teeth. The likely choices are to retreat into the boat and close all the hatches (very hot) or retreat into the boat and put up the no-see-um screens, which have very,very fine mesh to keep the tiny little critters out (almost as hot).
Kim, formerly on Evenstar, just sent me a better alternative: make your own insect repellent that really works and doesn’t have any nasty chemicals.
I don’t have no-see-ums where I am, so can’t test this myself (although I can say that her formulas for mosquito and tick repellent works well). Kim swears that the no-see-um formula works: “We cruisers are always looking for the latest, greatest ‘no see-um’ oil as we tend to get eaten alive in the Caribbean (and all the bug spray in the world does not seem to keep those nasty things off of us). The following recipe works great and is easy to make!”
If you are in an area plagued by only one insect, you can just use one of the essential oils that’s listed as effective against that one. The good news is that you can combine two or more of the oils to create a more comprehensive blend suited to whatever may be bothering you.
Depending on where you are located, it can be hard to find the essential oils. In the small town (20,000) where I now live, I could only find citronella — and that was at a specialty pharmacy. So I’ve provided a link to Amazon for each oil — they are all relatively inexpensive and very easy to slip into your luggage even if your boat is in the Caribbean.
And yes, you can buy some of these oils as pre-made insect repellents, which works well if your boat is in the US. But if you’re elsewhere, it’s easiest to just take the one hard-to-find ingredient back to the boat with you since it only makes up a small portion of the total volume. Then you can get the other ingredients locally rather than using up precious luggage space!
Make Your Own Insect Repellent
Store the mix in a dark plastic bottle so it won’t degrade. If you can’t find a dark bottle, just cover a clear one with duct tape. I found that using an old (well-rinsed out) shampoo bottle worked well as it had a small opening for pouring the repellent out. I also tried putting it in an old window cleaner bottle with a spray nozzle so that we could spray it on. However, pouring a bit out from the shampoo bottle and then rubbing it on seemed to work better for us, probably because we used more of the mix, so I wouldn’t worry about trying to find a spray bottle.
Now, on to the formula. The mixture should be 5 to 10% essential oil(s) and the rest the “carrier” oil or alcohol. So, to make a reasonable quantity:
1 fluid ounce essential oil(s) — total of all oils (this is 2 tablespoons, or 30 ml)
9 to 19 fluid ounces carrier oil or alcohol (1-1/8 cup to 2-3/8 cups)
For no-see-ums, which are notoriously hard to discourage, use the smallest amount of carrier oil or alcohol.
What essential oil(s) to use? It depends on what you need protection against:
- citronella oil (no-see-ums, mosquitoes and biting flies)
- cinnamon oil (mosquitoes)
- lemon eucalyptus or regular eucalyptus oil (mosquitoes, ticks, and lice)
- castor oil (mosquitoes)
- sweet orange oil (fleas)
- rose geranium (ticks and lice)
IMPORTANT: With all of these, you need the highly concentrated “essential” oil. For example, you can get “citronella oil” for Tiki lights in lots of places. But that’s not what you need — it’s already been diluted (and with things you probably don’t want to rub on your skin).
Carrier oil or alcohol (choose one or a combination):
- olive oil, sunflower oil or any other cooking oil
- witch hazel
Just pour the essential oil and the carrier into the dark bottle you’ll store it in, cap it and shake to mix. If you prefer a “gel” consistency, you can mix in some aloe vera gel — but be aware that you’re cutting the concentration of the essential oil.
You can either rub it on or spray it on. Apply about once an hour or more often if you’re swimming or sweating a lot.
And one final related note: If you need to replace — or make — a no-see-um screen, it can be hard to find the material. Try bridal veil material, which you can find in most moderate-sized towns.