One day it just might happen. You descend into your oil rubbed teak galley and dicover sawdust next to the propane stove, yet you certainly weren't drilling to install a new winch. Take the dust as a warning sign. You could have the bane of wood on a boat, termites. On a wooden boat, they can turn the hull into the consistency of a sponge. Even on a fiberglass boat with a plywood core, they can rot the boat's integrity. Here's how to kill them.
Understand what termites are. The insects are sometimes called white ants. They live in large colonies, feeding on dead plant material like wood. There are two basic kinds of termites, subterranean and drywood termites. If your boat is in a slip, or even in a dry dock where it isn't in contact with the earth, you won't get subterranean termites, which live in mud below the earth. Drywood termites spread through swarming so that if a boat in a nearby slip has an infestation, you could open your hatch one day to find termites.
Understand the signs of infestation. After termites eat your wood they expel fecal material called frass that resembles sawdust. Although they need wings to reach your boat, they discard them to burrow into your wood, so you'll find the dropped wings as well. The good news is that in contrast to subterranean termites, dry wood colonies are usually smaller, so they don't damage as quickly. All colonies will grow more active in hotter weather.
Try the topical application first. If you look closely above the piles of frass, you'll see very small holes where the termites pump their feces out of their nests. Sometimes, they holes will plug up, so if you see a discolored spot of wood above the pile, poke at it. It will give way. At most home supply stores you'll find aerosol cans of termite poison attached to a tube and suction cup surrounding a needle. Insert the needle into the hole and press the applicator for a few seconds. Don't be surprised if the pressure in the can forces the poison out of another hole a few inches along the wood. Closely examine every exposed wood surface looking for similar holes above the tell tale frass piles. Repeat the treatment. If you are lucky, this is all it will take to kill the pests.
Don't waste your time with an aerosol bomb. Termites live inside the wood and the bomb at best will kill a few bugs swarming from one part of your boat to another.
Gregorski Brothers Marine Engineering has developed an innovative termite protection program that doesn't kill termites, but distracts them from eating your boat by providing them with more appetizing pieces of wood. What do termites prefer to teak? In order, they are balsa, GBME's boaterm composite block, fir, pine, mahogany, oak and then teak. Theoretically the bugs gorge on the feast you lay out for them, so they are distracted from eating your boat. Replace the blocks as needed. The wood can be ordered at http://svtomorrow.com/boaterm/termprot.html
Ultimately, I had to have my own boat, LaRuna, tented, sealed and fumigated with Vicane gas. Because the tent is held below the waterline by sandbags, a perfect seal is achieved. I now have a boat that is termite free. My work was done by Isotech, a Los Angeles based exterminator, courtesy of the Discovery Television Series "Verminators," which airs Mondays at 10:00 PM. Keep an eye out for the "Hollywood Roaches" episode to see how it was done.