How a Magnet made me the happiest girl in the world

Before you start wondering if I have completely lost the plot, STOP!

Those who follow the Astrolabe Sailing Facebook or Instagram pages may have noticed the odd photo of my beautiful boat Wildy absolutely covered in bird poo.

Now for someone who is very ‘boat proud’ and who thinks her boat is the most beautiful boat in the world, this has been extremely distressing.

I’ve had Wildwood for 14 years this year, and she has been on the same mooring that whole time. Apart from the odd seagull attempting to make a nest on her a few years ago, I have never really had any problems with birds. The seagull was a big issue at the time, but was easily managed with a few fish n chips – you can read all about that here

Then a couple of years ago, a few little birds started to come and roost on board. Not too much of a drama. I bought an owl and a magpie and that seemed to do the trick. They went away.

Life was good again.

IMG_7959.jpgSophie with Owlie & Maggie

But it turns out swallows aren’t silly…

They came back – with a vengeance. My poor boat soon became the favourite place to roost at night. I am not sure what it was that these damn birds eat – vindaloo or something because their poo was super sticky, baked on in the summer sun, and clearly there were hundreds of them as even after a week of being away I’d come back to a boat absolutely COVERED in bird shit.

In fact, the photos above aren’t even the worst of it. It got to the stage where I could smell the boat before I even got there.

I tried everything…

Plastic bags tied on the lifelines. These actually worked really well and I made sure they were well secured so that they didn’t blow off and in to the water. But the boat looked like a chinese laundry.

Safety flags strung up all around the boat. The birds seemed to really enjoy roosting on the strings and these had no effect whatsoever

IMG_1624Look at the state of my sail cover!!!

I also had a net – like what you would put over your strawberries. When strung tightly across the boat (kind of like the boat in the background of the pic above) the birds just roosted on that and made even more of a mess.

If you didn’t string the net up tightly and bunched it loosely, it was quite a bit more effective, but it did mean that you ended up catching the birds – like fish in the net. Which I admit I did feel guilty about (for aprox 1 second). I really don’t like killing things, but these birds have completely destroyed my deck paint job which took us weeks to do just a couple of years ago.

Picture this…

Every week I would go out, quietly hoping that the plastic bags/owls/magpies/net/flags had somehow miraculously worked, getting to within 20 metres of the boat and seeing the brown shit stains seeping down the topsides, getting that awful smell catch in your throat, wanting to cry, spending at least two hours scrubbing the boat before getting it even semi-presentable while occasionally sobbing, going out sailing for a couple of hours, coming back to the mooring, packing up the boat, re-rigging all the anti-bird devices, kidding myself in to thinking that “this time it would work” jumping in the dinghy and thinking that the boat looked terrible with all the things hanging off her – just as the hundreds of pesky little swallows started swooping and diving and perching on the boat, crying a bit again, going to the club, smelling like bird shit, going home for showers and detoxification of clothing.

And then doing all that again a week later.

My friend Craig recommended going and picking up a cat from the SPCA and leaving that out there. Good suggestion, but I thought that I would then be dealing with cat fur and cat poo instead…

It was driving me mad. Andrew (let’s just say he is a Virgo and let’s leave it at that) came out on one particularly bad day and got very snippy about the whole issue… drastic action needed to be taken otherwise he was threatening to not come out on my boat any more!

I did some googling and picked up the phone to Maintrac Group on Monday morning tears welling up in my eyes, a kind sounding man answered the phone “Please” – I said, “Please you have to help me…”

If you google “anti-bird” devices then you get all sorts of things come up – some goo or powder stuff you can put down that they don’t like to stand in – neither of which are particularly useful on an boat. Perhaps spikes all over the life lines? Then you get noise things, but its difficult to install that somewhere, where it won’t get wet and still project the noise out over the boat, and then how do you power that without it running your batteries flat and not annoying everyone around you.

I wasn’t sure that he was going to be able to assist me.

He sounded sympathetic, listened to the hysteria in my tone of voice and then made some recommendations. By this stage I was ready to spend just about any sum of money to get this issue dealt to.

Then he recommended magnets.

My friend Don from a neighbouring boat had already mentioned that they were using some magnets, but I had brushed that off as being a bit of jiggery-pokery. Anyway I parted with a vast quantity of money and two days later a small box arrived on my doorstep.

I eagerly unwrapped it, inside were two sparkly magnets and some instructions. I called Andrew to give him the good news. “Hmmmmmmm…” he said skeptically. ย In his own words he muttered: “I’d be very surprised that the swallows were ‘New Age’ swallows – into magnets and god knows what else….”

Anyway… we strung them up according to the instructions, and crossed our fingers.

And today… I came back – to a boat almost completely free of bird poo for the first time in ย what must be two years.

Hallelujah!

IMG_2028

How does it work? No idea… but apparently birds must have their own internal magnets that get a bit upset by these powerful ones. You have one at the bow and one on the stern and WOW it has absolutely worked for me (so far).

I was so excited and the happiest girl in the world. I also had an extra couple of hours on my hands as I now didn’t need to scrub poo off the boat. So I decided to have a beer to celebrate with my owl. He was just as surprised as I was that these magnets worked. Just look at the expression on his face!

Tips:

  • Easy to install.
  • Doesn’t require any ongoing power or maintenance.
  • Works on lots of different bird types (swallows in my case)
  • If you’ve got a pacemaker they can interact with the function of that, so beware! They are also dangerous to magnetically coded credit cards and computers.
  • The magnets affect the geomagnetic field that birds use, and their sense of direction, so they avoid going near them. They won’t get used to them either (unlike my plastic owls and magpies)
  • They are safe and do not scare or harm the birds or any other animals or the environment.
  • Install them away from magnetic objects (like your compass!)
  • Hang them high up, away from things that they can bang in to on a non-magnetic line

IMG_2032

And then we went out and had an awesome mid-winter sail, and life was good again.

I just hope they keep working!

Here is what I bought here:ย https://www.maintracgroup.com/collections/magnetic-repellers

*** UPDATE *** – one week later and I can definitely say that the magnets do work and that the birds haven’t just migrated north for the winter. Unfortunately I had to learn the hard way…

When I got to the boat on Sunday there was no sign of the back magnet. There was quite a big storm during the week, so I expect the knot must have come undone on the line it was hanging on. Shame it didn’t drop in to the boat! Either that or someone pinched it. Anyway it was gone and guess what…?

The poo was back ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

I have centered the one that is left and hope that it will work in the mean time (the bow was certainly cleaner than the cockpit where the other one went missing from.)

Looks like I am giving Maintrac Group another call…!

16 thoughts on “How a Magnet made me the happiest girl in the world

  1. I remember coming to ‘Good Point’ once and it was so covered I has to shovel it off, it wrecked the paintwork! Not any more, Don sussed it out – so excellent, Got to hang them high, there is one above the boom and one on the stern of Good Point, plus a wind vain,, problem it it makes them go to another yacht… Sorry!

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    • Yes absolutely. When they are hanging up they are quite a long way from the compass, but we would have to be very careful where we stow them when we are using the compass for navigating!

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  2. Ummmm, what a great post. I’ve done flags, owls, spiky things and other stuff to keep the seagulls off the rigging, but they roost so high on the mast, stuff goes everywhere. Now I have a solution. Totally have to reblog this one!

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    • Hope it works well for you too! I am still a bit skeptical, but it has definitely made a massive difference to me so far. I will of course update again if there is any change. So far so good!

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  3. Hey Viki

    Nice to see that this worked. I’ve got a mate who strings a funnel above the boom and for some reason this seems to work – better than netting, owls & plastic snakes combined – it’s a puzzle! His boat is always clean whereas the one nearby looks like Nauru.

    A couple of questions:
    1. What do you do with the magnets when you go sailing?
    2. How come you decided to buy the bigger (& presumably stronger) 2-magnet model, instead of the smaller 3-pronged BBB model?
    3. Have you tested it to make sure they don’t affect you compass?
    Cheers

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    • A funnel!? Wow that’s another good one. When I was googling around I did see a few people suggest using plastic snakes, but as we don’t have snakes in NZ I wonder if birds would be afraid of them?

      In answer to your questions:
      1. We take them down when we are sailing and I have just stowed them in the aft locker.
      2. I just went with what the man on the phone suggested. I didn’t check on the smaller one. I will look it up.
      3. I imagine it would affect the compass. When they are strung up I’ve got one on the bow and one right under the backstay so it isn’t close to the compass when they are strung up, but I’d have to be really careful when I stow them to make sure they are a long way from the compass when we go sailing up the coast, as that is when we rely on the compass most.

      ๐Ÿ™‚

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  4. Pingback: Easy solution to a vexing problem- How a Magnet made me the happiest girl in the world โ€” Astrolabe Sailing | Live Free 2 Sail Fast

  5. Brilliant! Like you (initially) it hasn’t been a problem but you never know when it will be, so filing this away for future use. Or – for someone else who experiences this. Thanks, Viki!

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  6. Hello Viki,

    I currently have my boat in a marina in St. Petersburg, FL. Crows and blackbirds here are fond of the purple palm berries and come literally by the hundreds in season and bestow their gifts on our boats each day that resemble the photos of your boat (pre-magnets). I wonder if you would give those following this a current update on performance of this product. The folks at MainTrac use your post as a testimonial.

    You stated some skepticism in June, so what can you add at present? Still working? Has your season there changed bird behavior in general? Did you replace the magnet that was lost? Did it seem to work at all with one?
    I like your blog btw. I certainly appreciate your time and anything further you may add.

    Cheers,
    Bill Hajek
    s/v Winterlude
    1985 Passport 37

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    • Hi Bill,
      Thanks for your message. Gosh that does sound messy!
      The magnets have made an incredible difference to me. I was out on my boat last weekend. Haven’t been out for a few weeks and I was worried about what I’d find.
      I needn’t have worried though! There wasn’t a single poo on the boat!
      The magnets made a huge difference to me. My boat would be absolutely covered in poo every week and it would take at least a couple of hours of scrubbing to clean it before I could go out.
      Despite my original skepticism they worked as soon as I put them up. I was amazed but still found myself questioning if it was the magnets, especially when someone suggested maybe the birds had just migrated. But then when I lost one they immediately came back and once again covered the boat in poo until I bought another set!
      I’ve got one strung up between the forestay and the mast and another strung up between the mast and the backstay – they have to be able to swing freely without hitting anything. I’ve cabletied them to my long line now to hopefully avoid losing another one.
      Anyway hope that helps. Main Trac were offering a 15% discount on the magnets if you mentioned ASTROLABE when you bought them on their website, but I think that might have ended now, but if you give them a call/email they might still do it for you!
      Good luck and let me know how they go for you!

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  7. $240 sounds like a lot for a couple of magnets. You might like to look at somewhere like:

    https://www.magnetic-magnets.co.nz/

    – for something a little cheaper. You can easily package them in something waterproof and hangable.

    I’d be a bit careful about stowing them anywhere near the compass, though. How about right up for’ard, rather than in the aft locker?

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    • Hi Jon, yes they are expensive but I was just about prepared to pay anything to get rid of them!
      Other magnets might work too. It could be worth a shot.
      I’ll stow them well away from the compass when we sail up the coast at Xmas. Maybe even off the boat. ๐Ÿ™‚

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