Global Yachting Protection and Prevention

By Francisco Mateo, CPP, CFE

 Owning a Yacht is a big investment that requires protection from myriad risks. Many layers of security should be considered, including the vessels’ exterior as well as the facilities (homeport or marina) where it docks when not out on the high seas.  Whether natural or man-made, sailing/cruising the world’s waterways involves intrinsic and extrinsic vulnerabilities. Intrinsically Yachts are seen are as status of wealth and therefore are vulnerable to theft and burglary. Extrinsically these vessels navigate the oceans around the world and therefore are subject to hurricanes and other natural dangers. Likewise the ability to reach international waters makes it vulnerable to geopolitical issues that plague many conflict zones around the globe.  My aim is to analyze the multitude of risks pleasure boat owners face as well as to suggest a number of protection and prevention strategies that can be applied under different scenarios.   

The risk of theft or burglary of any asset increases when it is not attended to or guarded. This principle applies to boat theft since it spends a great amount of time on a homeport or marina. According to subject matter experts “Thieves generally prefer easy targets and often go for specific equipment, such as electronics and communication systems. They are expensive and easy to remove. They are also produced in big numbers; therefore, it is easier to re-sell them without a trace.” To protect your property from the high risk of theft and burglary while at any facility it’s necessary to take account of the physical security at these sites.  Besides deciding an insurance policy, ensure that the facilities perimeter is properly protected and that only authorized persons are allowed to the dock areas.  Lighting, CCTV and other deterrence devices can be effective even for a boat; “Get a professional alarm system, especially for luxury yachts. Light, alarm sound systems and cameras can be scary to thieves. Get stickers pointing out that your boat is secured. Get fake-cameras as burglar scare crows if you want to be cheap.” It’s obvious that you should not leave valuables equipment or property within view or easy reach, but you should also make photo records of all areas and property within the boat.  All of these measures if applied correctly should deter theft since thieves would simply opt for easier pickings. 

If despite your best efforts the boat is stolen; “There are several websites that will allow you to list stolen yachts or check whether a used boat that was offered to you has been reported as stolen. Some list boat type and technical details as well as features that will allow you to identify the vessel.” In popular boating areas around the world there has also been cooperation between the local authorities and marina owners to protect vessels from rising theft. Such is the case in Rio Dulce, where the “Guatemalan government last month joined marina owners along the Rio Dulce waterway to build a floating security network to protect cruising sailors. The Rio Dulce has long been a popular place for cruising sailors to leave their boats during the hurricane season, but recently has been marred by robbery and violence.”           

Living in the Caribbean for the last few years has made me sensitive to certain security issues.  The Caribbean is a favored destination for many yachtsmen from around the world. Yet many risks exist, especially while docked at marinas in the Caribbean. Take for instance “two recent Caribbean sailing murders, including that of Australian sailor Drew Gollan in Antigua. Sailors considering a visit in their own boat or a charter holiday to the Caribbean are wondering: were they isolated? Or is it too dangerous to go there?” Capt. Les Annan offers his insight on this respect “I have had my boat broken into twice in the Bahamas (no one was hurt and the crew detained one of them for the cops) I must say that I always warn the crew to stay together and take cabs everywhere.”  The risk of theft and violence is evenly spread across the Caribbean as evidenced by reports of boat theft in the Northwest Caribbean.    

One key area of risk related to owning a boat is the potential for facing natural disasters.  Climate change is perhaps the most talked about global issue along with the peak of energy resources.  But what kind of risk can climate change represent for sailing/cruising; maintaining a boat on the water safely for that matter.  From hurricanes to tsunamis the types of severe natural events seem to be increasing in regularity and strength, leaving many owners vulnerable to nature’s whims. What can you do to protect your vessel? There is actually plenty that unfortunate events have taught experienced boat owners, from keeping the boat safe while on the ground or the water; knowing where to place the vessels in relations to wind directions during storms; how to properly tie down your boat; as well as protecting the engine, electronics, windows, hatchets and the boat’s interior. If you like your boat and want to extend its useful life-span learn the best protection practices against the worst storms nature can brew.    

Yacht piracy is another serious risk to consider. The recent rash of pirate attacks off the coast of Africa is not isolated to commercial vessels, it also includes leisure vessels, which are seen as softer and lucrative targets since owners are often affluent individuals. The most notorious and heart wrenching recent case is that of a British couple kidnapped by Somali pirates at sea while in their yacht.  The pirates demand for ransom has reached a crescendo, especially when the British government is by law would not “make substantive concessions”.  It is a reminder that geopolitical issues, like piracy should be considered when choosing where to sail to. Sadly the Chandler’s case is far from isolated as there have been at least five pirate attacks against private yachts in 2009. Distance appears to be a reason why sailors would risk being captured in pirate infested waters while circumnavigating their vessels: “For yachts wishing to reach the Mediterranean from Asia, it’s a vexed question – round the Cape of Good Hope, which normally then involves crossing the Atlantic twice to catch prevailing winds? or through pirate infested Gulf of Aden? These questions are part and parcel of sailing or crusing safely around the world today.

In the last twenty years the world’s economy has began to shift from centuries of steady progress in the West as compared to the “Ottoman Middle East, Mogul India and Ming China”.  The new economic paradigm has created a series of political rifts, which have had a destabilizing effect in many regions of the world.  As the balance of power swings, nowhere is the new reality more prevalent than the world’s seas and oceans.  Sailing or cruising the world’s oceans and seas can also exposed you to global geopolitical forces and thus a great deal of risk.  Today’s sailors are required to add to their toolkit, knowledge of conflict zones as well as a healthy dose of prudence. 

Many events reflect how dynamic and fluid the risks can be. To bring this issue into sharp focus, as recently as November, 2009, the racing yacht crewed by five Britons ‘was stopped by Iranian naval vessels, on its way from Bahrain to Dubai for straying inadvertently into Iranian waters,’ the British Foreign Office (FO) said. The crew aboard ‘The Kingdom of Bahrain’ were Oliver Smith, Oliver Young, Sam Usher, Luke Porter and David Bloomer. The boat was arrested while sailing to Dubai for the Dubai-Muscat Offshore Race.  Also in November “The Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) of India seized a French yacht, Adriano, in Kochi after it entered the port without valid documents. It’s a timely warning for cruising sailors ensure that their documents are in order before entering foreign ports and not take their documentation casually.”  It’s also a sign of the intricacies of politically motivated risks at international/national waters. Lastly, there was also “the car bombing on the Spanish island of Mallorca, a very popular sailing venue, staged just before the start of the 28th Copa del Rey Audi Sailing Cup, which has brought the topics of terrorism and sailing into sharp relief. Just as the risk scenarios become evermore fluid, so most the sailors become more sophisticated about their prevention as well as mitigation protocols. 

By now you’re wondering how to keep safe from the myriad risk faced on the world seas and oceans.  Logically you would not be able to mitigate every risk, but you can make yourself and your boat more resilient by following some of these recommendations. There area a number of considerations to protect your vessel before, during or after a storm and other natural disasters. The rule of thumb is to never take chances:

  • Gather as much advance weather and potential disaster information as you can
  • When off the water the boat is safer on the ground if facing hurricane wind conditions
  • If the boat is on the water ensure that you tie your boat down at the right time before the storm, but not too so early that it blocks access to other vessels
  • Ensure there area tall dock pilings as low dock pilings can puncture the bottom or hull sides
  • Boats docked in tightly packed marinas, even if well-sheltered, need to be moved to better locations during a storm
  • Know where the boat refuges are; consider finding a well-protected, inland canal with a good dock
  • Have an extra set of new, and slightly oversized storm lines – about 1/4″ larger than normal size
  • Virtually all canvass, tops and sails and enclosures should be removed from the vessels
  • Cover small engine room hull side vents with duct tape, larger vents require the use a thin piece of plywood screwed to the vent.
  • Remove all external electronic instruments
  • All windows should be locked and duct taped

Although must boat owners, at some point, would become victims of theft and burglary there are steps you can take to minimize the likelihood:

  • Know that thieves generally prefer easy targets and often go for specific equipment, such as electronics and communication systems
  • Check your insurance – and remember to check ALL your insurance, including the policy and contract of your credit cards.
  • Keep record, in your anti-theft notebook, of all serial numbers, identification codes and other hints to identify your boat or particular equipment; also keep receipts of purchase
  • Use invisible pens to write your name and address on pieces of equipment or use etching tools.
  • Get a professional alarm system, especially for luxury yachts. Light, alarm sound systems and cameras can be scary to thieves.
  • Report theft immediately to the police and your insurance company; if the vessel is stolen make it’s listed on well known databases.

Piracy prevention can be as complex as the issues that have given rise to this phenomenon. Experts have device a number of preventative steps for leisure boat owners. Below are the best tips and advice I’ve come across:

  • Convoys seem like they may be a simple necessity in certain areas
  • Anchor during daylight hours or while asleep onboard in the cockpit or below with hatches and companionways open and unsecured
  • Buy one or more tazer guns, pepper, dog, bear sprayers, a fire extinguisher etc and mount them in crucial face height areas
  • Carry several flare guns strategically located
  • Retrofit all hatch openings and companionways are fitted with “man proof” bars
  • A power head, “bang stick”, (used for killing sharks), fitted to the end of a short speargun effectively gives you the power of a firearm at close quarters
  • Use of a military grade laser beam could temporarily blind a troupe of pirates so badly it will render them helpless
  • Consider using a portable, two-way satellite-based location, tracking and messaging technologies
  • A legal, cheap and effective deterrent is WASP SPRAY! You can clear into any country with it. It has an effective shooting distance of 20+ feet.

In conclusion, many protection and prevention strategies can be applied under different risk scenarios as analyzed above.  Taking stock of the risks scenarios is indeed a healthy practice as many events like piracy, theft, and weather events are unpredictable but can be effectively mitigated.  As far as the geopolitical implications of sailing/cruising, the effects may be predictable in so far as you do your research before setting out and keeping abreast of changes.  The ultimate aim is to make your time out in your vessels are pleasurable and safe as it can be.

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