Some recommendations for minimising the risk of pirates or intruders aboard

In view of the renewed interest in the dangers of piracy, I’m updating and recapping on a post from earlier this year on reducing the risks.

The original post was in response to the brutal murder of Malcolm Robertson in Thailand in March and was geared towards protecting a yacht from intruders. That is still where most of the risks, small as they are, come from when cruising far afield.

I’ll preface these tips by observing that there are limited precautions to be taken against kidnapping for ransom in the Indian Ocean. As the risk from Somali pirates spreads almost as far as the Seychelles and Madagascar, it cuts across the most favourable and popular round the world route from Thailand and Indonesia back to the Atlantic.

As I wrote last week (here), it could just be that the safer route now is actually into the Red Sea via Oman, as US and EU Naval activity has chased the pirates out to areas with fewer military assets.

But regardless, going north through the Red Sea is no picnic. It’s not something I could recommend. There is a high percentage of headwinds from at least midway, so you might face 1,000 miles’ rhumb line course with winds bang on the nose – make that 1,500 miles of beating into headseas. Once was enough for me.

So what do you do? I think you either grit your teeth and submit to the Red Sea experience direct to the Med or you take a risk and go from the Seychelles or perhaps straight from Cocos Keeling to, say, Durban. If you are leaving the Seychelles, maybe the thing to do would be to turn off the nav lights and run dark, discuss your plans with no-one, keep radio silence but maintain a VHF and radar watch. And slink away from other vessels.

But as I say, the bigger risks on a long-distance cruise come from theft or intruders (parts of Venezuela are currently risky) so here are some of our and other readers’ recommendations. Please feel free to post any other suggestions or comments.

1. Lift your dinghy alongside the toerail or on board at night, and if possible rig up a strop and halyard to make that easy. One of the easiest and highest value things to steal is a dinghy and outboard, and it will draw robbers to, and possibly on board, your boat.

2. Lift up the transom boarding ladder. This simple precaution will make it much more difficult to board your boat

3. Fit bunk fans and keep the companionway hatch and other cabin hatches shut in areas you feel could be a problem (eg, some parts of the Caribbean). Ideally, all internal hatches should open toward the companion, and jamb toward the cabin

4. If you are worried about being boarded, fit an inexpensive infrared alarm in the cockpit that will emit a loud shriek.

5. Always stow sailing knives and any other items that might be used as a weapon

6. Fit a concealed safe for valuable possessions. Some cruisers also keep out of date credit cards, other fake valuables and some cash ready to give up if attacked.

7. Keep a handheld VHF beside your bunk if you are in a suspect area

8. If you’re in a dodgy area, set up an anchor and VHF watch between nearby yachts

9. When you anchor, do pre-start-checks so that you can make way at a moment’s notice and keep a safe course to steer out written down by the wheel

10. Keep a red parachute flare handy so that it can be fired out of a hatch to raise the alarm.

You’ll notice that I’ve not included guns on this list. I’ve written a post on the pros and cons of carrying a gun on board – click here.