It is coming up on vacation time, so let’s talk about the mix of executive protection and sailing. For those who missed it, you might want to go back and look at the April 1999 issue of ÆGIS, and our article on piracy, before looking at this update.
In December of 2001, sailing champion Peter Blake was shot and killed by pirates near the mouth of the Amazon. In the summer of 2002 a group of clients exploring the Caribbean just barely averted being boarded (and ???) just north of Isla Margarita, and west of Grenada. In late fall of 2003, a dear friend was robbed while sailing from Chicago to Mackinac Island. Because of all of this activity, we have spoken with several seasoned sail- and pleasure-boat captains who have designed their cruises to be prepared for pirates. This is a distillation of the questions asked and answers received.
When do pirates attack?
When you are vulnerable. They attack when you are at anchor and asleep, or when you are underway at night, and almost always approach from the rear when underway. They prefer the stealth of night, quiet rows out to boats at anchor, or muffled high-speed boats to approach in your wake and out of your running-lights area of illumination.
Should you have weapons?
Yes, but it gets dicey when you come into port. The rules on weapons vary from place to place. In some places you have to declare the weapons, others disable them, and others still require them to be surrendered until departure,
or are banned completely. Check before you go. Some carry one weapon to be declared and have others well hidden. Some just don’t come into harbor on the boat with the weapons: They use a dingy, or hire a local tender, to take them to and fro.
What can the small craft owner do about pirates?
These suggestions are for small boats targeted by local criminals engaging in crimes of opportunity. They are not meant for large ships that might be victimized by organized criminals who have pre-planned their attack, nor against, say, heavily-armed drug dealers intending to capture a small boat.
• Listen to the local radio channels and talk to the local provisioners and sailors about reports of piracy. They are the best source of information. In some countries, the police themselves are sources of information about you to the criminals.
• Make your boat a harder target. When at anchor, position a watch and have lights that are activated by motion above a certain height. Motion detectors are not always effective, especially in rough weather conditions, but when the do work they can help.
• Some innovators run electrical fence wire around the perimeter of the boat and charge it when they go to sleep. It draws little or no current until someone completes the circuit. The operation we saw ran two small dual strands, and we can attest to the sound potential boarders make when they touch it. Oh, yeah, turn it off when you’re hosting the cocktail party!
• Another idea was to prepare a matt of tacks that can be laid on the deck at night and rolled up in the morning. Many locals go barefoot.
• When running at night keep an aft light to illuminate your wake.
• If you can, invest in a small water cannon for the rear of the ship. A strong stream of water can keep pirates from boarding, and does not often draw retaliation from small arms.
But most of all, think about what you are going to do, and be prepared. The world, including our seas, our oceans, and our lakes are getting a bit rougher.