Dick Beaumont loads the dice against piracy attack
Anti-piracy preparation for your yacht
Here are some simple rules that I have developed over the years to reduce a yacht and crews susceptibility to piracy. If you read and digest the information from the various sources below, you will realise that most acts of piracy are caused by opportunistic crime.
At anchor or in port
- Never leave your dingy or rib in the water overnight.
In many parts of the world, an outboard engine’s value will equate to months or even a year’s income to a would-be thief, so lift the tender and outboard up in the davits every night.
I met a lovely Mauritian couple, Phillipe and Gaelle, who left Mauritius to sail off around the world in their yacht Gaia. Their first stop after leaving Mauritius was Antsiranan in Diego Suarez, northeast Madagascar. Their dingy and outboard were stolen during their very first night at anchor.
A ‘scallywag’, with a sharp knife between his teeth, will swim out, cut the painter and drift away until it’s safe to climb on board and start the engine or man the oars.
Dinghy garages are a bad idea for several reasons. The labour of putting your dinghy away and re-deploying in the morning makes it tempting to leave it astern. When the swim platform is down all stowed equipment is on show for every passer-by.
2. Never allow locals aboard until you have spent a bit of time, days not hours, getting to know them.
This can create some embarrassment, especially if they have offered gifts for which they require no payment, so I cover my refusal to invite them on board by explaining that I am just the skipper or captain and the owner has made this rule. This ruse achieves two things; it enforces the position that they are not allowed onboard whilst telling the locals you wish you could invite them, so you’re still a good guy. It also gives a clear message that you are not a wealthy person and are just working.
In Papua New Guinea we heard of another yacht that was ahead of us travelling through the islands. We later found out they had invited locals onto the boat for drinks. Several hours after everyone had left two guys returned to rob the yacht and rape the wife of the skipper. The skipper shot the borders. One was killed, the other was seriously injured but survived. The skipper then threw both overboard and sailed off and was not heard of anywhere in PNG again. I unknowingly visited the same island and anchorage just two weeks after this incident. I asked my two standard questions of the chief who came out to greet us to his island: Is everyone here friendly and are there any crocodiles? The chief replied “yes, now all friendly, but her cousin…”, he pointed to the lady in the canoe, fig 1, “…was killed by another yacht captain because he and his friends were raskols.” I said I was sorry to hear that, he simply said, “no, he did bad things so it’s good he was killed.” Village justice prevails in PNG.
3. IF you need to store fuel on deck, cover the jerry cans with a tarpaulin even if they are empty.
We were visited at night in Papua New Guinea by two guys who came to steal our fuel canisters which were strapped on deck. They had come by in daylight in a skiff and stopped to ask if we had some cigarettes. They left on what seemed like friendly terms, but I was suspicious, so we operated an anchor watch overnight. At 2 am that night we awoke to the sound of a spanner being banged on the bottom of a large cook pot by the watch person and the deck lights going on, illuminating the whole boat. As the crew and I ran up into the cockpit the would-be thieves (pirates, because it was at sea) sped off. We were able to follow them with our torches for a fair distance as they were wearing dayglo orange jackets!
The canisters they had come to steal were empty but they didn’t know that, so we had unwittingly attracted the raskols (a PNG bad guy) to us.
4. Always lock up.
If your outboard is stored on the pushpit, lock it in position with a chain that can be seen, a thief will casually drift by checking how easy the getaway will be. Better still, while in port, stow the engine in the lazarette.
Have a secure locking bar and padlocks for the lazarette too.
5. Light it up
Ensure you have good deck lights that can be switched on from below if you hear a disturbance. Thieves don’t like to be seen.
It may seem counterintuitive, but it’s a good precaution to leave the deck lights on overnight in busy anchorages. Don’t think for a minute that thieves don’t know there’s a new yacht in the anchorage.
6. Why not use the Air conditioning?
Most sailors would not consider air conditioning to be part of the yacht’s anti-piracy procedure but if you turn on the aircon you can shut and lock all the hatches and the companionway, and go to sleep in peace.
7. Always check
The last person up should check around the whole deck and cockpit and put away the binoculars, bottle of rum, sunglasses and anything left lying around.
8. Always be heard
Keep a hand-held fog horn ready to hand, with the deck lights on and a foghorn blaring away most thieves will run away fast.
- Have the relevant emergency numbers ready and at hand.
- Same for VHF channels and start broadcasting loudly.
- If you have one, use a hand-held VHF to ‘reply’ to your call for help on channel 16, so that if pirates are listening, it will seem help is on the way.
- Prepare a sacrificial clear bag or two with a couple of credit cards in date and several out of date and some cash, maybe 100 euros or USD and a big bundle of foreign currency, 100,000 Indonesian Rupiah is worth 5 Euros! If you have old passports add them to the sacrificial bag. Have it in a handy locker or draw in the saloon which you open in front of them otherwise they will want to know what else is in the draw you got it from.
- Have the electronic nav equipment covers to hand and put them on if you can. It may deter thieves from trying to rip them out if they don’t see them.
- Lastly, wear a smile and remember the easier you make it for them to get some booty and leave, the better they will like it and depart.
All the above said, in 40 years of cruising, often in areas of the world that many would consider a bit risky, including Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, The Philippines, the Caribbean, Africa, Borneo and plenty of others, I have lost only one thing to ‘piracy’; the red spiral kill cord from my outboard engine.
So, please don’t get paranoid imagining problems everywhere you go, but don’t be a naive greenhorn either.
I hope this piracy series and our podcasts on the subject provide a heads up for you and your crew.
When it comes to piracy, knowledge is king
Sailors can avoid pirates in two ways; steer clear of coastlines infamous for piracy (click here to see part two of OS Piracy), and/or institute a programme that will reduce your susceptibility to opportunistic crime.
Make yourself aware of areas of heightened risk and also familiarise yourself with the type of piracy that may have occurred in places you wish to visit.
Piracy Information Sources
Best Management Practices to Deter Piracy. Even if you never enter an HRA (High-Risk Area), it’s beneficial to understand the procedures and protocols relevant to deter piracy, whether for commercial craft or yachts.
A useful website for bluewater cruisers, founded by world cruising yachtsman Jimmy Cornell, carries security and piracy information relevant to every maritime country of the world.
Click here to visit noonsite.com
Hotline for reporting and enquiring about piracy worldwide +60 3 2031 0014 this is manned 24 hours, seven days a week.
This is a must for sailors who want to keep themselves abreast of piracy activity across the world, both current and historic. It incorporates an interactive world map that identities what’s happened and where.
This website, run by cruisers, for cruisers, covers detailed security issues across the whole Caribbean basin.
Click here to visit
MAST is one of the world’s largest security companies specialising in marine security protection. They supply onboard security protection for yachts of all sizes in the main areas of concern and at an affordable cost to yacht owners.
Gerry Northwood, ex-Royal Navy Captain and Commander and MAST Security’s Chairman, revealed his company’s operational procedures to Dick Beaumont and Dick Durham over the course of two recent Ocean Sailor Podcasts on Piracy (click here to listen).
MAST’s website carries weekly marine security reports for every area of the world.
Click here to visit Mast-Security.com
If despite the warnings, you are intending to sail into known piracy areas, you should report into the anti-piracy organisations responsible for the area, as below:
Northern Indian Ocean / Horn of Africa / Southern Red Sea
MSCHOA -Marine Security Centre Horn of Africa. To report your intentions of entry into the area covered by MSCHOA, email
email@example.com and make MSCHOA aware of your passage plan.
West Coast Africa/Gulf of Guinea
MDAT-GOG Marine Domain Awareness Trade – Gulf of Guinea. Report your intentions to firstname.lastname@example.org or call +33298228888