The prospect of being boarded at night and robbed is in the back of any cruiser's mind, especially when anchoring in a remote place.  There are many instances of people being held at knife point, shot and even killed.  In certain parts of the world, piracy is a big problem.  The thought of being boarded while underway and held to ransom is a subject of nightmares. The third problem is dinghy and outboard theft - not a serious danger to your health, but very, very inconvenient. 

Early into our cruising on Alba, our friend Steve on "Celebration" gave me some good advice, which has formed the basis for our strategy against "Rascals".  

Before I get into all this heavy security stuff, I must say that in 95% of places we feel totally secure and don't lose much sleep worrying about being robbed.


2.1  Boarded at Night
If someone sneaks on board in the middle of the night, it is very unlikely that you will awake from your deep sleep until they make a very loud noise. When you do wake up, you will be disorientated and unable to take action for many valuable seconds.  

If Rascals have gained access to the interior of your boat, then they will be on top of you before you can do anything.  

So, RULE NUMBER 1 is: "Keep the Rascals Out of the Boat".

We sleep in our aft cabin, with a large hatch above our bed, which provides very good ventilation.  Therefore, we do not need any other ventilation.  EVERY night, whether in a marina or anchorage, we lock all the hatches (apart from our aft cabin hatch) and lock a sturdy mosquito frame in the companion-way hatch.  The mosquito frame is made from plywood and a Rascal would have to make a lot of noise to smash through it, giving me time to take action. 

If we are in a "Dodgy Place", we have a set of stainless steel bars, which fits into the hatch above our bed and would stop someone jumping down through the hatch.  We also put the full, solid-wood washboards into the companionway instead of the lighter mosquito screen.  In our "Dodgy Place" mode, it would take minutes to gain entry to the interior of the boat, even if they are armed with guns.

Many boats have an alarm system.  The previous owner of Alba installed an alarm system with a pressure pad and a motion sensor in the main cabin - we've never switched it on because two seconds after it goes off, the Rascals would be on top of us.  It would be better to have a motion sensor in the cockpit to alert us about an intruder and act as an audible deterrent.  You can get portable, battery operated motion detectors, which some cruisers use.

Imagine that we now have one or more Rascals on board, but they can't get into the boat to rob or kidnap us.  They are trying to get in and threatening us.  They will have at least a machete and possibly guns.  They are likely to be under the influence of drugs/drink/adrenaline and you will not be able to reason with them.  They may kill or seriously maim you.

So, onto STEP 2 - "Scare the Rascals Away"

No doubt the Rascals thought that this would be an easy job - sneak on board and rob the rich, white people.  At this point, we turn on all our lights - three deck lights, navigation lights - everything.  We have a siren in the cockpit, we turn this on.  The Rascals are now lit up and we're making a lot of noise.  I start screaming "I'm calling the Police".  I get on VHF radio and call "MAYDAY", then call the police on the phone if I have one.  We get out our fog-horn and make more noise.  We have a 1 million lumen search light - we start shining that through the hatches and the companionway, hopefully we will blind the Rascals. If there are other cruisers nearby, it will attract them.  If we are close to a town, then people will notice.  Hopefully, the Rascals will run away.

Now imagine that they haven't run away.  They've gained access to the inside of the boat.  It's likely that only one person can gain access either through the companionway or the aft hatch.

So, we come to STEP 3 - "Disable the Rascals".  This is a little more tricky.  If you have a gun (we don't) then you could shoot the first Rascal and then get into a firefight with the other(s).  Other methods include Stun Guns, Pepper Spray and Cudgels.  Once you have disabled a Rascal, then it is important that you secure him - tie him up so that he's permanently disabled.  We have large cable ties linked together like handcuffs for this purpose.

Stun Gun, Pepper Spray and Cable Ties

Wall-mounted Pepper Spray with handcuffs

We have two 3,000,000 Volt stun guns, which we bought in the USA. (I keep one under a corner of my mattress in case a Rascal drops through the hatch at night.) The Stun Guns are handheld devices, so we have to get close and make physical contact, but they should put a big bloke down for 10 seconds, which should be long enough to get the cable ties on him.  I tried to buy a Tazer Gun in the USA, with a range of 20 feet, but they are only available to US citizens.

We have two large Pepper Spray guns, which we bought in the USA and keep in wall mounted holders.  These shoot out a gel and have a range of ten foot.  The idea is to shoot the gel into the Rascal's eyes, which hopefully will let me get close with the Stun Gun and get the cable ties on.

We don't have a Cudgel.  Some cruisers carry a very large, metal torch that can be used as a blunt weapon.  I've never bothered, mostly because I hate the thought of the sickening crunch when you cave someone's head in. 

Oops, all that planning didn't work.  The Rascals have gained access to the boat and grabbed one of us.

Finally, STEP 4 - "Stay Alive".  You gave it your best, but they got through.  The Rascals are well pissed off and will probably give you a beating.  Our strategy is now to submit, help them to rob us and survive.  It's only material possessions and we're insured.

You might well ask "Well if you're insured then let them rob you".  It's a strategy - you just don't don't bother with any security, then if someone comes on board and grabs you, go straight to Rule Number 4.  This is all well and good, but they may still beat you up, maim you or even kill you...

2.2  Boarded While Underway
There are known areas in the world where the locals have learned to board vessels at sea - Somalia, Phillipines and Venezuela are rough places.

STEP 1 - "Avoid the Piracy Areas".  The best thing to do is to avoid these areas.   There are enough nice places in the world without having to put yourself at risk.

Let's say you have to sail through a known pirate area.  The route from Grenada to Trinidad has been a trouble spot for years, with Venezuelan fishermen boarding yachts and robbing them.  It's a difficult one.

STEP 2 - "Avoid the Pirates".   Travel in daylight.  Stay in radio contact with the Coast Guard.  If travelling at night, switch off all running lights.  Switch off AIS. Travel in close convoy with a few other boats to make yourselves a less easy target.  For the trip between Grenada and Trinidad, most boats head a lot further east than the Rhumb line because most attacks have been on the rhumb line.

Imagine that you've tried to keep a low profile, but somebody's found you.  A fast pirogue loaded with six men is roaring towards you.  You now have a dilemma - Is it some fishermen coming to have a look at you, maybe to trade some fish (this happens a LOT) or is it a load of blood-thirsty pirates?

STEP 3 - "Avoid Being Boarded".  Best thing to do is to turn sharply away from them and see what they do. You will not be able to out run them - they can probably zoom along at 15 knots.  Do several sharp turns to try to put them off.  If they start to come alongside then shout at them to keep away.  Tell them that you've already contacted the coast guard.  If they are still intent on approaching, then put out a MAYDAY and continue to make evasive manoeuvres.  

We have a flare pistol, so I would fire flares at the pirogue.  I would try to get myself into a position where I could hit them side-on with the front of our boat.  I would think that if you tried to bang into them with the side of your boat, then there's a good chance that one or more could leap aboard your boat.  I would use my Stun Gun to zap anyone who managed to get a hold of our boat.  (At the more extreme end - shoot at them with your shotgun; throw a bottle of petrol into their boat and fire a flare; maybe have some Molotov Cocktails handy...)

If evasive manoeuvres and flares don't discourage them, then it might be time to give up.  They would expect a little resistance, but if you physically hurt one or more of them then things may get very nasty when they get on board.

STEP 4 - "Stay Alive". Same as being robbed at anchor. You gave it your best, but they got through.  The Rascals are well pissed off and will probably give you a beating.  Our strategy is now to submit, help them to rob us and survive.  It's only material possessions and we're insured.

2.3  Dinghy Security
Your dinghy with its 15hp outboard motor is an obvious target for theft.  

Our outboard is always locked to the dinghy - after trying a few cheap outboard locks which just rusted away within a year, we splashed out on a MotorLoc from, which is well made from stainless steel and after five years is still going strong.  If our outboard is lifted onto our deck then it is locked in the same way.

EVERY night, we lift our dinghy out of the water using our davits.  If we are in a "Dodgy Place", then we also run a stainless steel chain from the dinghy through the outboard lock and lock it onto our arch.  This acts as a visual deterrent and would also make a lot of noise if someone tried to lower our dinghy down.  (There have been reported cases where a local boat has been manoeuvred under a suspended dinghy and the davit ropes have been silently cut.)  If you don't have davits, then raise the dinghy at the side of your boat using a spinnaker halyard.  Other cruisers always put their dinghy up on the front deck at night.  I couldn't sleep at night with my £4,000 dinghy and outboard floating behind our boat on a bit of rope.

When we go ashore, we try to look for places that are safe to leave the dinghy.  Landing on a beach next to a bar might be a lot safer than tying it up to the town dock - go into the bar, have a drink and ask if it's okay to leave the dinghy there.  They will generally keep an eye on it for you.  We look for strong points where we can chain the dinghy up.  We have some 6mm stainless steel chain with good quality marine padlocks.  It's very rare that we don't chain up our dinghy.

In some places you cannot chain up your dinghy because other boats are coming in and they might have to move your dinghy for you.  In this case you might have to pay for a local to look after it. 

When we install our chain, we make sure that it is looped through the petrol tank - 10 litres of petrol in a convenient carrying tank is very tempting.

2.4  Leaving the Boat at Anchor or in a Marina
We ALWAYS lock up our boat when we leave it - even for just ten minutes.  Some people like to leave hatches open for ventilation or can't be bothered to lock up when "just" going to the beach for a swim.  Touch Wood, we've never had anything stolen from our boat.  It only takes about a minute to lock our boat securely, so why not?

Another reason to lock up is Rain.  There's nothing more amusing than sitting in a beach bar when an unexpected rain shower hits.  There's often a quick discussion between couples - "Did we close the hatches?"  This is normally followed by an undignified rush to launch the dinghy and speed off to close the hatches.

I had a set of Stainless Steel bars made while we were in Malaysia. 

Security Bars on Aft Hatch

Design of Aft Hatch Bars

It's a very simple frame made using 10mm Stainless steel rod.  There are two 10mm pins on one side that fit into holes in the wooden hatch surround.  At the other side, I have two bolts which screw into holes on the opposite side of the wooden frame.  It looks fairly elegant and we can open and close the hatch without any problem.  It wouldn't stop a determined effort to break it, but it would slow someone down for a few minutes.

Most of this is common sense.  In ten years of cruising on Glencora and Alba, we've been anchored in many remote areas all by ourselves and (Touch Wood) have never been boarded or had anything stolen.  Our precautions are all in place, we know what we will do if we encounter any Rascals, so we sleep soundly at night.  

Most people in this world are honest and friendly, so instead of sitting on your boat and eyeing the natives suspiciously, go and have a chat to them, you never know what new friends you may find.