Thursday, March 26, 2009

Yacht murder: how to avoid a pirate attack

The brutal murder of yachtsman Malcolm Robertson (pictured left with his wife Linda), who is believed to have been bludgeoned to death in Thailand when robbers broke into their 44ft boat is another terrible reminder of the vulnerability of a boat at anchor in many places of the world.

How can you minimise the risks of an attack at anchor?

This is a subject we've often covered in Yachting World and here are some suggestions to improve on board security that have been put forward by long-term cruisers:

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. On the first reports, that's what appeared to happen on the Robertson's 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 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 Some cruisers also keep out of date credit cards, other fake valuables and some cash ready to give up if attacked. In my view this is risky - if a robber wants valuables, give him the real thing and don't rely on fooling them; cash and items are replaceable but you and your crew are not. 

7. Keep a hand-held 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

For more about piracy risk areas round the world, and where the hotspots currently are, please read my blog. I am also interested in any other suggestions or comments on this subject, so please feel free to email me via the link at the end of the blog.

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