Several Ounces of Prevention
|Unlocked dinghies and outboards are easy money for thieves all over the world. Always secure the dinghy to the dock with a long cable and sturdy padlock.|
Most of these anti-theft measures are designed to make it difficult-and therefore unattractive-for potential thieves to get into your boat when you're away. But what if they actually succeed in getting aboard and breaking in? For the storage of cash, important papers, and valuables, many cruisers have secret hidey holes in non-obvious places-not under the chart table. Goodlander had a full-on safe built into a secret compartment on his previous boat, Carlotta, and when Jim Carrier cruises, he hides valuables in several unobtrusive spots around the interior. The bottom line is this: Don't leave anything-computers, nav equipment, cash, jewelry-in the open. Even if the boat is locked tight, a motivated thief could still get in, but he won't be able to steal what he can't find. Carrier goes one step further: He never leaves the boat without his passport.
Remove the Power
And what if the bad guys intend to steal the whole boat instead of just a couple of jerry jugs of fuel or the dinghy? The next line of defense involves installing a removable battery switch that makes it relatively impossible to start the engine when it's been taken off. Yes, theoretically it's possible that a would-be thief could try to sail off or tow your boat away with a powerboat-and it's hard to defend against something like that, apart from chaining your boat to a sturdy dock-but chances are that if thieves are intent on taking your boat, a disabled engine could very well foil their plans.
In addition to all these preventive measures, there are also two ways to pay for "boat protection." The first and most obvious is to tie up at a marina that employs a security staff. A marina with a night watchman and docks protected by locking doors and that's well lit and abuzz with activity is a much less desirable target than a lone boat left unattended in a dark anchorage. But you'll have to pay the going dock rate. And just because the boat's in the marina doesn't mean that all the other security measures can be ignored. No matter how good the security is, boats in a marina can still represent easy pickings for opportunistic thieves.
If you can't find a secure marina or if an extended marina stay is too pricey, veteran cruisers report hiring local "boat watchers" to keep an eye on the boat while they're away. Obviously, this depends on where you are, and you'll have to size up your potential "security guard" for yourself to see if the money will be well spent, but it's a possible solution, and there's a certain logic to it. Some of the coolest cruising grounds are off the beaten track in areas with relatively poor yet well-meaning populations. Many trustworthy locals will gladly watch your boat for a small fee and provide a real defense against any unsavory types who may lurk on the fringes of their society.
Another commonsense defense lies in communication. Use the radio. Get to know what the cruisers radio net says about the safety of the anchorage, and get to know your neighbors. The cruising community looks out for one another. If you're leaving the boat for a while, let your neighbor in the anchorage know about it and ask him or her to keep an eye on things. Offer to do the same for them. Chances are that they'll be more than willing to help.
Aggressive Defensive Measures?
Fight or flight? Gun or Gandhi? Guns on board your boat open up a host of what-ifs that only you can answer, and the debate about whether to carry a gun or aggressively defend your boat-and, in some cases, your family-against would-be attackers won't be resolved here. However, Webb Chiles was ready to defend against would-be attackers off Indonesia with an old flare gun and a homemade spear, and other cruisers also report thinking of a flare gun as a potential defensive tool.
Most say that if they needed to, they'd first shoot a flare up in the air-to try to scare the attackers off as well as possibly signal for help. Some said they'd try to shoot at the attackers if the flare in the air didn't stop the attack. Remember, Peter Blake died trying to defend his crew and his boat with a gun-not a flare gun-against gun-wielding men in the Amazon. It's impossible to know. But would Blake have survived if he'd just handed over what the men wanted and then contacted the authorities?
Another defensive tool is wasp spray. It's available almost anywhere, and most cans shoot a stream up to 20 feet long. It can be a pretty powerful deterrent if you get it in the eyes of your attackers.
Most cruisers say that the threat of "pirates" is real in some areas but that it's not bad enough to keep them from cruising. All say, "Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst."
Depending on where you go, the chances of being victimized by petty theft are probably a little higher than a full-blown pirate attack offshore, and the majority of today's thieves probably want your outboard-if it's easy to steal-more than your head. The best thing to do is make your boat as uninviting to uninvited guests as possible.
Bill Springer is CW's senior editor.