We watched the movie ‘Captain Phillips’ the other night which is about a freight ship being attacked by pirates. It is an excellent movie and had us all sitting on the edge of our seats!

One of my hero’s – Peter Blake, was tragically killed by pirates boarding his yacht up the Amazon River.

Pirate attacks on cruising yachts are not unheard of, and there are obvious pirate hot spots throughout the world that you would just avoid all together if you could. We will take precautions as you would if you were travelling anywhere in the world. To be honest you can get mugged in your own home street, so the threat of piracy shouldn’t be any reason to not go cruising.

Guns are not recommended on yachts. For starters you need to declare your gun when you check in to a country. They will usually take it and the ammunition and hold it for the duration of your stay in that country. Then presumably you would have to go back and pick it up, which would be a hassle in itself especially if you were planning on checking out from a different port. Other countries prohibit them all together and I read one forum post from someone who was thrown in jail in Mexico when he declared his gun on entry. Other people say that they fly the Texas flag – apparently Texans must be fond of their guns and shooting and so they think that this is a good deterrent!

Other cruisers recommend Bear Spray – or Mace. Again I think this is illegal in some countries, perhaps you could just change the cover to make it look like fly spray or air freshener!? It might be handy to have a can of this stashed somewhere so if someone was wanting you to get cash or something you could spray them with that…?

Other cruisers have fishing gaffs or baseball bats (for subduing fish) and other things like that which could be used to defend ones self. Some people have wooden cut outs shaped like machine guns and painted black. If a pirate was watching you brandishing one of those about through his binoculars then they might think twice about coming over. We have a diving spear gun on board and usually carry a knife in our pocket and have other sharp knives stashed around in handy locations to be able to cut lines swiftly if required.

Flares could be another thing you could fire at someone.

The thing about weapons is that they can just as easily be turned against you. So I guess that you would need to assess the situation at the time to figure out if that might work.

Slocum (the first person to sail single handed around the world) writes about leaving tacks on the deck to deter anyone trying to board his yacht at night. On the Captain Phillips movie, they smash some glass and it cuts the feet of one of the pirates who isn’t wearing shoes.

I also read an article about a man who boarded a yacht without the permission of the owner somewhere in the Caribbean. There were words exchanged, and the man jumped back off the yacht and then drowned on his way back to shore… the sailor was then thrown in jail! I am not sure of the whole story but this would be a dreadful situation to be in!

The NZ Government Safe Travel website advises that they do not pay ransoms, and they recommend that you take out travel insurance to cover yourself for kidnapping. Would be worth a look at some travel insurance policies to see what they say about this.

the Noonsite website recommends a few precautions to take if you are going to a known danger area:

  • Travel in a convoy of 3 to 6 boats and remain in close contact. Ensure that all the yachts can travel at a similar speed – at a minimum of 5 kts.
  • Ensure everyone is carrying enough fuel to motor through the danger area.
  • At night do not display mast head lights
  • Turn off your AIS position trackers and take off your radar reflectors. Be aware that you will need to keep a good eye out for other shipping, but try to make yourself invisible to the pirates.
  • Keep calls on the VHF to a minimum or find another way of communicating with one another – via SSB or texting on Satellite phones perhaps
  • Do not communicate your position in Latitude and Longitude. Instead have set way points and you can talk about a bearing and distance to those points.
  • Maintain a constant watch on the radar and alert the others of anything in the vicinity
  • Have all the phone numbers of the relevant maritime or naval authority loaded in to your satellite phone. Advise them in advance of your travel plans.
  • Send position reports to a reliable person ashore who can also alert the authorities in the event of a situation
  • The last yacht should have a floating line attached to the stern to deploy and perhaps wrap around the propeller of any advancing boat.
  • Make a Mayday call on the VHF if you get the opportunity and set off your EPIRB.
  • If the worst comes to the worst, do not resist the attackers, hand over your valuables and follow their instructions. Apparently in recent attacks the pirates have been happy with this and no one was hurt.
  • Other suggestions include towing a dinghy with a VHF and some supplies in there, if the pirates board your yacht, you can jump over the side and get in to your dinghy.
  • Perhaps consider having some cash in USD$ stashed somewhere on the yacht to be able hand over.
  • Consider if you do get kidnapped and they are asking for a ransom – whose phone number would you give for them to negotiate with? Who would you want them to call? Perhaps you could give them some advice first.
  • Remember that Andrew is an Australian Citizen, I have dual British and New Zealand Nationality. All three governments should be advised if we are taken hostage. They all should be able to help.

Sources of information about Pirate activities in the Indian Ocean – Red Sea area:

  • UK Maritime Trade Operation UKMTO – are a division of the British Royal Navy. They have information for yachts transiting this area on their website
  • The Maritime Security Centre for the Horn of Africa MSCHOA
  • NATO Shipping
  • Hostage UK 



One thought on “Piracy

  1. Hi Viki,

    We have decided that during our circumnavigation we avoid high risk pirate areas. Hence, crossing the Indian Ocean we sailed from Cocos Keeling to Mauritius and then south under Madagascar and across to Richards Bay, South Africa. Although this is a more difficult route regarding sea conditions and weather systems it is preferable to facing nasty pirates.

    Our next leg will take us from South Africa across the South Atlantic to Recife, Brazil then up to Trinidad. Again we will stick with our avoidance technique but, as you say, there are bad guys where ever one goes so we always are vigilant in our avoidance techniques. If we do anchor in a sketchy bay or harbour we make sure to hoist our dinghy and lock it on deck. If it were somewhere that we are really not sure of I would love to try Slocum’s technique of tacks on deck. Wouldn’t it be sweet to hear the screams of agony when someone steps on one? (Unless it is my poor co-cap, Billy, forgetting about them and heading out of the cockpit during the night to ‘check the shrouds’!!!). I’m determined to give it a go though 🙂

    We do carry to canisters of bear spray (we live and hike in grizzly country here in Canada so we always carry bear spray with us and know how to discharge it effectively). I doubt if any officials in any of the countries we have sailed to would even know what it was let alone question us about it. We have never had any customs/agriculture officials search our boat. (The most thorough check we had was when we sailed into NZ and the AgBio people confiscated my jar of honey and bag of popcorn kernels!!).

    Good luck in your continued prep.

    Fair winds
    SV Terrwyn


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