This is a subject that comes up with every new group of cruisers. How do I stay safe when we go cruising?

And the inevitable question, “Should I carry a gun?

I have heard these asked countless times, and the subject seemingly comes up in every cruising seminar. Even the Great Loop forums talk about it. And with the increase in cruising interest from the pandemic, it is human nature to ponder what we don’t yet know.

What we are really talking about here is a fear of the unknown. What will it be like, and how do I avoid danger? Until one gains experience, running a boat in varying conditions and venturing into unknown waters and places, it is normal to have some level of anxiety. It is all so new. The cruising life can be a grand adventure, and every new day brings the uncertainty of what is around the next bend. As exciting as this is, it can also be unsettling until one has experience, able to take it all in stride. Tony Fleming and I talked at length about not letting down one’s guard while cruising.

Let me define the playing field here. We are not talking about world cruising. Most people these days are looking to cruise around North America, not travel the high seas in remote areas of the world. The dangerous areas are well known and do not belong on the itinerary of most cruisers anyway.

Seen below: Some cruisers make the decision to bring their personal firearms on board their boat during a longer trip.

gun on a yacht

So, let us skip the issues of piracy and terrorism, as they are just not relevant. But among the concerns of new cruisers, is the potential for crime as one travels far from home. Thankfully, the low risk of criminal activity almost always comes in the form of crimes of opportunity, specifically, petty theft or vandalism. Seldom does it escalate into a situation where it threatens personal safety.

Deck shoes and handheld radios disappear off a side deck or out of a cockpit when everyone is off the boat or down below. The theft of a dinghy has a much higher impact, of course, but that, too, can be prevented. Dive gear left in plain sight is also something that sticky fingers can quickly snatch. I know a couple, anchored way off the beaten path, whose trawler’s nylon anchor rode was cut during the night, setting the boat adrift. It eventually settled onto shallow mud.

And these instances did not happen in some snarly dump like Djibouti or Somalia. No, south Florida and on the ICW in the Carolinas.

My own experience with theft was right here in Annapolis, during the fall cruising migration south. Someone stole my new aluminum propane tank out of its cockpit locker. And left me a rusty steel tank in exchange. I put a lock on the locker.

At the heart of safety at sea is the ability to manage one’s fears. Fear is nothing more than a state of mind. When things go wrong, keeping a cool head is paramount to staying safe, whether it is deteriorating weather conditions, a man overboard, or dealing with a stressful situation, like losing an engine at the worst possible time. Or worrying about someone coming aboard at night.

To be safe on the water, it important for someone new to boating to work hard to become a great boat operator. Learn the elements you boat in, learn what your boat can do in varying conditions, learn how to handle the boat when the weather turns nasty, learn how to dock properly, learn what not to do when conditions deteriorate.

Most of us go cruising for adventure and to meet new people and see new things. Yet, we stay alert to the weather, and we stay alert while running the boat. So, in a broader sense of security, we should also stay alert of everything else while cruising.

It is just a different slant on learning to become a better boat operator.

Seen below: A Raymarine Doppler Marine Radar can keep you informed of approaching storms or inclement weather.

doppler marine radar 

Staying aware is the number one way to avoid problems while cruising. Know where you are and whether it is a problem area. Drug-related crime is a bigger problem in Miami, for example, that most other cruising areas you will visit. But even in quiet Paducah, Kentucky, I know a couple who were boarded at night by a couple of drunk young men looking for a place to crash. Another friend in Miami had a young couple sneak aboard his Fleming Yachts 55 to have some intimacy and fool around on the flybridge. They chose his boat as it was dark and appeared to have no one aboard.

If you have davits, don’t leave your dinghy in the water, as it is an open invitation. Even taking subtle, preventative measures lets any potential thief know that you are better prepared than other nearby boats, so he will go elsewhere.

It is all about eliminating opportunity. And to do that means you must stay aware. Consider installing lights on your boat’s exterior, as LED lights are a great deterrent against drunks, romantic couples, or someone looking for easy pickings.

Here is an important point about lighting. You want to light them up, not yourself. No thief (or amorous couples) likes to be in the spotlight, literally. It also blinds them and takes away their night vision.

When you hear a noise on deck, the absolute worst thing you can do is also the most common reaction, to turn on an interior light to get out of your berth. Rather than shed light on the bad guy (if there even is one), you have just killed your night vision, illuminated yourself as well as where you are on the boat. That is as dumb as it gets.

It is much better to be able to throw a switch that turns on your mast and other exterior lights, wired to throw the entire deck and exterior into bright light, easily doable with small bright LED lighting fixtures. Anyone on deck is going to be immediately uncomfortable as the center of attention, and yet he still will not know who you are, where you are, and how many are aboard. This is a much better scenario.

Take control of your exterior lighting. Wire a system together that you can switch on from near your berth, at the helm, or wherever it is easy to reach undetected in the dark interior.
If your boat is set up with these lights, and you have a sneaking suspicion that something is off, why not leave some exterior lighting on all night, as it is a good warning to keep anything from happening. It is a simple way to avoid trouble.

Seen below: Motion detectors and cameras can not only increase your visibility of who is on your boat, but they also a natural deterrent for thieves should they see they're being filmed.

yacht security cameras 

Motion detectors are also worth considering if you want to increase security, so any movement turns on lights or alarms. There are many wireless alarm systems out there now that work with smartphone apps, many use a subscription service, and which can be set to automatically alert emergency contacts.

Again, don't make it easy.

It is no surprise that many cruisers have dogs aboard. In addition to being wonderful companions, a dog is both a great deterrent and a four-legged defensive device. On Spitfire, we cruised with Annie, the sweetest faux golden retriever you will ever meet. She is a real sweetheart, loved by all.

Despite her sweet disposition, Annie is a superb guard dog. She went berserk whenever someone she doesn’t know came near our transom steps. Out of sight, it is easy to imagine she is a rabid junkyard dog, as her bark is ferocious, loud, and downright scary. Her hackles go up when she engages a potential threat, and her blazing eyes shooting death rays and bared teeth are fiercely terrifying, truly a canine demon from Hell.

Seen below: Annie enjoying a sunny day on Spitfire while cruising the ICW.

dogs on boats

A petty thief would have to be seriously delusional to step aboard, which reduced our cruising risk of crime to zero.

Crime while cruising is not common, although we all know someone with an experience, mostly from simple theft.

Okay, now the question of guns, and what alternatives may be out there. I could simply answer the question, but you would probably think it is just my opinion, and not based on facts and other objective criteria. I would rather provide more background and detail to convince you that my comments come from impeccable sources that are the definition of authority.

The short answer to “Should I bring a gun on my boat?” is NO. I will explain in more detail in the next piece.

Go cruising, stay aware of your situation, and be ready to enjoy the adventure of a lifetime.


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