Another frequent question we get concerns security: are there risks of theft or, worse, violent attack in the visited places?
What precautions should be taken?
Is it advisable to carry firearms on board? (a very touchy subject!)
Obviously, as relatively rich tourists visiting poor Countries, we are potential targets for the local hoodlums. Thieves do not care if they harm their Country’s tourism industry!
There are even areas which are known to be dangerous for boats at anchor or even sailing along the shore (the carribean shores of Latin America and the notorious Gulf of Aden spring to mind). Also some specific anchorages in the Carribean are deemed to be dangerous.
Similarly, there are some townships, such as Colon and the slums of Panama City, at the two ends of the Canal, which are dangerous even for the locals, let alone a solitary tourist!
The possibility for someone to breack into the boat while unattended must be considered, and there are even some places where a particularly light-stepped thief may dare boarding a boat at night while the crew is asleep (it happened to us in Gibuti!).
Finally, it must be remembered that dinghies are particularly exposed to theft, both when left ashore and when tied to the boat’s stern during the night; even loose items on deck or in the cockpit are at risk.
Having said all that, it must be said that very seldom we found ourselves at risk, and locals are almost always friendly and honest. The are known exceptions, and a quick check on a website such as “noonsite” will tell you which are the current hotspots.
Paranoia is not warranted then, but a few elementary precautions should be taken, such as never leave the boat open when unattended, and secure the dinghy (and the outboard motor) with chain and padlocks.
Some advocate locking the boat at night, but frankly that’s hardly feasible in hot climates and very seldom required.
When ashore, trusting the dinghy to the surveillance of a local may work, but do not count too much on it if he is not known to be reliable.
It’s generally a very bad idea to quarrel with the locals (who may be tempted to retaliate) and is conversely good to let them do a little business with you: if they offer non-requested services, such as helping with the moorings, just a small tip will be enough, no need to mistreat them.
Sellers who go around the anchorage offering their goods (fish, food, gadgets) may be very persistent and importunate when they knock on the boat at improbable hours, but again their service may be appreciated (although probably more expensive than ashore) and in general they do go away, after a while!
Remember bargaining is the rule, never accept the asking price and don’t be fooled by apparently contentious attitudes: it’s all part of the script! And don’t expect too many “thank you”s as well, money is often received very ungraciously (to show you that you made a good bargain of which the seller is unhappy).
It’s always a good idea being in company with another boat, and expecially to avoid being alone in an anchorage. When you go ashore, ask around to find out if it’s safe to go alone or if it’s better to go by taxy or anyway being escorted by a local.
Firearms on board?? Some considerations:
– Firearms must be declared on arrival in a Country, and more often than not they will be taken away by the authorities who will return them upon leaving the Country, which implies leaving from the same port of entry (not always convenient) and defies the whole purpose of having the weapon on board when coastal-cruising.
– Not declaring a hidden weapon is a VERY bad idea: if the weapond is discovered or, even worse, is used, the legal consequences may be very tough and easily include inprisonment or the impounding of the boat!
– Almost everywhere (except in the USA), use of a firearm in self defence is granted if reacting to an armed threat, which means in a disadvantageous situation. Shooting an un-armed aggressor or trespasser is not a good idea, and starting a gunfight against an armed opponent may see you on the losing side!
– Never, never, never react with a weapon when outnumbered or outgunned! Against a boatload of Kalashnikov-toting Aden-Gulf pirates, you would need a missile!!
– Last but not least, be aware of the risk of misinterpretation, made more possible by language and cultural barriers: that speeding fishing boat with 4 nasty looking guys on a collision course may simply try to divert you from his nets, or be trying to sell you some fish!
The conclusion seems obvious to me, and it’s the same which is recommended by the Rally Organisers: better NOT be armed!
What I WOULD consider nowadays is a few pepper-spray cans, which have now become legal in many European Countries: they are cheap, small enough to fit in a pocket or purse, and are very effective at disabling temporarily an opponent (or somebody who’s jumped onboard uninvited) without inflicting any permanent damage.
A good insurance will take care of theft much better than a shotgun!!