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 Theft & Muggings




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 Countryís tourism industry!
There are even areas which are known to be exposed to the risk of violence against the crew of boats at anchor or even sailing along the shore (the Caribbean shores of Latin America and the notorious Gulf of Aden spring to mind). Also some specific anchorages in the Caribbean are deemed to be dangerous.
UPDATE: unfortunately, episodes of violent crime are on the rise in the Carribbean; most of the time these are due to local gangs, operating in a rather small area, so get the latest information about places best avoided from local sources!

A dream anchorage, such as in this image Bequia (Grenadines), but unfortunately violent crime in the area is on the increase

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 break into the un-attended boat 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 Djibouti!).

Finally, it must be remembered that dinghies are particularly exposed to theft, both when left ashore and when tied to the boatís stern during the night; even loose items on deck or in the cockpit are at risk.   NOTE: in this case, often fellow boaters have been found to be the culprights, rather than the locals!

Having said all that, it must be said also that very seldom we felt being at risk, and locals are almost always friendly and honest. There are known exceptions, and a quick check on a website such as ďnoonsiteĒ will tell you which are the current hotspots.

Paranoia is not entirely 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 (and preferably lifted out of the water at night).
Some advocate locking the hatches at night, but frankly thatís 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.
Some people recommend to NOT write the boat's name on the dinghy, to avoid the dinghy ashore becoming an easy indication that the boat is unattended!

Itís generally a very bad idea to quarrel with the locals (who may be tempted to come back at night to retaliate) and is conversely good to let them do a little business with you: indeed, they may offer non-requested services, such as helping with the moorings, and become very insistent, but in most cases 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 donít be fooled by apparently contentious attitudes: itís all part of the script! And donít expect too many thanks as well, money is often received very ungraciously (to show you that you made a good bargain of which the seller is unhappy - part of the script, again).

Itís always a good idea being in company with another boat, and especially to avoid being alone in an anchorage. When you go ashore, ask around to find out if itís safe to go alone or if itís better to go by taxi 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.

- Keeping on board and not declaring a hidden weapon is a VERY bad idea: if the weapon is discovered or, even worse, is used, the legal consequences may be very tough and easily include imprisonment or the impounding of the boat!

- Almost everywhere (except in the USA), use of a firearm in self defence is allowed ONLY if reacting to an armed threat, which means in a disadvantageous situation. Shooting an un-armed aggressor or trespasser is deemed a crime and definitely not a good idea, while starting a gunfight against an already-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 might be trying to sell you some fish!

The conclusion seems obvious to me, and itís 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 (like somebody who jumped onboard uninvited) without inflicting any permanent damage.

Pay attention that the rules concerning these devices are different from place to place, so make sure you get info about the rules of the Countries you plan to visit.

In the end, in most cases a good insurance will take care of theft much better than a shotgun!!


Webmaster: Gianfranco Balducci - email: gfbalduc@tin.it

Last Update: 07/09/2017

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