I often get asked about safety and security on charter, and most of the time I shrug and say it’s a matter of common sense, just like at home. Some places may be more prone to issues than others, but it’s usually a matter of luck—good or bad. For example, you may be warned to lock your dinghy in parts of the Caribbean, but you can pretty much leave your wallet on the dock in Tonga. In Tahiti, one of our boats in a rally I helped organize had their kayak stolen when they left it in the water overnight, while another boat had theirs brought back by locals after it blew off the deck in a gust one night—all on the same trip. Then again, because you never know, here are some tips to ensure you stay “lucky” and hang onto your stuff.
Lock the Boat
The best cure is prevention, so lock the boat whenever everyone goes ashore. If people will return at different times, hide the key aboard and let everyone know where. The boat usually heats up when closed, so open small hull ports or head hatches that won’t cause problems in case of rain.
Leave a light on
This was always my father’s favorite deterrent at night. A light in the saloon of a catamaran isn’t helpful since it just illuminates the whole interior and shows that nobody’s aboard. However, a light down in a cabin may do the trick.
Take it with you
I generally don’t leave the boat without my passport unless I’m going for a SUP or am swimming to the beach. In that case, I hide all my valuables, including jewelry, documents, cameras and so on. Pillowcases make excellent hiding places as do shoes—well, now I’ve blown my secret.
Don’t take it with you
Expensive and flashy jewelry will attract attention and may make your boat a target when you’re ashore. If you don’t need it, don’t bring it on your vacation at all. If you do bring it, consider not wearing it in town or put it in a purse or pocket.
Spread it around
If everyone is off the boat, don’t store all your electronics and wallets at the nav desk thereby making it a one-stop-shop for unwanted visitors. Take valuable items and purses down into the cabins.
Lock the dinghy
Ask the base for a cable and lock to secure the dinghy to a dock when you go ashore. Make sure to thread the cable through the outboard locks and also be sure to check to see if the key actually works beforehand. Otherwise, you may be stuck on the dock indefinitely. Stuff left in a dinghy (mask, snorkel, fins, etc.) is on display, so decide whether you want to carry it with you.
Don’t leave toys in the water
SUPS, kayaks, pool noodles, floaties and other playthings should come aboard at night. Tie each down to the boat to prevent it from taking flight in a midnight squall and to make it more difficult for determined thieves. I also bring the dinghy up at night. On a cat with davits it’s easy and worth the five minutes it takes away from happy hour. On monohulls, I use a main or spinnaker halyard and lift the dinghy up out of the water and onto the hip of the hull. Sometimes, this requires a makeshift harness.
Clean the decks
If you want to hang onto your shoes, towels and toys through the night, bring them into the cockpit or tie them on. This is more a matter of the wind than thieves, but expensive water shoes may be tempting to people who have little, so put them away for the evening. I’ve never had an issue with swimsuits left on lifelines other than that they’re still wet in the morning.
Personal safety while aboard
There are many ways to get hurt on a boat, but being boarded isn’t usually one of them. I never lock the boat at night because I’m a light sleeper and because I usually sack out in the cockpit. It has happened that boats have been boarded and robbed with charterers on board, but it’s rare. If in doubt, anchor near other boats and leave your VHF on so you can call for help.
Finally, the best security measure is to ask the base manager what to expect before you head out. The charter companies don’t want their stuff stolen or damaged any more than you do. They also want you to have a safe and happy vacation, a powerful incentive to give you straight answers. For further corroboration, ask cruisers. The coconut telegraph is very efficient and there’s nothing like taking a few preventive steps to help keep honest people honest.
Photo courtesy of Zuzana Prochazka