night watch

Today’s Question of the Week comes from SA’er “Student Driver”, and it’s one that any potential family cruiser thinks of frequently.  You have an answer?  Then what are you waiting for?

Assuming that you have a strategy for dealing with a hostile attack on your boat at sea or at anchor, the bigger issue to me is how do you maintain vigilance whilst at anchor. At sea, presumably, there’s always someone on deck who can see an approaching hostile vessel. At anchor, owner-operator cruisers presumably do not maintain a watch at night leaving the risk (presumably low) that locals might be tempted to board the vessel unopposed. Once onboard, the owner/skipper will most likely have little time and opportunity to employ defensive (or offensive) counter measures. Given this, it would seem beneficial to have some form of perimeter alert which would wake the crew when a vessel approaches within a certain distance of the anchored cruiser.

We are all very aware of the high risk piracy areas around the world but there must be risks whenever one is anchored in a remote location where the local inhabitants are economically disadvantaged (or worse) and there’s a valuable soft target anchored a few hundred yards off a beach. In a cruising book I recently read, there was an account of a hostile boarding off Mexico where the wife was raped and the husband brutalized. The husband was able to gain control and subdue (permanently) the attackers. It was their belief that they would have been killed had they not been able to recover control of the situation. The Peter Blake story is one which we’ve all heard. I am guessing that there are others which have not made the press.

When planning a cruise, we tend to think about all of the high and low probability events and plan accordingly. Low probability events with minimally costly outcomes can easily be ignored. Alternatively, low probability outcomes with devastating costs, can’t be dismissed as easily. Further, having weapons or other measures to defend one’s vessel are not effectual if time to react is limited or unavailable.

Having thought about this a bit, I’d wondered whether a perimeter alert on radar would work? My guess is that impoverished locals would commonly use DIY outboards with low or zero radar signature. Am I wrong? A friend who is planning an extended cruise suggested littering the deck with thumbtacks. If we could be assured that all bad players don’t wear shoes, then this plan might work.

I’d considered some form of alarm which might be tripped when lifeline pressure exceeds a limit (when the system is armed, at night, at anchor). Any unwelcome boarders would have to grab or touch a lifeline or stanchion to board, methinks. It would not give much time for reaction but some time is better than none. Perhaps a few thousand volts running through the lifelines operated remotely by the skipper might be neat, but impractical.

Has anyone considered this problem? What solutions have worked or been proposed?