JUST HOW WELL CAN you protect your boat–and yourself?
There hasn’t been a documented case of maritime piracy in Texas waters for generations. You’re much more likely to be a victim of porch pirates or have your music pirated than be held at gunpoint by pirates at sea.
Unfortunately, you’re still at risk of scofflaws and dirt bags once you shove off the dock. And there are even bigger risks when you’re still at the dock, since the recent surge in the theft of electronics from boats means that you may be boarded while tied up in your slip and napping in the cabin.
Texas has a long and colorful history of boats flying the Jolly Roger dating back to the 1600s. South Padre Island and the Laguna Madre were once considered pirate territory, frequented by the likes of Jean Lafitte and Cornelius Holz (better known as Peg Leg). So the question remains: just how well can you defend your boat?
First, let’s touch on the legalities or running a boat, armed. In the United States, the legal right to carry firearms extends beyond state waters, and state law at nine nautical miles from shore, into federal waters. According to the NRA, “Firearms and armed citizens can be as effective a criminal deterrent at sea as they are on land.”
Your rights beyond state lines are affirmed by the Coast Guard Authorization Act, signed by President Obama in 2010, which in section 912, “shields an owner, operator, time charterer, master, mariner or individual who uses, or authorizes the use of force to defend a vessel of the United States against piracy, from liability for monetary damages for any injury or death caused by such force to any person engaging in an act of piracy if such force was in accordance with standard rules for the use of force in self-defense of vessels.”
Although it’s clear that you’re within your rights to carry while aboard your boat, and we certainly can’t think of a better defense mechanism than a loaded gun, one important point should be noted: the corrosive salt environment can wreak havoc on a firearm.
As a result, it’s wise to keep firearms well protected and in an airtight case while on a boat. They should be cleaned back on land regardless of use, and closely inspected for corrosion.
Some factors related to being on a boat must be in the forefront of your mind if you ever need to use a firearm. First and foremost—as you well know—boats rock. This can make aiming a firearm exceedingly difficult so choose your weapon accordingly.
Secondly, remember a firearm in your hand has the ability to put a hole through the fiberglass that’s keeping you afloat. More than one boat has had to rush back to the dock after a shark was brought onboard and dispatched with a bullet through the head—which then traveled down through the deck and hull.
Another form of defense at sea that is well worth consideration is enhanced communications. In this day and age, satellite communications that work across the globe have become incredibly affordable. Obviously, this has the added benefit of allowing you to send out an SOS not only for incidents of piracy or aggression, but also in case of mechanical or weather-related problems.
Text messengers such as the Garmin inReach and SPOT satellite messengers cost just a few hundred dollars, though monthly subscription fees can add a couple hundred bucks per year. This allows for text messaging as well as sending out an SOS.
Unfortunately, in recent years thieves have taken to entering marinas by water and ripping the electronics out of a boat’s helm station or stealing the boat altogether. Strictly speaking this isn’t piracy, but the problem has grown so bad in Florida, that social media groups such as “Stolen Boats and Motors in Florida” have begun cropping up.
“The bad guys go where the opportunity is,” says BoatU.S. Special Investigations Unit director Rich Carroll. “This is a sad problem, but it’s not going away. Much of this battle is making your boat less attractive to thieves and making them go elsewhere.”
To that end, nothing’s better than installing a security system on your boat. This offers you protection for your property. Also, if you’re onboard and asleep when a nefarious character steps aboard, it can scare them off before your firearm becomes necessary.
To that end, at least one company, GOST Systems, has evolved to provide marine security systems designed specifically for boats. Along with the usual strobe lights, cameras, and sirens, they’ve developed invasion prevention devices such as “The Cloak,” which fills the cabin of your boat with a glycol fogging solution to confuse and disorient any intruders.
They also have infrared beam sensors, deck pressure sensors, and door and hatch sensors that can set off the alarm when an unexpected visitor tries to enter your boat. There’s even a canvas snap sensor that triggers when a boat’s cover is removed. These items are designed specifically for boats, unlike home alarm systems, which may not be able to stand up to the marine environment.
Another option is the Siren Marine MTC, a cellular-based unit that monitors your boat and communicates with you via an app. These systems have similar motion- or pressure-based sensors, which can be set up to send you a text alert.
Added bonus: you can wire in bilge water level monitors, battery charge monitors, and similar sensors that allow you to constantly monitor the status of your boat. All of the above systems include GPS tracking devices, so if someone makes off with your boat when you’re not around, you can pinpoint it and notify the authorities.
So, just how worried should you be about buccaneers along the Gulf coast—not very. But setting the dictionary definition of piracy aside, you have plenty to think about concerning how to defend yourself and your boat—both in the marina and while at sea.
Coast Guard Station South Padre Island, Texas boat crews catch up to fleeing poachers aboard a Mexican lancha near the U.S. – Mexico maritime border. The poachers were apprehended and their catch was released. An Air Station Corpus Christi MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew spotted the poachers and began the pursuit. U.S. Coast Guard video by Air Station Corpus Christi.
—story by LENNY RUDOW