Mahina Expeditions offers offshore sail-training expeditions, offshore cruising seminars and boat purchase consultation.

Mahina Expeditions offers offshore sail-training expeditions, offshore cruising seminars and boat purchase consultation.


What should you do?
Avoid the first list of countries (your insurance will generally exclude coverage there) and be cautious and educate yourself about ports or bays in the second list.

Most places in the world are safe and receptive to cruising sailors. Here are some exceptions:

  • Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, particularly the coast of Somalia
  • Venezuela, particularly the offshore coastal islands popular with cruisers
  • Columbia, even though many cruisers rave about Cartagena
  • Rio Dulce, Guatemala
  • Haiti

Days after the four cruisers aboard SV Quest were murdered and six aboard the Danish yacht ING were kidnapped, I asked Jimmy Cornell, founder of the ARC and author of World Cruising Routes and World Cruising Destinations for his take on circumnavigating via the Red Sea. and whether it might be a better policy for cruisers to avoid the area completely, sailing around South Africa instead. Here are his comments:

"While the Quest incident is a terrible tragedy, in all the comments made by various sailors or sailing organizations in the immediate aftermath no one is prepared to mention the fact that it was also avoidable. I have been saying and writing for years that it is suicidal to sail through that area and that, as a responsible skipper, you must always be prepared to take avoiding action when faced with a known danger, such as leaving the tropics during the hurricane season, avoiding the South China Sea during the Vietnam boat people incidents, sailing well outside Colombian waters at the height of the drug smuggling operations, etc. Sailing around South Africa would have been, and still is, the obvious answer to the present situation in the Gulf of Aden and surrounding waters.

I hope this answer your question re S. Africa. Yes, even the area near Madagascar is considered unsafe, so just sail from Mauritius or Reunion straight to Richards Bay”.

Another option is to ship your boat through the troubled area via Dockwise Yacht Transport which put on two additional sailings just days after the Quest and ING tragedies.

The following areas occasionally have safety and security incidents involving cruisers:

  • St. Lucia, particularly the area around Rodney Bay, finishing port of the ARC
  • Dominica
  • Trinidad
  • St. Martin
  • Puerto Rico
  • Ecuador, coastal mainland
  • Granada
  • Panama, particularly around Colon, excluding Shelter Bay Marina
  • PNG; Port Moresby and other urban areas

If you'd want to keep track of troubled areas, the following sites are invaluable:

Boat Security

Click HERE for a valuable St. Vincent Coast Guard Security Advice to Yacht Owners.

  • Never leave any gear not in use lying on deck or in your dinghy. Secure hatches and ports when sleeping when in questionable areas.
  • Install a safe, ideally large enough for your laptop computer.
  • Make sure your boat is lockable from the inside.
  • Have a second wallet with small amount of cash and an expired credit card and perhaps cheap watch to give aggressive intruders.
  • Always lock hatches and ports when leaving the vessel and leave lights and music on if going ashore in the evening.
  • Lock up all cameras, computers, wallets, jewelry when going ashore or at night.
  • Consider installing a motion alarm system.
  • ALWAYS lock your outboard to your dinghy and ALWAYS hoist your dinghy and motor out of the water on a bridle at night. Lock your dinghy when leaving it ashore.
  • Get to know your neighbors on boats anchored or moored near you.  
  • In questionable areas, it may be prudent to turn off your AIS transmitter while underway.

Personal Security

  • Do your homework utilizing the websites above, avoiding troubled areas.
  • Be modest in your appearance at all times, on deck and ashore. Leave fancy jewelry at home.
  • Women should be very cautious about running or shopping in public markets alone.
  • Carry only a laminated copy of your passport when ashore, leaving your original passport in the ship's safe.
  • Don't even consider purchasing firearms, but do purchase pepper spray. Bear spray sold in sporting goods stores is industrial-sized, longer range version of pepper spray.
  • Use a taxi for provisioning in "iffy” areas having the driver wait or accompany you shopping.
  • Leave debit cards at home as they allow thieves to completely drain your account. Credit cards, although they have higher rates for cash advances lessen your risk.

Keep the security issue in perspective. In 35 years of cruising we have had one dinghy oar and a pair of thongs "borrowed”. We have consciously decided to avoid or skip countries and regions where we know problems exist.


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