Antigua in the Caribbean

Safety and security are always a big concern when it comes to deciding your vacation or sailing destination.

For example, there are a lot of picturesque destinations across the globe with unlimited tourism potential. And yet, because of their perceived image as high-risk destinations, people tend to give them a miss.

Similarly, there are certain sailing destinations that have acquired a reputation for being unsafe owing to a few unfortunate incidents of theft and robbery.

Alarmingly, I have heard such tales about one of my favorite sailing destinations, the beautiful Caribbean.

View on a beach in the Caribbean

Is it safe to sail in the Caribbean?

While personally I have been fortunate to have never experienced such horror, there is no denying that there have been a few reports of visiting yachtsmen being victims of crime in that region.

One of the things I learned about the Caribbean during my sailing trips in the region, is that it is not a tiny geographical region.

There are places in the Caribbean that are lively, friendly, and as safe as anywhere else. However, there are also certain sailing routes, and islands that are riskier in terms of crime.

In this article, therefore, I have tried to emphasize that with proper precautions, research, and awareness, it is perfectly possible to have a safe sailing trip to this beautiful tropical region.

Children playing in the Caribbean sea

Be Prudent, Not Paranoid!

There is no doubt that the Caribbean holds a special appeal for every sailing enthusiast. Its clear waters, spectacular weather, picture postcard islands, and silvery beaches combine together to create the impression of a paradise.

Not surprisingly, over the last many years, the influx of yachtsmen from the US and Europe has risen manifolds, creating a local economy dependent on providing a variety of services to the visitors.

Unfortunately, this has also given rise to crimes such as petty theft by opportunistic anti-social elements.

In addition, there have been a few notable and serious incidents such as the robbery and assault of a yacht, en route to Grenada, in 2009.

 

But are these incidents enough to force you to make a change in your plans?

 

It is important to remember that, in this day and age of the internet, even a small and petty crime gets a lot of attention through news sites, blogs, social media etc.

This creates an impression of rising crime that may not reflect the true reality. Indeed, a sober analysis of the situation would show that several cities in the US are far more prone to violent crimes that most regions in the Caribbean.

Instead of getting paranoid about the crime situation in the Caribbean, it is important that you adopt prudent measures that go a long way to ensuring a safe and enjoyable sailing trip.

For example, a lot of yachtsmen tend to get careless about basic safety precautions, believing that they are in the paradise.

The key, therefore, is to be alert and aware and practice basic safety precautions. Adopting such basic prudent measures goes a long way in ensuring you against petty crimes that make up 90 percent of the total crimes against visiting yachtsmen.

 

Places and Routes to Avoid Sailing

While observing basic safety and security measures is always welcome, it is also important to know that certain regions in the Caribbean indeed present an unacceptably high risk of crime.

It is best to devise your sailing route and itinerary in such a way that you stay well clear of such regions.

 

The Venezuelan

Among the major regions and sailing routes, the Venezuelan waters are always at a high risk of robbery and boarding by bandits.

Boats on the water in Venezuela

Grenada to northeast of Tobago and Trinidad

The bandits and pirogues are also frequently reported moving drugs from southern coast of Grenada to northeast of Tobago and Trinidad.

In particular, the bandits are particularly active in areas with gas drilling rigs as they serve as landmarks for boats without adequate navigational equipment.

View on Tobago island

Nicaraguan and Honduras waters

Among other places in the region, the Nicaraguan and Honduras waters are reported to have attempted incidents of piracy, by bandits who use open fishing boats.

Bridge on the Honduras waters

7 Security tips for a safe sailing trip

 

1) Tune your radio set

First and foremost, program your VHF radio sets with the distress frequencies prescribed and observed by US Coast Guard and other authorities along your sailing route. Indicate clearly and precisely that you are in danger, mentioning your yacht name and location until you get a response. If you have DSC activated, then your distress signal would travel further, increasing the chance of a quicker response.

 

2) Stay clear of risky anchorages

Risky anchorages can be a major security risk, and it is best to avoid them, especially if you are the only boat there. If you do, however, decide to anchor, make sure you follow all the safety protocols, including keeping a watch. If there are other boats in the harbor then it is advisable to introduce yourself, with a common VHF frequency to be monitored by all. Keep periodically shining a flashlight on other boats during the watch to check for unusual activities.

 

3) Follow a safety protocol during your visits ashore

Make sure that you use good quality locks to secure all access points on the boat. Ensure that all the hatches and ports are properly locked each time you have to leave the boat. In addition, ensure that the dinghy behind your boat does not have valuable items, such as gas cans and snorkeling items, lying in it. Valuable items must not be left unattended in the cockpit or on the deck.

 

4) Do not broadcast sensitive information on the VHF

At the anchor, you should take care not to broadcast your itinerary such as you would be leaving the boat for a day out in the town, or for a meal in a restaurant. If you have to book a seat at a restaurant or call a taxi, then do so in your own name, instead of the name of your yacht.

 

5) Store your valuables cleverly

Firstly, it is advisable that you do not carry a lot of valuable items such jewelry etc during your sailing trip. Among the valuable items that you would be carrying, make sure you hide them at multiple, unpredictable locations. make sure you have an electronic copy of all your valuable documents including the passport, credit card, boat papers etc stowed away at a safe location.

 

6) Install a security system

Even a low-cost alarm system goes a long way in scaring off petty thieves looking to polish off stuff from your boat.

 

7) Practice your emergency response

You should have a response plan for emergencies, and ideally, you should have practiced the drill a few times. The emphasis ought to be on getting rid of the trespassers in quickest possible time. This will ensure you are not left wondering when an emergency strikes.

 

In Conclusion

As mentioned above, the Caribbean is a beautiful destination that is also extremely vast in its geographical expanse. In other words, generalizations that crime is high in the Caribbean do not paint a true picture of the reality and promote paranoia.

In fact, there are only a few regions in the Caribbeans that you should look to avoid. Other petty crimes can be easily dealt with by following basic security precautions.

 

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If you have more tips about safety, as well as places to avoid, do let me know via the comments section below.

16 COMMENTS

  1. Cruising sea, help me learn a lot of beaches and also give data weather a beach is safe or not. The images used were nicely design an I feel to just drive in to the deep blue sea right now. Thank you for making this site, it is very lovely and give a lot of information on the do’s and don’ts of beach. Nicely made!!!

    • Hi Edna,

      I am glad you found my website lovely, I really appreciate!

      Keep visiting and thank you for the comment!

      I wish you a wonderful day:)

  2. Well when you say Caribbean I think pirates, you know the movie pirates of the Caribbean. I think there is risk in everything we do whether at home or abroad. However, life should continue with caution as you rightly said.

    Great tips about places to avoid how to prepare for the worst while in the Caribbean.

    • Hi Denise,

      Movies mistaken reality and penetrates into our subconscious and the problem is that it is very difficult to erase these images from our memories. So when we watch movies we need to think rationally not emotionally:)

      I personally love funny movies, it makes me feel great.

      Thank you for passing by and for the comment:)

      I wish you a fantastic day!

  3. nice informative article on the caribbean, yes it is very difficult not to be lured to the beauty of the Caribbean. I have always wanted to go on a cruise to the Caribbean, maybe one day i will get that opportunity. I think every place has its hazards and dangers, if we are careful and research well we can enjoy such experiences and still come home safe and sound.

    • Hi there,

      Yes, I agree with you, there are dangers all over the world and if we really want to enjoy life then we must look on the bright side. Of course, we need to take precautions to avoid unpleasant surprises as we do when we leave our house to go to work, we lock the door and we turn on the security camera. We need to keep our dreams alive and not bury them:)

      I hope you will cruise some day and wish you a wonderful day!

      Thank you for the comment:)

  4. It is great that you wrote this article as I think people should be aware when planning sailing trips to the Carribean. I agree with you that Carribean is a beautiful destination but knowing what to avoid and how to stay safe is important. I used to live in St.Maarten, a Carribean island and I can write a book of stories, crime stories. I didn’t renew my contract with the hotel I was working for due to fear of my safety. Glad you taking the time to give great tips for those who are unaware!

    • Hi Lena,

      Sorry to hear you’ve had bad experiences in St Maarten, I am surprised because I’ve sailed many times in this beautiful island and I had fantastic experiences. It is very important to avoid unpopulated regions and bad neighborhoods.

      Maybe the hotel you have worked was not located in a safe place? However, you did what was right for you and that is what matter the most!

      If you write a book about St-Maarten, try to see the bright side and not just the bad side because you’ll find them both all over the world and it’s not healthy for the mental!

      Thank you very much for the comment and wish you a fantastic day!

  5. I wouldn’t go sailing in the Caribbean, mostly because I don’t sail. But I have a friend who sales a lot, and he’s planning to try the Caribbean soon.

    Despite the movie, I didn’t think pirates were a present day thing outside of Somalia. But apparently, they’re common here. Who knew? Anyway, I’ll send the link to him. He’ll have good use for this article.

    • Hi Makki,

      Thank you for passing by and for your comment, I really appreciate!

      Yes, it’s a great idea to share this article with friends that are planning to sail in the Caribbean:) I am sure they will find it very useful!

      I wish you a wonderful day!

  6. Hello
    I really like your site and this article.
    Your security tips are great. I am a travel agent and I think you nailed everythign you needed to in this article.
    I hope this article reaches many people wanting to cruise. A cruise is great and people just need to try one out to figure out they love them.

    • Hi Mark,

      Thank you for the compliment, I am happy you like my website!
      Dangers are everywhere and no matter what we do in life, we always need to take our precautions and avoid bad neighborhoods, the same at sea! However, the places listed in the article are the ones that needed to be avoided when sailing in the Caribbean.
      Yacht charter companies or cruise ship agencies take those places into consideration, they know where to sail and where not to sail.

      Thank you very much for the comment and wish you a wonderful day!

  7. My experiences are entirely different. I sailed solo from Florida to Mexico, down the coast of Belize, up the Rio Dulce to Fronteras, San Pedro Sula, went to Honduras multiple times by bus, Guatemala City by bus, hit each of the Bay Islands, Providencia, Panama, Galapagos. All of these places have a wide disparity between haves and have-nots with the attendant social ills.

    The worst on Islas were the desperate time-share hawkers and drunk tourists, but I stayed out of Cancun except a couple of shopping runs during the day.

    Belize had murders, robberies, thefts, official shake downs – and that was well away from Belize City – then there’s the assertive if not aggressive beggars who dun you with “respec’ Mon.”

    Fronteras (Rio Dulce, Guatemala) was reasonably safe within the confines of the armed-guard patrolled marinas – armed for a reason, but gunfire punctuated the stillness many nights and an acquaintance’s boat was hit by strays. Crime is mostly local on local with lots of drug muscle patrolled the town with their ridiculous extended magazines protruding from the butts of their pistols, but thefts and boardings on the trek upriver or anchored on the lake occurred. After I left, a man was murdered and his wife was critically injured when they were boarded on the lake above the fort. I’ve been just about everywhere but the far east and Guat city was flat out dangerous, as was San Pedro Sula – there’s a reason people have concertina wire on their walls.

    I met a delightful German couple holed up for a norther at Providencia. He was a commercial captain doing world-wide cargo transport who sailed his 40′ steel boat when he was free. He had the lifelines wired for a mild shock and the main hatch wired for 460v with the switch by his bunk. He figured if the initial zap wasn’t a sufficient deterrent, the jolt at the main hatch would stop them cold, especially if they were the least bit wet. Smart man.

    Nothing untoward happened around me until Colon, where multiple occurrences of cruisers being beaten and/or robbed just outside the gates of the Jat Cloob, having had the temerity to try to walk the quarter mile into Colon proper during the day. I was stared at with frank hostility by young men just about every time I walked the park area – I was told it was the US withdrawal from Panama which crushed the economy, caused unemployment and drug epidemics and engendered the simmering hatred. I had a crackhead who had been washing cars attack me for the box lunch I was eating in the park but I fended him off on principle. I was told by a kind shop keeper that if I continued to stand on the corner (people watching) I would most certainly be robbed. Policemen ride two up on dual sport motorcycles dressed like characters from Mad Max sporting sub-machine guns – again, for a reason. A marine patrol stopped at the yacht club and hung around the outdoor dining patio sweeping the unarmed cruisers with their M4s, whether they were never taught muzzle control or it was just an excess of testosterone, it was intensely disconcerting having the muzzle of a machine gun played over me while trying to eat.

    Fast forward to leaving the Galapagos, sailing south to pick up the trades I was pursued by a fishing vessel of about 50′ pushing a huge bow wave and running flat out, judging by the distinctive bellowing of its Detroit diesel. It was dusk when he began chasing me and fortunately he was a good ways away so as soon as it got dark I turned on my spreader lights and fooled around on the foredeck to give him a good look at my heading and carelessness then shut off all lights and changed course 90 degrees to the east and onto a faster heading – about 45 minutes later he killed his engine – the better to hear mine maybe – and began sweeping the ocean before him with a spotlight in the area I would have been had I not turned. He turned towards the west and continued ahead slowly, sweeping with the spotlight. I count myself lucky – lucky that the head fake worked, very lucky he didn’t have radar. I will never forget the feeling of being pursued.

    The bottom line is even a very modest boat like mine represents, if not wealth, a reprieve from poverty to a great many of these people. Out on the open water or in a secluded anchorage, you’re a sitting duck, wholly dependent on the kindness of strangers who are sometimes not so inclined.

    • Hi Marco,

      Sorry to hear you didn’t have good experience in the Caribbean!
      Yes, not every place is safe, and we really need to take our precaution, whether on land or offshore!

      I hope you will have a more pleasant trip next time:)
      Thank you very much for sharing your story, and I wish you Happy Merry Christmas!

  8. Daniella,

    Thanks for posting my, ahem, long-winded comment – I hadn’t realized I had gone on so long. It looked a lot shorter in the reply box. I’ll keep it brief this time.

    Despite the potential for problems I had an awesome time – the two years I spent on that trip were the most totally excellent adventure of my life. I posted about the security aspects of my experience because I think it’s important for people who don’t yet know to understand the pervasiveness of poverty and associated crime and the potential consequences of becoming a target. I met wonderful people. I buddy boated when I could, picked up a couple of backpackers for some of the shorter legs, saw nature in all of its magnificence, traversed the Panama Canal and did 8,000 miles of Pacific Ocean. The reason I stumbled onto your blog is because I’m gearing up to do the eastern side of the Caribbean and wanted to update myself on potential issues. I’m not at all risk averse so long as I have a clear understanding of the risks I’m accepting and know what to do to manage them as best I can.

    Thank you for having this site and helping keep people informed – with balance, charm, and perspective.

    Best wishes for the new year with fair winds and following seas.

    • Hi Marco,

      You are very welcome! I am the one who should thank you very much for sharing such thrilling sailing adventure in the Caribbean, and I am sure that many people will learn from your experience. Nice to hear that you had more good times than bad times and I think it’s wonderful that you are sailing back to this beautiful paradise. It is not evident, especially after what you have been through. There will always be dangers everywhere even in the safe places, and this shouldn’t stop us from enjoying every moment. Life is too short! Planning and taking precaution is the best thing we can do to avoid unpleasant surprises.
      There are many islands to visit in the Eastern part of the Caribbean. You will undoubtedly have a fantastic time. However, I wish you to have a safe and unforgettable sailing trip!

      Thank you again for commenting on my website, and I hope to hear from you soon:)

      Have an excellent day!

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