Securing your boat from intruders

Anyone have stainless steel (SS) security bars or mesh put on their companionway and/or hatches which allows good ventilation? Just stopped by a stainless steel fabrication shop in San Diego and got sticker shock, not to mention worried about the mesh on the hatches ruining the look of our salon. Of course, we want the hatches to still be readily available as an escape in case of fire or sinking. I didn’t like the idea of “hair (spring) clips” through holes in the ends of the bolts as they can be stiff and difficult to get out, not to mention looking rather unfinished.
All ideas entertained!

We had SS security bars made of 1/4″ rods for our V-berth and aft cabin hatches prior to leaving Florida for Trinidad back in 2004. They worked so well that we had two more made in Trini for our pilothouse salon hatches. Each set is secured to the hatch frame with “omega ” hardware and 3 individual padlocks, two of these act as a hinge and the 3rd on the opposite, acts as a potential release for opening in an emergency. The beauty of this arrangement allows the breeze to get in but you feel secure throughout the Caribbean, including Venezuela. Well worth the investment!

I had one sliding ss bar installed inside each hatch and secured into the inside wood frame. The slide is locked with a bar-shaped padlock that looks nice too. The key for each hatch is kept in the handhold nearest to the applicable hatch yet far from the reach of anyone outside the hatch. In the companionway I had a thick solid one-piece plexiglass companionway door made that has evenly spaced holes in it about the size of a shotgun barrel.. I secure it with a toggle bolt between the companionway door and the related sliding companionway cover… I can see everything going on in the cockpit without risking exposure to any dangers and the ventilation is excellent. I had the bars made in Curacao by Eric of Diamond welding and the door made in Miami. I lubricate and test everything to make sure we can escape quickly if or when needed and can sleep with my hatches open; Unfortunately, the reality for those of us who actually sail from place to place is that security has become a concern. Planning for potential problems has and continues to make my experience both relaxing and much safer.

We have installed 1/4″ stainless steel bars in the 1″ wood framed screen that slides into our aft companionway hatch. This allows ventilation in our aft cabin where we sleep. The screens slide into a fibreglass channel and the bars extend into the channel so they can’t be kicked in. Once the top of the hatch is pulled closed we secure it with a simple wood bar that easily slides into wooden notches I screwed in under the hatch. It is simple, cheap and easily inserted and removed. We now know that no one can enter the boat without our having a lot of time to react. I bought the stainless steel rod in Trinidad, but I don’t remember the cost ($50.00 ?) I only installed it in the aft cabin to see how it worked. I plan to repeat the procedure on the forward companionway hatch, but other projects have taken precedence. I am still pondering how to secure similarly barred screens for our overhead hatches. Our screens there are secured with simple thumb screws which could easily be kicked in. That will require a much more extensive refit to be strong and look good.

I have purchased an inexpensive wireless alert to tell me if anyone comes into the cockpit. The system consists of a battery-operated infrared detector mounted in the cockpit, and a battery-operated alarm mounted on the bulkhead of the master stateroom. The detector is mounted on the frame of the cockpit door so as to remain silent for items outside the cockpit …no alarm for rocking boat, etc. It will go off if something comes over the cockpit coaming.

The cost is about $18 from Harbor Freight, per the attached link. It’s not as impressive as bars, and it only helps when you are on board, but it’s cheap and quickly installed. Like bars, it gives you time to react.

We had stainless bars fabricated and installed in the Rio Dulce by The Shop (not sure they’re still around) after being robbed in Utila. The most important thing about safety bars is to consider how you will get OUT of the boat in the event of a fire. Ours are individually locked with Abus locks which are keyed the same. The keys are positioned under each hatch in the floorboard level key fitting for the floorboards. For anyone wanting more information as well as several photos, I’ve done a post on the Pros and Cons of hatch bars as well as a post on Details of Hatch Bars.

You can find both of those posts here:
Pros and Cons of Bars On Hatches:
Details of Bars on Hatches:

Marmaris Bay Cruisers

Regardless of how many locks and security devices you keep aboard your boat, any boat can be broken into. The key to keeping your boat and her contents safe lies in making it so difficult and time-consuming for a thief that he/they give up and go elsewhere!

Keep in mind three factors that discourage thieves everywhere – time, noise, and visibility.

Thieving is an annual occurrence in the Spring in anchorages in many areas globally and in our area, especially off Marmaris Bay marinas, Yat Marina, Pupa and off Ataturk Statue. Here are a few tips for the security of your boat, above decks and below decks:

To protect your valuables below deck, should you have a break-in, if possible, install a safe. It doesn’t need to be large but it should be well-concealed, fixed in place and unremovable, and accessed by combination or a specially shaped/notched key which is for your safety only.

If you do not have a safe, hide anything of value that cannot easily be replaced (jewellery, computer, hand-held equipment). Be imaginative and select a hiding place that appears to be something else than its true purpose, a place that will take a lot of time to be found.

A thief will look in easy, common and quickly found places for cash, jewellery, mobile phones — anything he can sell within the next 4-8 hours at most.

While in an anchorage, wherever you may be, keep an eye out for swimmers, small boats, speedboats, skiffs, that cruise around the anchorage. This craft (and even the swimmers) may be looking for potential thefts.

On deck, double lock bicycles to stanchions, keeping in mind that if anything can quickly be taken and is not easily removed, it will be taken. Dinghies left in the water, outboard engines whether installed on the dinghy or on deck are often favourite items for thieves. And a dinghy alone, asks to be stolen. The only thing a thief need is oars.

If you have a break-in, as soon as, make a list of what has been taken and include a description, value of the item, serial numbers from owner’s manual or bill of sale you still own, brand and other definitives. Also note on this list your physical location and GPS coordinates, time frame you were absent and the item(s) stolen, and a contact phone number, passport details and a resident permit/visa number.

Then report the theft, with the list, to the marina nearest to your anchorage and ask them to report it to the coast guard and police (in Turkey this is the gendarme). IF the marina does not wish to do this, you will need to do it yourself.

Useful Links

Boat Security Guide

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  1. December 21, 2022 at 2:50 PM
    domander says:

    On Prince Diamond, I had stainless steel security bars custom made by a local company. I traced out the outline of my companionway boards onto craft paper, and the company fashioned 2 replacements to these. Both panels had a solid border of stainless steel and a single upright and horizontal bar, all one piece of metal. The lower edge of the upper panel, and the upper edge of the lower panel were reinforced with a length of angle steel bar each, bolted to the panels. One bar had holes at regular intervals along its length and the other bar had bolts. With the security bars in position, the bolts fit into the holes so both bars reinforced each other, and both steel bars prevented the stainless steel panels from flexing. Without the angle steel I think the panels could be bent with extreme force applied.

    The bars (panels) can be locked by padlock just like the original companionway boards, but the padlock can be easily and quickly unlocked and removed from inside because one can reach through the bars.

    Theoretically, the cockpit winches could be employed to pull the bars with extreme force, but I don’t know if the bars would be pulled out.

    I would often leave the bars unlocked in safe areas, as any touch of the bars made them rattle. In fact, the only boarding I experienced was by teenaged girls in the USA, when I was awakened by the sound of the bars being touched. In a more dicey anchorage I would lock myself below. I had a high intensity flood-light mounted in the companionway which would blind an intrusion attempt, allowing me to defend myself, if required, from behind an impenetrable glare of light. I never had a need to use that during my circumnavigation.

    In dicey anchorages, don’t leave any hatches unlocked if even a small person could squeeze through, and don’t leave any valuables near an open portlight where a thief could reach through. Tell all crew to take their valuables into their cabins with them. Don’t anchor far from others. Don’t leave anything on deck if you don’t want it stolen. Lock your dinghy engine to your dinghy, and lock your dinghy to your boat with an obvious lock. In really dicey anchorages leave a deck light on, or otherwise make your cockpit bright with light.

    It is problematic to anchor in places, or countries, where crime is common. This is one reason why we avoided places like some anchorages in St. Vincent, or Papua New Guinea, and Malaysia. This may not be what you want to do, but our cruising friends who went to such places had experiences which ranged from “just anxiety-creating” to an out-and-out pitched battle with clubs as weapons with the locals, and successful extortion by local officials (22 hours at a dock = US$800). If any anchorage feels “wrong”, listen to your gut.

  2. February 2, 2019 at 8:01 AM
    Data Entry says:

    I grew up on a ranch in Texas and we used fence chargers. High voltage in pulses, no lasting effects but once you touch it, you don’t want to do it a second time. My little motorboat is 105′ long, nonconducting fibreglass with a stainless steel rail all around. Are you starting to get the picture? Being well grounded in salt water, I’m a little concerned about the increased efficiency.

    So, I’ll test it first (a volunteer this point would be great)on myself as it’s not as bad if you know it’s coming. Of course, I’ll put up warning signs. Any thoughts?

  3. February 2, 2019 at 8:00 AM
    Data Entry says:

    Posted on behalf of SherrintheSea who was boarded by intruders in Papua New Guinea in December 2014:

    Footnote 15 December 2014

    We bought a General Electric motion sensor alarm from the Chinese electrical store in Papindo, a suburb of Kokopo (opposite Ela Motors). It takes AA batteries and small round ones (easily bought everywhere) and cost about $50 Australian.

    We put it in the cockpit facing aft and it works very well. Should stand us in good stead in the bigger towns further north and in the Philippines. A great investment.