Dockwalk - Should Captains Carry Guns? Untitled Page

Should Captains Carry Guns?

Apr 30th 08
By Matt Gomez

Heavily armed pirates are on the high seas, grabbing the headlines and threatening yachts in violent and volatile “hot spots” worldwide.

With the threat of real violence so close to yachts, captains and crew are stoking an ongoing debate: Should captains carry guns to help protect themselves and their crew at sea?

“Merciful God, help us please”

Consider this April 22 alert from Capt. Johan Lillkung of the 27-meter S/Y Dolphin. Lillkung and crew found themselves in perilous waters off the coast of Somalia when he filed this report:

“It started…with a Mayday call on the VHF radio. Faisal Mustafa, a small, traditional wooden cargo ship…was en route from the Red Sea to India. As it turned out, their position was only four nautical miles off our starboard side…

“We witnessed four small speedboats (dinghy type) quickly approach the ship. The last radio transmission, from the captain, was ‘Merciful God, can somebody help us, the pirates are boarding…. Merciful God, help us please!'”

The pirates, as is often the case, were armed and dangerous. The captain and crew aboard the Faisal Mustafa were not.


Guess who had the advantage. spoke with Capt. Lillkung, now docked safely in Djibouti, after receiving his account of the criminal activities in the eastern Africa area known as “Pirate Alley.” The Swedish captain was frustrated by the rise in piracy, but equally upset about the seeming inability for captains and crew to defend themselves against attack.

“There’s nothing we can do to defend ourselves,” Lillkung said. “The only defense we have are radios to contact military warships and helicopters in the vicinity…and the pirates know that.”

Right to bear arms?

Pirate attacks are not new, and neither is the call for captains and crew to carry firearms for self defense.

The December 2007 issue of Dockwalk featured a story (“Sticking to Your Guns”) about weapons possession aboard luxury yachts. It is the subject of perennial debate.

Sure there are legal issues involved. Your yacht’s flag may determine whether or not you may carry firearms on board. Cultural background may play a part in this as well. But self defense, especially when you are at the helm of a luxury yacht and responsible for its crew, is a tough issue to ignore.

After all, no one wants to be in a gunfight if you’re the one without a gun.

But some captains, such as Tim Forderer, view guns as a “huge liability” that would do more harm than good.

“Security is better left to the professionals,” says Forderer, who has traveled the globe in S/Y Vivid.

Even weapons advocates are quick to point out that proper and ongoing training is necessary to properly defend oneself, or else risk having your own weapon used against you.

Robert Gaylord, president of Stratigent, a company offering maritime security services, advocates guns on board, but warns that all crew must be trained, not just the captain.

“A weapon is useless if the guy with the only key to the ammo is a hostage,” Gaylord says.

So, should yacht captains be allowed to carry guns on board? Everyone has an opinion. Let us know yours.






Rating  Average 4 out of 5

  • I was woken by a knocking on our cabin door, anchored off Santos in
    Brasil, and thought it was the steward with rather early morning coffee.
    It turned out to be the Captain who said "We have been boarded by
    pirates and they have shot the Mate."

    I was about to reply "Yeah right, I read Arthur Ransome too" but
    something in his voice stopped me.

    The Mate had a bullet in his tibia and I gave him a shot of morphia -
    the first injection I had given for over 20 years.
    He survived my treatment.
    The pirates fled.
    Mike Hawkins (Dr)
    Posted by Peepnz 28/01/2009 07:54:55

  • There are other options. LRAD. Long Range Acoustical Device. aka sound Cannon.
    Posted by Marc_3 02/01/2009 02:40:48

  • Carrying weapons onboard a ship should be a personal decision for every ship. I don't advocate an untrained, unprepaired crew carrying a few firearms for a false sense of "security". If people are going to take a defensive out on the oceans, they need to understand what a huge disadvantage they are under from the beginning. How many pirates? Rifles and shotguns? Machetes? You just don't know who is coming along side your yacht in the middle of the night and if the captains 9mm will save you or get you all killed. Locked doors and a well posted security watch are probably more effective given the general lack of any military training of most luxury yacht crews. If a ship really wants armed security on board, then trained military personell need to be employed in their crew. Someone with hands on experience and familiarity and access to military style hardware. You don't want to shoot it out or deter a shootout with well armed pirates with a handgun.
    Posted by flyryguy1 02/12/2008 17:08:06

  • My opinion?
    I am a victim of Pirates. 3 times so far.
    In US waters (Fla keys) as well as 2 different international areas, aboard a sail, a commercial freighter, and a Luxury motoryacht.
    Even stood right next to one who had my loaded flaregun in his hands. Had he been there to do more than steal...This would not be here to read.
    I am all you have out there.
    I am Captain, Policeman, Doctor, Fireman,Treasurer, Host, Driver, and even MOM.
    You put your life in my hands when you step aboard. You expect everything you need to be provided by ME.
    I NEED to be armed to porotect us all.
    I NEED to train you as crew, for all safety issues.
    I NEED to inform the guests they are secure.
    I NEED for this to be Maritime law so the Pirates know EXACTLY what to expect if they DARE to try anything...(again).
    Granted the mear threat "Prepare for my first shot to be across your bow in 5 seconds if you do not identify yourself immediatly" did work one time (Bahamas near Cuba).
    I will not be bluffing next time.
    I will nopt let you down.
    I will be armed and prepared to use fatal force should there be any threat to any souls aboard or to the safety of my vessel.
    Just like the Oath I took...Defending you is my job.
    Capt. Joei
    Posted by captainjoei 23/10/2008 01:59:50

  • It's pretty wrong to say that it is an American mindset to need weapons. There are standards in training for Fire and Emergency situations on all vessels. Police duties are generally not touched upon. If you are in foreign waters out of reach of any sort of Law Enforcement you are a sitting duck. I think these pirate groups have really started to realize the ease at which one could capture and hold a yacht and its crew hostage. They know that the owner will want their nice yacht back. It used to be mostly about stealing ships for their grains as they are pretty hard to trace. A company can write off the loss of a ship. It is hard to write off the lives of the crew.

    The Recent French ship marks a dramatic change in the Piracy situation. The yachts roaming the waters now are great symbols of wealth. They are great targets as well. I own a cruiser sailboat and have often thought of whether to carry weapons. I don't, though I do have a permit to carry concealed weapons. I simply don't need it. The coast guard is always accessible, and crime really isn't an issue other than petty theft. However, if I were traveling into waters where piracy may have been an issue, such as the coast of Somalia, the straight of Malaca, or areas off of Latin America I would very likely at least carry a shotgun. A shotgun is a great deterrent simply in sight. It is easily employed by anyone with minimal training.

    I just couldn't see myself feeling comfortable un-armed in waters that are known for their treachery. You can argue that Americans have too many guns, but the places where there is the most regulation restricting guns, have the highest crime rates. Cities like, New York, Chicago, and LA. These places reduce crime by flooding the streets with police forces larger than most countries armies. Chicago has a standing force of over 37000 officers. Yes that is three zeros. This works, but you don't get to have that when you are passing by
    Posted by ChefBrian 08/08/2008 02:40:16

  • Guns.Hmmmmm. Not a good idea; look at what happened in the USA where every man and his dog have one. Get the professionals onboard if you are going to areas where it is deemed necessary to pack them. Remember that if you have them you have to know how to use them and if you have them be prepared to use them. You can't wave a gun at a pirate and say I'll use this on you if your not careful. He is desperate and he will probably fire first at you! Remember Sir Peter Blake up the Amazon; had he came guns a'blazing then he might still be with us today. Let's be sensible still and leave them at home as at this stage most places in the world don't need us to have them. I believe it is comments and a culture from the USA side where people have them in every cupboard and drawer that wants to be able to carry guns. Sorry chaps; keep em' locked up and off yachts.
    Capt Kaj Christensen
    Posted by Capt Kaj 05/08/2008 21:09:02

  • Although I believe boats should have guns I doubt that pistols are the answer, long guns and actually that would mean preferably shotguns are the answer. These are less likely to be used in a crime if stolen, especially if they are not even pump action but a breakopen type. Buy a trigger lock and then also lock up the whole thing. Getting it licensed would help when crossing international borders. There are gadzillion single barrel breakopen type shotguns called 'Training Shotguns' for sale at Used Gun Stores and at Pawn Shops and they are CHEAP ($60.00US) but fire the same ammo as their pump cousins, just not as fast.
    Posted by davidNwillems 07/07/2008 03:08:32

  • I completely agree with both of these comments.
    Posted by Hylt 27/06/2008 22:52:02

  • Finally, I knew there had to be something captcaymans and I would agree on. The one time I have had weapons on board in over 30 years was back in the late 70's on my first crew job. This guy was a self-proclaimed survialist and he was ready for action. He attempted to use a HK223/folding stock/30 round clip/fully automatic weapon and a Remington folding stock/riot shotgun when some Redneck in a bass boat on the Geogia Intracoastal waved a pistol at us for going too fast. Nothing happened, thankful for that, but why have the gear when in most cases it will only create a situation with no good ending. My rule has always been to avoid trouble spots and maintain awareness no matter where we cruise. Sure, things have happened where a gun might have helped, but the odds are against you unless you and everyone on board is skilled and equipped. Even then you can get wiped out, literally. I think the experts will agree.
    Posted by captseakiss 29/05/2008 02:27:30

  • What is this American obsession with guns. Of all thee questions we should bee addressing in this industry, gun control is not one.

    Security is an issue in yachting as a result of the USA instigating ISPS regulations following the post 9/11 culture of fear. There is absolutely no evidence that yachts are any more at risk than they were 50 years ago.

    The perception of yachts under threat from terrorism is arguably based on perception and subjective view of stake holders who gain from security training.

    Yacht crew carrying guns to protect themselves from an ill defined threat that cannot be justified or proven is a ludicrous proposition. People who carry guns need specialist training and experience of the environment in which they may become necessary in order to be of merit. Yachting is not an environment that should be associated with guns. Safety is our priority, a captain should not take a risk with his or her ship and crew and traveling top an area where carrying a gun would provide protection is a fundamentally, unnecessary risk.

    The discussion is naive and undermines the discussion of the real issues that yachting needs to address.
    Posted by Joeninety 16/05/2008 17:12:17

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