Taken Hostage On A Yacht: How to Survive

14 January 2010 By Lauren Beck

You might think the threat of being kidnapped is a bit of a stretch if you’re crew, but you might consider the headlines these days, where acts of piracy are encroaching more into superyacht territory. According to the ICC International Maritime Bureau Piracy Reporting Centre, in the first six months of 2009, 561 hostages were taken. So it can’t hurt to be prepared.

Tarrol Peterson, who has 20 years’ experience in the U.S. military and has studied hostage situations extensively, spoke at the YachtInfo seminars at the 2009 Fort Lauderdale boat show. The topic: Taken Hostage – Now What? Peterson is a security consultant for Spencer Christopher Maritime Holdings (, which consults on security for superyachts and offers security training for crew.

Peterson analyzes kidnappings, dividing them into three distinct parts: the initial capture (the grab), the move to a different location (go) and the internment stage (hold).

The Grab

The grab is usually very chaotic, with lots of noise and commotion. The most important aspect of this initial contact should be for the hostage to remain as calm as possible, to not resist and to cooperate with the kidnappers. Don’t hide anything – turn over cell phones, passports, etc. on demand. “If you can survive the first fifteen minutes after the grab, the chances are good that you will stay alive,” Peterson says.


After the grab, hostages usually will be transported to another location. Typically, hostages will be blindfolded or their captors will make them wear hoods. There’s no time for panic, Peterson stresses. Easier said than done, perhaps, but try to pay attention to detail even if you’re deprived of your sight.

– Can you tell what direction you’re traveling?

– Take note of the particulars of your surroundings, i.e. familiar bumps or turns in the road, sounds of traffic, etc.

Peterson also tells hostages to observe their captors:

– How many are there?

– Are they heavily armed?

– What’s their physical condition: are they well dressed or do they seem to be a rag-tag bunch?

– What’s their emotional state – do they seem calm or are they obviously nervous?

– Were the kidnappers prepared? If they know exactly who you are from the beginning, that indicates preparation and planning.

– What seems to be the motive? Politics, religion, opportunity?


There are four key behaviors that Peterson advocates hostages using while they’re in captivity.

1. Maintain your innocence

Most kidnappers have an agenda, whether it’s political, religious or opportunistic. As a hostage, your life may depend on getting your captors to see you separately from whatever issue it is they have with you, your boss or your country. “Humanize yourself. It’s a lot harder to kill someone when you view them as a person – it’s easier to shoot an object,” Peterson says.

As much as possible, hostages should make reasonable efforts to avoid signing confessions, making propaganda broadcasts or news interviews on behalf of the kidnappers, Peterson says.

2. Appear sincere

You need to establish a rapport with your captors. While that may not be easy, Peterson says that you want to put your captors at ease. Just make it sound sincere – even if you’re lying through your teeth.

3. Maintain your personal dignity

Don’t beg for anything. Try to remain positive and to believe that you’ll get through the situation.

4. Appear compliant

Do what you’re told. Don’t threaten the kidnappers, Peterson cautions. While physical violence is a no-no, there are several other things to bear in mind. Avoid topics your captors might find offensive or insulting – for example, if you’ve determined the reason behind the kidnapping is religious or political in nature, avoid topics that stray close to this territory. Be a good listener.

However, because you’re playing along, it doesn’t mean that you can’t watch for the opportunity to escape. If your apparent compliance has lulled them into feeling secure that you won’t attempt escape, your captors may relax their guard a fraction.

While your behavior should blend so that you don’t stand out, you still need to keep sharp. If your captivity stretches out for a long period, you need to keep your brain active and rational and you’ll be ready if the opportunity to escape presents itself. Imagine what it will be like when you’re home, daydream – anything to stay mentally active.

Try to maintain some level of fitness, even if it’s doing knee bends when no one’s looking your way – but do it without drawing attention to yourself. When the time comes and you have to move, your body will be able to do so.


Ideally, Peterson explains, while you’re playing the perfect hostage, you’re also observing the guards and getting to know their routine. Watch for signs, wait for the right time and have a plan in place if the chance to escape arises.

But, even if you manage to escape, sometimes it isn’t always the best option. Peterson related a story of one hostage who managed to escape, only to discover that he had absolutely no idea where he was, he didn’t speak the language and, as a foreigner, he stood out like a sore thumb. He felt that he was in more danger away from his captors where he might very well fall in with people even worse. He went back to his kidnappers and waited to be rescued. (He was.)

When you are rescued, there are still things to keep in mind. When the cavalry arrives, stay out of the way. Drop to the floor and keep your hands in plain sight so there’s no confusion about whether you’re kidnapper or kidnappee – you don’t want to get shot by friendly fire just when the end is in sight. Remain calm, and follow all instructions from the rescuers carefully. Hopefully you’ll be home with your family in short order.

Your greatest weapon and what’s going to get you through a hostage situation is the belief that you will survive. “Know in your mind that you will make it through and you will,” Peterson says.