Piracy has led to a rise in the gadgets available to protect yachts against boarding, while they travel through high-risk areas (HRA).
However, using this technology can be a case of caveat emptor (let the buyer beware). Some devices are not yet proven in the maritime environment, no matter how exciting the salesman make them sound, and the usefulness of others is questionable.
Outfitting a yacht for security
Companies such as Greece and US-based Balinor International put together anti-pirate technology (ATP) packages specifically for superyachts. They recommend small-target radar – vital in detecting the small, open skiffs the pirates often use that won’t cause a blip on regular radar – complemented by long-range day and night cameras effective to five nautical miles in the dark, 10 nautical miles in daylight.
A common non-lethal deterrent often deployed is the long-range acoustic device (LRAD). It can be used to hail and warn potential attackers and then switched to ‘fire’: a painful, highly focused sonic wave to repel boarders.
Finally, a laser threat deterrent system can be used to dazzle attackers, so in effect they cannot see the yacht.
This equipment can be retrofitted into a yacht, or it can be installed as part of a new build or a refit. Balinor has an anti-piracy technology plan that details the steps that are taken to prepare a yacht and her crew:
1 New build or retrofit?
For new builds, the security team would continually interact with the yard and architect to ensure wiring, etc, is in place, technology is properly installed and the crew trained.
What is the vessel configuration, and what are the existing systems? What are the primary ports of call? What is the crew complement? Are there any special circumstances? For example, ports or anchorages that have an issue with swimmers boarding vessels may need sonobuoys.
3 Specification and confirmation with the client
From a security perspective, yachts run the gamut, from a radar/camera/non-lethal laser installation to deter paparazzi, to a complete system that includes LRAD, long-range communication, water cannon to repel boarding pirates, access control systems for protection while in port and sonobuoys to detect underwater approach.
Remote command centres, as well as other modes of perimeter protection, are selected based on the requirements of individual vessels and owners.
4 Installation and testing
At this stage the security equipment is put in place in the yacht, and put through its paces to ensure it’s working correctly.
5 Training and exercises
The crew and owner (as required) are drilled in the use of security equipment, and the actions they should take if they are attacked.
6 System sign-off.
Once the security system has been signed off by the client, Balinor provides ongoing worldwide training and support.
Security case study
Stefanos Kotsiopoulos, a partner at Balinor, talks us through a recent case study.
‘We evaluated a 60m Feadship that was planning extensive travel through South-east Asia.
The ship was under-equipped with respect to long-range detection, and had virtually no non-lethal deterrence capability. We maintained the existing radar as a secondary unit and installed our Small Target Radar System as the primary navigational array.
‘There was no true long-range camera equipment so we added our long-range day/night visual system in addition to a shorter range thermal array.
‘The owner wanted long-range camera images available on a large screen TV below deck in addition to the bridge display; we used an ultra-secure wireless network to transmit this data.
‘LRAD was added for communication and sonic deterrence, as were two non-lethal deterrent laser sources, using the LRAD and visual camera mounts to provide automated pan/tilt targeting capability for the lasers.
‘All perimeter systems were coordinated through the radar display, with control displays installed on both the bridge and at a secondary control point in a secure area below deck.
‘We also provided wireless access so that crew could monitor the system from anywhere on board using the equivalent of an iPhone.’
There is a myriad of equipment available to help defends yachts. Below is a selection of the gadgets available.
- Night vision equipment and thermal imaging technology: These enable crew and security personnel to see approaching vessels at night, at a longer range than infrared cameras.
- Door entry access control: These systems, which enable safe areas to be locked down from a central part, should be part of a yacht’s citadel.
- Citadel: A watertight, impenetrable panic room with full external communications and, if possible, control of main engines.
- Long-range acoustic device (LRAD): These create a highly-focused beam of intense sound to cause pain and disorientation. Their effectiveness against pirates in speedboats is debatable.
- Ballistic protection (e.g. Kevlar curtains): These sheets of cloth can deflect bullets (or at least slow them down, so they’re no longer automatically lethal), but they are heavy and need to be deployed in advance of an attack.
- CCTV: Preferably integrated with thermal/night vision gear.
- Guns: Firearms are becoming increasingly commonplace on yachts, but they should only be used by a professional security team.
- MMWC propeller arresters: Long lines trailed over the stern and sides, entangle skiffs’ prop shafts.
- Laser threat deterrent system: These can be used to dazzle crew of approaching boats, to deter them from boarding.
- Fog/smoke cloaking system: Systems such as the GOST Cloak release Glycol mist so pirates become disorientated.
- Remote GPS tracking: These enable yachts to be tracked remotely using a Google Earth interface, so they can be located if seized or when under attack.
- Immobilisers: Can be very effective for safeguarding tenders and toys from casual thieves.
- Sonobuoys: These can detect underwater approaches, such as swimmers or divers attempting to board, etc.
Many security firms are sating that they are also increasingly tasked with thwarting the paparazzi.
High-profile individuals often seek privacy and seclusion on board their yachts and defend this peace aggressively. So devices that began as military projects are now finding their way on board. Balinor’s Laser Deterrent will probably be deployed more against paparazzi than pirates, as will its sophisticated CCTV and network security measures.
And as reported in Boat International 290 (August 2010), there are even devices that can detect someone staring at, or focusing a lens on your yacht. California-based JETprotect’s CS300K device is a long-range counter-surveillance camera that automatically detects prying eyes by day or night; its software assesses the threat and can alert crew.