Understandably, yacht owners and operators take pride in their vessels, and invest a lot of time and money to ensure that they are well cared for while they are underway, or being hosted by a marina. Marinas that cater to the mega-yacht market understand the value of providing high-end concierge services that cater to the needs of yacht owners and quality support facilities for the crew. However, when reviewing the services, costs, and value information normally used to determine marina selection, it is important to include security as an essential factor for consideration.
Not a day goes by without some reminder of the number and varied types of threats to which yacht owners and their vessel operations may be exposed. Piracy continues to present a challenge to vessels off the coast of Somalia, and has expanded into the Indian Ocean. Pirate attacks against vessels of all types are now common along the Horn of Africa, Asia, Central/South American and the Caribbean. Mega-yachts were typically not affected by piracy and maritime security issues, but that has also changed over the past few years. Pirates and criminals increasingly view yachts as easier, more viable, and potentially more lucrative targets than cargo vessels, especially those that choose to transit high-risk areas without benefit of a protective convoy or security team.
In addition, criminal threats such as theft, vandalism, and assaults against yacht crews are showing signs of increasing worldwide. Many of the companies that offer insurance for luxury vessels and marinas are paying increased attention to owner/operator implementation of maritime security standards and practices as a factor in determining the premium costs. As a result, many yacht owners are taking control of onboard security by installing their own security systems and bringing professional security teams onboard to effectively implement security policies and procedures, especially if the vessel itinerary is expected to transit high risk areas or ports-of-call.
Security is usually not a concern or even considered when docked at the marina, especially in those areas that are considered “safe”. However, that is often the most vulnerable time for a vessel, and its crew. Many mega-yacht marinas do not have security as a priority for investment of resources, but more of an additional cost to be avoided…especially during the current economic times. Some marinas are doing the minimum to comply with their interpretation of security regulations in order to stay in business. Sadly, these facilities may not stay current with evolving standards for the security of recreational vessels in a dynamic regulatory environment.
Not all marinas are equal in the services they provide to mega-yacht owners, captains and crews. It doesn’t matter where in the yachting world you go, whether Europe, the United States, Asia or the Caribbean, evaluating the level of the marina’s functional compliance with security should always be a priority. Yacht owners and operators have an obligation that all reasonable “due diligence” measures are taken to ensure that the vessel, crew, and passengers will be safe and secure…at the marina and all ports-of-call on every itinerary. I have had the opportunity to travel to facilities around the world and have found some well run and secure marinas, but have also found some very poorly run facilities.
There are a number of things a mega-yacht captain can do to evaluate the security standards and services of marinas, anywhere they may go worldwide. This checklist provides a starting point for determining what facility may offer the best operational and financial value for their vessel when it comes to security:
- Determine if the facility has had any security related incidents in the past 24 months? This would include any theft of property, damage to vessels/property, vandalism or other security related problems.
This may also be important information to provide to insurance claims adjustors in the event an unfortunate incident does occur at the marina you selected to berth your yacht. Unfortunately, many times the marina operators are reluctant to provide this information or, the information provided is not always accurate. However you can still find out the facility’s most immediate history through the following sources:
- Check with your agent to see if they have used the facility for other clients and their dealings with the facility in the past.
- Talk to other mega-yacht captains you trust to see if they have used the facility in the past and their experience.
- Use the internet! There is a plethora of information there on just about every topic. There are also a number of websites used by sailors, cruisers, and yacht crews to share information on facilities. These can be great resources, but do take some time to read and research.
- Read past issues of the local newspaper. Most local newspapers are archived online and are easily searchable. However, this can be very time consuming as well.
- Hire a reputable, experienced maritime security company to gather threat and vulnerability information on the target marina and its host community. There are only a few companies that provide this type of service and are knowledgeable about the security requirements specific to the yachting community, but they are well worth the time and expense. They can usually provide detailed reports on a certain facility along with information on the current political climate of the country and surrounding region. Some even provide point to point service and will monitor a particular area while you are in the facility.
2. Does the facility maintain adequate lighting from dusk till dawn?
Look for a facility that has good lighting around the marina buildings and grounds, and that projects a cone of lamination over the waterside approaches to the berthing areas sufficient to see anyone approaching the yacht from that vector. Lighting or lack of lighting can make a big difference for adequately securing a marine facility.
3. Are there effective fencing, barriers, and measures for access control and accountability at the entrances to the marina’s docks, piers, and slips?
While the marina owner/operator wants the property to be esthetically pleasing, it is also important that access to the piers and slips be effectively controlled. The better facilities will have decorative fencing that prevents access along with access cards for guests and visitors. This type of control provides a much safer environment for vessels. Also remember to never dock in a slip along the seawall or fencing. This is one of the most vulnerable spots in the facility for unauthorized intrusion. Make sure to ask the marina managers the frequency and degree to which non-marina people have access to the facility (i.e. hotel guests, apartment/flat or condo residents co-located within a facility).
4. Does the facility have a WORKING CCTV system, where do the images terminate, and what is the established response time in the event an incident does occur?
There are a number of facilities that have cameras that do not provide effective coverage, either because the cameras are not properly oriented to the target area, or the lumen rate and pixel strength do not capture an image that is of sufficient quality for use in a forensic investigation or for introduction into evidence in criminal or civil legal proceedings. Like all technology, CCTV systems must be periodically calibrated and maintained to ensure they remain in optimum working order, and provide optimum coverage of common areas and the entrances onto the individual piers. It is even better if the facility’s CCTV system is activity monitored by a professional security staff that has been trained to respond to incidents in accordance with the marina’s facility security plan and associated standard operating procedures (SOPs). A properly installed and effectively used CCTV system is an invaluable tool for use in insurance claim investigations.
5. Is the facility actively patrolled by professional security officers?
Many facilities will put a dockhand in a security uniform which is not the best solution. Look for facilities that employ private security officers who understand marine operations. There are a number of facilities that utilize professional security officers and these facilities are much more secure than facilities with no security officers. These officers are usually trained in other areas of marine operations and can be very helpful to crews. Professional security staff will also provide a deterrent to potential issues, especially along a public access pier. They also have a much quicker response to the vessel over local law enforcement. If the facility does have a professional security staff, make sure you get to know them. Their response is usually faster if they know the caller.
6. Where is the facility located?
Facilities that are located within upscale neighborhoods or resort areas are usually more secure than facilities located within a non-marine area, non-regulated commercial marine facilities, or a heavy industrial area. Upscale neighborhoods and resorts typically add another layer of access control to a facility. Regulated facilities usually have a much better security program than non-regulated facilities as they are subject to security compliance audits by the host country’s Designated Authority. However, that isn’t always the case. Also, if the facility is located within a private neighborhood, make sure to ask who has access to the docks and individual slips, and what controls are in place to ensure proper access control and accountability.
7. Is the facility well-kept and maintained?
I am always big on attention to detail when it comes to marine facilities. I’ve found that well-manicured and maintained facilities usually pay much better attention to security details than facilities that are not as well-maintained. I have observed that when a number of the facility’s essential services not working, (i.e. shore power, water, pump-out, TV, etc), their security systems are usually not working properly either.
8. What is the facility’s off-season occupancy rate?
Facilities that provide a number of services, are well-maintained and have a strong security program are usually the toughest in which to get a slip. Happy clients that are used to receiving the full value of effective security services will always return to a facility where they felt comfortable, secure, and received great service for the slip price.
9. What type of insurance coverage does the facility maintain, and what value does it assign to compliance with applicable security policies and procedures, and how will it impact their coverage of your vessel in the case of vandalism, theft, or loss?
Insurance coverage can vary around the world depending on government regulations (or lack of). Since regulations vary so much around the world when it comes to insurance coverage, it is good practice to ensure your vessel’s insurance policy will cover loss due to theft, damage, vandalism or negligence of the facility.
10. To what extend is the marina able to control waterside access to its berths and guest vessels?
Control of the waterside access is one of the most important and most often over-looked security issue at many facilities. I’ve seen a number of facilities with very good landside security, but are lacking in the quantity and quality of systems and procedures for protecting vessels, their guests and crew from unauthorized access via the waterside approaches. There are a number of ways to secure the waterside access, but the best way to secure that access is by a waterside patrol. Waterside patrols, staffed by trained and well-practiced personnel, will keep out undesirables and provide a very quick response if you have any problems. Waterside patrols can also be used to provide a number of other helpful services to the facility and its clients.
Vessels should also review and revise their vessel security plan and programs at least annually, as needed, or before the vessel’s seasonal transition to a different area of operation. A simple discrete CCTV system, access control system, and intrusion detection/alarm system can help enhance the security of the vessel, its passengers and crew in many situations. It is also a good idea to have a basic “what-if” security plan in place to deal with the contingencies most likely to be experienced, depending upon the vessel’s itinerary, and ensure that the crew receives training and conducts periodic drills to support their effective execution should the need arise.
It should be remembered that installing effective preventive security systems, equipment, and training personnel is ALWAYS most cost and operationally effective than remediating the financial and legal impacts resulting from a preventable security-related incident. Security doesn’t have to be a burden or overbearing and the sky isn’t falling everywhere, but it is a good idea to understand the basics wherever you are headed to keep everybody safe.