Safety & Security Q&A

Is the Caribbean safe for cruising? The Caribbean Safety and Security Net tracks the facts


I have a question regarding safety while cruising. Our dream has for the last almost 20 years was to retire early and go cruising to the Caribbean aboard our 41 ft ketch.

But now, as that time is quickly approaching, I’m beginning to be afraid of the safety issues. It seems there is an increasing number of reported incidents against cruisers, whether petty theft or worse. Enough to make us wonder if going cruising is now safe.

To all of you who are living the life we are dreaming of, is it safe? Is personal safety in the Caribbean worse than cities here in the US? Am I being silly or ??? Any input would be appreciated!


The Caribbean Safety and Security Net responds:

The Caribbean Safety and Security Radio NetI don’t know what your source is for saying that there is an increasing number of reported incidents against cruisers.

The situation is certainly getting more press, both legitimate as well  everyone and his brother posting his version of a single incident in a blog. Most of these blogs are opinions only, often no basis in fact, but they do serve to get people riled up.

While I don’t see an increase in the total reports over the years, I do see an increase in the reports of violent crimes, that is, robberies, assaults, etc., against yachts.  Reported violent crimes in 2008 were double the reports of violent crimes in 2005, although the rate of increase has slowed in the past two years. Most of these reports, although not all, come from Venezuela.

I don’t track crime issues in the US so it is impossible for me to say whether it is worse or not in the Caribbean. Various reports and analyses indicate that crime rates in New York City are down; I don’t know whether that is also the case in other major cities. Here in the islands crime rates among the citizens are on the rise, according to many studies, and that is an issue to the local people; many are frustrated that the authorities are not doing a better job in controlling it.

With the level of attention that they (the authorities) give to crimes against yachts, many yachtsmen share that frustration. I can’t even compare two different islands because there is no yacht-days statistic against which to compare reported incidents. And I do know that we don’t get reports of all the incidents that occur, for various reasons.

Some, maybe even many, of the incidents are because people continue to think this is paradise and they don’t take the same precautions as they did at home – locking the door when they leave, locking the car, not walking down dark streets alone. They seem to leave their brains at home.

Most of the incidents have nothing to do with the world economic condition, although the various island governments are quick to point to that as the cause. This stuff has been going on for years and is the result of some lazy people who want drugs or all the toys they see on US cable TV but are not willing to work to earn those toys. Most of the citizens of these countries are as upset as we visitors at the crimes.

It is an issue of tolerance for risk, as well as tolerance for anything else.  We do not visit Trinidad because we choose to anchor in clean water – the dirty water, poor anchoring conditions, everyday crime, etc. are not worth the great shopping and sightseeing – to us. Ditto Venezuela, although not for the same reasons. Ditto the Virgins, St. Martin, etc.

Rather than relying on rumor, either on the Internet or in person, those asking these questions should visit for some facts, as well as the precautions list (which offers advice on appropriate behavior) and much more stuff that has been asked over and over again for the past fourteen years.

About the Caribbean Safety and Security Net

The Caribbean Safety and Security Net websiteThe Caribbean Safety and Security Net is primarily an interactive high frequency radio network of cruising yachts which meets each morning on single sideband frequency 8104.0 at 1215 UTC for the purpose of exchanging information with regard to safety and security concerns while cruising in the Eastern Caribbean.

In addition to reporting and logging incidents, the Net provides a relay on emergency and priority messages from friends and family, boat watches for vessels missing or overdue, warnings of navigational hazards both natural and man-made, sources for medical services, and, as time allows, information on a variety of other topics, such as customs and immigration procedures and fees, other nets, sources of weather information, etc.

SSB 8104.0 at 1215 UTC

See also on this website
More info (external links)

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2 comments to Is the Caribbean safe for cruising? The Caribbean Safety and Security Net tracks the facts

  • I had to read the post from the Caribbean Safety and Security Net several times to sort out exactly what points were being made to answer Karen’s question about whether or the Caribbean was safe to cruise. The main point I believe is that in reality the situation hasn’t changed all that much from when we cruised the Caribbean 10-20 years ago. It’s just that you now hear about things more and repeatedly thanks to modern communications and the Internet.

    What we liked about the Safety & Security Net when we were cruising the Caribbean was that you heard about incidents as they happened, so that precautions could be taken if you were nearby. In most instances, multiples incidents were the work of one wayward individual (which ought never, but often are, extrapolated to the whole community or island.) Then, when that individual was caught, the incidents ended.

    Unfortunately, in today’s communications universe, reports of any given incident are repeated over and over, and worse, on a slow news day, blown out of proportion by the major media back home. Rarely, however, does the follow-up catch up to first headline. It’s no wonder that a would-be cruiser researching a voyage plan on the Internet should come away anxious.

    The best point made in the Safety & Security Net post is not to leave your good sense behind when you come cruising the Caribbean (or any place.). None of the places we cruise to are truly the paradise the magazines strive to make them. They are someone’s home town, with all the foibles of your own. A small lock to prevent temptation to curious passers-by is the main step to take. Ask locals where it is not safe to wander, and when you do explore, be respectful of people’s property and privacy as you would hope they would do visiting your home neighborhood. Avoid flaunting wealth by wearing unnecessary jewelry or carrying more money than you need.

    In return, we were always amazed at how welcoming people were to strangers in their midst in every community and culture we visited. Consider how true would be the opposite? It’s very humbling.

    The other point the Security net post made was about “tolerance” to risk and other factors, and how it will govern where you choose to cruise. It is a valid point, but I thought came across a bit negative, particularly the examples of Trinidad, St. Martin and the Virgin Islands (two of which are very near and dear to my heart.) Your tolerance to the various factors encountered in cruising should evolve from your own experiences and not be picked up from others. For example, I personally think a dirty waterline in Trinidad is a small price to pay for exposure to either the incredible Carnival culture that thrives there or the wonderful wildlife of the island’s northern mountains. Your experience usually is very much what you make of it.

    When we were preparing to set out cruising (Note that HOME for us was the allegedly risky Virgin Islands!), we met a boat who proudly showed off the security gates and grates in their hatches and companionways and demonstrated their on-deck emergency lighting and alarm system. More than anything else, this set us to wondering, like Karen, what were about to expose ourselves to, and whether we should be installing all these precautions ourselves.

    In the end, we did install a switch to turn on deck lights from below and kept an air horn in the aft cabin and a second flare gun to brandish, (none of which was ever called for, although the deck light switch was handy when boats dragged too near at night!) We locked the main companionway when leaving the boat unattended, kept our cruising kitty well concealed, and hoisted our dinghy alongside at night. That’s about the extent of what was needed. In other words we practiced Prudence instead of Paranoia, a strategy I would highly recommend.

    In reality, most locals are pretty keen to have us stop over in their communities, learn something of their ways, and, yes, put some US dollars into the local economy. We were invariably welcomed as individuals as opposed to a unit of the flag we were flying (against which some might have some legitimate gripes!) You may actually be surprised how often foreigners think well of Americans! We treated people well and with respect, and so got the same in return. Quite simply, people are not out to get you!

    So, go, Karen. And go with enthusiasm. It’s a great world out there.

  • I’d like to thank the Caribbean Safety and Security net for responding to Karen’s question. If anyone has tracked the Caribbean’s security incidents, it is certainly this volunteer organization which maintains a daily net, a website, as well as lots of behind the scenes work for many years!

    I think it’s important that you know about this net when you cruis the Caribbean, because although in general the Caribbean is safe, there ARE certainly places that have significant problems with crime. The most notorious of these is the Northeast coast of Venezeula. We used to cruise it in the 1990′s but I absolutely would not now. And there are other areas/harbors that experience problems from time to time, and these areas may change.

    Just as we do ashore, we need to be aware of security and make informed decisions about where we cruise. There are too many wonderful places in the Caribbean: I choose to avoid the harbors and areas that are beyond my comfort level.

    So, yes, do go sail the Caribbean – it is a delight, but do check with resources like the Caribbean Safety and Security Net, the Caribbean Compass and as you cruise so that you stay on top of security problems that may influence your itinerary.

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