Sailing With Guns Aboard

For those of you who intend to depart from the territorial waters of the U.S., here’s a question I am frequently asked. Should I travel armed or not?

I asked myself this same question quite a few years ago while we were cruising in the Caribbean Basin.
The first question I asked myself was once we left the confines and protection of the US waters, who was going to protect me or my family when no one was around. Were the city police or the county sheriff available? The answer was no. Were any branches of the US armed forces prepared to defend me or my family in a timely fashion if I needed them quickly? I hoped they were engaged and prepared to defend our country and not me, as an individual on short notice in a large ocean. So their assistance seemed distant as best. So after considerable thought and consideration, the finger continued to point to me for the responsibility of my own defense.

So how does one prepare for unsuspected and sudden threats. My answer is force. I came up to the conclusion that it was my responsibility to defend my family. I next asked myself how was I to defend myself if there was nobody around. Those of you who haven’t been 100 or 1000 miles offshore, you can’t understand what it means to have no other support system at your disposal than yourself. The responsibility rests on you and your alone. There is no 911 and the response time if communication via cell, SSB, Ham is available is sort of untimely if you can solicit any help at all.

Even if you set off your Satellite registered 406 Epirb, you may not receive help any time soon. What happens if someone or some group of persons want to board your vessel and do you or your loved ones harm. For whatever reason, you saw a drug deal, they want your vessel for whatever reason or they simply want to have a little fun, you are the only thing that stands between your pleasure cruise and a situation that can be pretty frightening and gruesome.

Now you have to know this about me. I was raised in a rural community and hunting was one of the major sources of recreation. I grew up with guns, long guns, shot guns and hand guns. As a Youth I came to understand that when you aimed and pulled the trigger you and your alone bore the responsibility for what happened next. I was also raised in the Christian faith and understood that thou shalt not kill was not a suggestion but a commandment. So this is where the rubber meets the road. It’s not acceptable to kill but you do have the responsibility to protect your family just the same as your government has the responsibility to protect the citizens.

So here are the points to ponder before you decide which way to go. #1 you need to have some formal training on gun handling and a good level of proficiency if you decide to carry a weapon. #2 you need to know the laws pertaining to the areas you will be traveling through. Do you have to surrender your weapon when clearing into a foreign country and what are your rights in this country. If you have small inquisitive children, where does the weapon reside to prevent a possible disastrous situation?

We once had some guests on board who also had small children and we sent them to the aft cabin so the adults could visit without the distraction of children. Things suddenly became quiet in the aft cabin. I dashed back there to find three little children staring at a fully loaded 357 revolver. That memory of what could have happened still on occasion haunts me.

If you do need some defense, you can’t politely ask the intruder to patiently wait until you remove the trigger lock or load your gun. There are lots of considerations.

What type of weapon do you need. A shotgun works best at limited range and can be a bit unwieldy in close quarters. A hand gun is better for close quarters but has limited range depending on your efficiency and skill. A long gun has the best reach but it too is unwieldy in close quarters.

Here is what I decided that worked for me. We had a stainless steel long barrel 357 revolver for close up and a semi automatic .223 caliber rifle with a large capacity clip for far out efficiency. I considered my vessel well and adequately protected for most situations. You may think this armament was over the top, but if you have ever been shot at, it sort of changes your perspective on things.

Once while traversing the Bahama Banks back towards the good old US from Chub Key at night because I don’t like looking at coral heads all day with plenty of water under my keel a frightening situation developed. Several hours after dark a loud high powered motor vessel approached us from the stern without any running lights. This was 25 odd years ago when the drug traffic in the Bahamas was rampant. As this vessel continued to close on us as usual we were guarding channel 16. We were well out of transmission range of the US but I put out a call to the CG or any vessel in our vicinity describing our situation. I identified my vessels name and documentation number, location and number of crew. I said we were being shadowed by a closing unlit unidentified high powered motor vessel. I next said that we had a mini 14 with two 30 round banana clips duct taped together and I intended to use it if this vessel came closer and didn’t identify itself. Next thing I knew this vessel abruptly changed course and we heard no more of it. Who knows, it could have been the DEA, USCG or another authority patrolling for drug smugglers. At any rate, I surmised that who ever these persons they too were guarding 16 and did not want to be hosed down by a hail of high velocity rounds. I never even took the weapon out of the locker it was locked. In.

The only other time I ever considered a weapon was while we were anchored off the west end of Nassau. We awoke and saw a Bruno and Stillman fishing boat about 1/4 mile away. When I looked at the vessel with my 7 x 5o binoculars, the deck box engine hatch was open with feet sticking out and I surmised they were broken down. I tried hailing them on 16 with no answer, so we pulled anchor an maneuvered to hailing distance and asked what the problem was. The capt. said he had a starter problem. I told him because of past experiences, we were wary but wanted to help. He said he understood. He gave me a phone number which I tried with the assistance of the local marine operator with no luck. We tried a second number with no luck. I noticed a youth on board and as they were well away from shore with a strong current running, swimming was an unsafe option. I asked the capt. To have the young crew member swim to our vessel and I would deliver him close enough to the beach for a safe swim. Our vessel at that time was shoal draft and I could get real close. As the youth approached it became evident that he was a strapping young man. I told my wife before he boarded to go below and get the gun and if anything bad started to go down, just to blow him off the deck and we would worry about that later. Thinking back on that day makes me think if any shooting was required, I would be running the same risk of being shot as our guest because my wife was not trained on how to handle a hand gun. She was below decks for a long time trying to locate the pistol and by the time she came up the companionway ladder brandishing this large revolver I already knew all about our new passengers Christian family. When he saw the gun he fell down on the deck pleading don’t shoot me, don’t shoot me. I promptly told my wife to put the gun up and we were in no danger. The youth looked at me and said you scared me most white mon.

The worst problem I see about weapons on board is when the are prematurely brandished. If you’re going to get one out be prepared to discharge it and live with the consequences. I would rather invite a stranger to church than to bear the lifelong burden of taking another God given life.

If you are ever being boarded at sea by a federal authority inform them you are armed, unload your weapon, inform them where it is, and distance yourself from it. That should protect you all.

When you clear into a foreign port, declare your weapon and surrender it to the authorities with a receipt including make, model serial number and number of rounds. If you don’t and the weapon is discovered you don’t want to go to their jail or lose your vessel.

I would be reluctant to go back to Jamaica armed or otherwise because of my last experience, that is another story.

I do believe it is my constitutional right to keep and bear arms and hope my children will be able to retain that right. I also sincerely believe that I have unseen protection, but I also believe that my protection has no problems with me being armed. I know there are plenty of people out there that want to see all of us unarmed, but then only the bad guys would be armed.

Each of us has to come to terms with his or her thoughts about fire arms. Had there been an armed marshal or licensed citizen with a concealed permit on those disastrous flights of 911, we probably would not be hearing how many of our young men and women are dying each day on foreign soil. But then I’m a simple man who has lived and continues to live as self sufficient life as a I can.

It’s a dangerous world out there. Keep to your own convictions and stand a good vigilant watch and keep your powder dry.

We live in a wonderful country and you as a law abiding citizen can choose to be armed or unarmed and that’s your right and your business.

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