Yacht Security: Managing Risk in Ports and on the High Seas

Stephen Hines

Share this post

Jan 9, 2023

Our support to private clients extends to wherever they live, work, play or travel. For some of them, much of that activity happens on vessels, from classic sailboats to mega yachts. As you would expect, ensuring the safety, security, and protection of the owner, guests, staff, vessel and equipment, as well as sensitive data and information related to the boat and its occupants, is nothing like protecting a home, corporate office or other land-based assets and activities.

It can be helpful to think about yacht security in three different environments: on the vessel, in ports or marinas, and on the open water.

  1. Onboard Security Protecting the Vessel, Occupants and Key Systems
    Similar to a home or estate, the yacht must be protected by comparable, highly-specialized, “smart” boat security systems for control of unauthorized access above and below the waterline and throughout the yacht’s interior. To help ensure communications integrity, well-equipped yachts include encrypted satellite phones and links in addition to standard, on-vessel IT network and information security systems.

    Medical and emergency response capabilities range from staff members who are licensed and qualified as Emergency Medical Technicians to fully functioning hospital rooms, equipment and staff. Many large yachts include features such as decompression rooms, helipads and remote medical lines like MedAire that enable remote assessment of a patient’s condition. A few even include “citadel” or “safe rooms” complete with independent ventilation systems, pre-stored water and food supplies.
  2. Port and Marina Security Controlling Physical and Digital Access
    Many ports and private marinas include extensive security, which is a common concern among yacht owners. Nonetheless, a yacht’s security team needs to confirm that the capabilities advertised are truly in place, up-to-date, comprehensive and well-maintained. In addition to effective perimeter and grounds security, it is vital that yacht vendor services personnel be appropriately screened before allowing them onto the premises and, specifically, onto any yacht.

    Another common issue involves the yacht’s policies and controls for the provision and use of wireless services. Of course, continued use of encrypted satellite communications protects information, but these services are also expensive. Furthermore, the owner’s family, guests, staff and vendor service personnel should only be permitted to use the marina’s wireless network after ensuring that the marina’s information security capabilities are appropriately robust. It is also important to evaluate the marina’s use of surveillance technology and its ability and practices governing the storage, redundancy and look-back duration of security-related video footage.
  3. Safety and Security on the Open Seas and in International Waters
    Security on the high seas is an entirely different matter. New technologies are introduced continuously to deal with an increasingly complex, open-sea yacht security environment. These exciting developments include, for example:
  • Long-range acoustic devices that generate pain-inflicting sound beams to repel pirates or other threatening individuals.
  • Underwater sonar detection systems that detect, track and identify divers, mini-submarines and other underwater vehicles up to a range of 1,200 meters.
  • Anti-drone detection and defeat systems that identify drone activity and positioning, establish an electronic “exclusion zone” around the yacht and, in some cases, capture and recover malicious drones intact.
  • Mist- or smoke-based cloaking systems that help protect the vessel and confuse attackers until response teams arrive.
  • Exterior lockdown systems that can be triggered in seconds.
  • Propeller entanglement systems composed of compressed air-launched nets and weighted loops.

Many of these features are non-lethal and approved by various national and international authorities for use on yachts. More aggressive capabilities range from electro-magnetic wave weapons, stun grenades and rubber ball grenades to highly-trained, specialized security personnel armed with sophisticated weaponry, such as guided missiles.

Two other categories are vital to open-water security. One includes evacuation plans and equipment, such as escape pods with built-in GPS trackers, temperature and fire barrier controls, air and water purification systems, oxygen tanks, defibrillators, specialized medications and intravenous fluids. The other involves a wide array of signaling, communications and imaging equipment, such as long-range daylight and thermal imaging cameras, searchlights, loudhailers and laser-pointed devices.

Protect Your Vessel and Its Occupants

These are merely today’s capabilities. As threats evolve, I expect we will see a fascinating array of new security technologies protecting yachts in the future. Jensen Hughes security experts can help assess your physical and technical security and provide recommendations to prevent harm or mitigate potential breaches. Learn more about our private client and family office services.

Headshot of Stephen Hines

About the author

Stephen Hines
Steve brings to our clients decades of expertise in cybersecurity, critical systems protection, digital forensics, executive protection, facility physical security, financial/insider threat investigation, team building, work force training and policy and so on.