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Secure at Sea: ‘Swim buddy’ keeps crew safe

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Secure@Sea: by Corey D. Ranslem

“Swim buddy” is a term that still rattles around in my brain. It was a term we used a lot while I was in the U.S. Coast Guard, especially on the law enforcement teams. Whenever we visited a foreign port, everyone in the unit was required to have the proverbial “swim buddy” if they wanted to leave the ship or hotel during our port visits. 

The concept is simple and something I still use today. If you want to go anywhere, make sure you had a swim buddy. We were not supposed to be alone if we were in public in a foreign port. If something happened, your swim buddy was there for help and backup, but you were also accountable during the port call to keep each other out of trouble. The concept worked most of the time as long as there was at least one responsible party within the swim buddy team.

It is incredible to see how the large-yacht market has expanded rapidly beyond “the milk run” over the past 10 years. Back in 2018 during the Miami show, there was a great panel discussion titled “Off the Beaten Path” that provided some great information and insight from a diverse group of panelists on cruising outside the normal milk run. Many professionals that I speak with in the industry all agree that a larger number of yachts continue to go off the beaten path.

With more yachts traveling to these interesting destinations, the question becomes: How do you protect your crew and yacht while you are visiting unfamiliar ports? 

The starting point for any security-related plan should be information gathering. When you are traveling to unfamiliar areas, you should try to gather as much information and intelligence about the region as you can. There are several very good sources of information, along with companies that provide strategic-level information on various regions of the world. 

You should always get some type of risk assessment before traveling to an unfamiliar region. There are a number of agents I’ve worked with in the industry that can provide good information on a particular region. Most agents specialize in a certain area of the world and help clients seamlessly cruise in those regions.

Once you have the threat assessment and some type of updated information source, you want to develop a plan for the crew  including locations where and times when they should and shouldn’t travel. Also, make sure everyone has their swim buddy so that nobody is left alone. 

When our Coast Guard cutter pulled into a port, we received an area threat briefing from the Coast Guard, along with an overview of the “no-go” red zones. These red zones were typically areas of increased crime or drug activity outside the normal tourist areas. We also received a briefing of the various leisure activities the area offered. This is information that can also be provided to your boat by a local agent.

The next part of the crew safety and security plan should include contact numbers. If you have an agent in that region, how can crew members contact them? Also, what support do the different embassies provide, and what are the locations and contact numbers for the embassies? In my travel experience, some embassies provide great support and others barely answer the phone. 

What are the emergency contact numbers for law enforcement and medical services, and the location of the local hospitals? You should also have a plan in place to deal with the arrest of a crew member. This does happen and can be tricky in different parts of the world. 

Finally, make sure crew members don’t venture out on their own. The swim buddy is a great way for crew members to help each other out and have fun in a new port.

Corey Ranslem, CEO at International Maritime Security Associates (www.imsa.global), has more than 24 years of combined Coast Guard and maritime industry experience. Comments are welcome below.

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