Comment Topic: Pirates

There seems to be a lot of discussion, so I thought I’d open up comments to the following topic:

Anti-Pirate weaponry.  If you’re sailing the high seas, what would you like to have?

Let’s keep it in line with what’s reasonably available to civilians.  We’d all love to have a harpoon anti-ship missile obviously, but let’s be real.  I’d probably go for a .50 caliber rifle.  It’s got a reasonable amount of destructive power, can reach out pretty far.  As a backup to that, an AR-15.  Let’s also not underestimate the power of a few small, deck mounted, black powder cannon.  It killed pirates just fine 200 years ago, and it will still work today.  I would also add some excellent optics on board, both on the long range rifle, and for spotting to see if the ship in question is friendly, or hostile.

What do you think?

33 thoughts on “Comment Topic: Pirates”

  1. I think an AR with an M-203. If you can verify that they’re actually a threat(visible weapons, hostile stance), lobbing a smoke grenade at them as a ‘range finding’ action could easily warn them away. A .50 wouldn’

  2. oops… to continue; A .50 wouldn’t be out of the question in certain areas. Didn’t the Somali pirates have RPGs?

  3. The problem with boats is that unless you’re on a REALLY BIG one, it’s an unstable platform. Even the big ones move around, but the little ones move a lot. The Zac story talks about 8 foot swells, which means the boat is moving up and down over 8 feet, and rocking from side to side as well.

    Long range shooting is out of the question in those conditions. The best bet is short range boarding defense weapons. Primary would be a shotgun, secondary a pistol of some sort. A rifle would be nice for the few times you could use it, but definitely a distant third.

  4. That’s a good point. What about canister shot in a nice black powder cannon? I don’t know, to me it just seems like the appropriate weapon for combating pirates :)

  5. Both Remington and Winchester make pedestal mounted single shot 8 gauge shotguns. They look a lot like the 40mm or 2 pounder single shot guns mounted on ships 100 years ago. They are used for clearing clinkers out of some kinds of industrial mills. With the slug loads they should be able to hole the normal pirate boat and with the buckshot load they should be fine for repelling boarders.

  6. Most small boats couldn’t handle the shock of a cannon. Belt fed .50 with mounts on the on the bow and stern would probably be better.

  7. That’ll cost more than the boat :) I’m not sure a small boat could carry the ammunition for one of those either, could it?

  8. Commonly-available firearms that might serve to defend against pirates in smallish speed-boats?

    Perhaps my first choice, if limited to a common-portable firearm available to “average people,” would be an FAL, M1A, or the like.

  9. What Alan said. Extending the anti-boarding thought, if you’re on a ship big enough to mount canon, not much says “back off” like canister shot. But even on a pitching ship, I would think that something with a pretty good rate of fire like an AR (or, without the “available to civies” constraint, a LMG or GPMG, if possible) would be decent for the pirate’s approach. Even if only to give you something to do while you wait for them to get in range of your shotgun/canister/whatever.

    If I were designing a system from scratch, I think it would involve a small breech loading deck gun (say, 3″) that would have the ability to fire canister shot in addition to anti-ship of some sort (Solid? HE?). But, if you could get away with one of those, why not just a mini-gun?

  10. The Coastie boys on my counter-drug deployment loved their .50 caliber rifle, but they were shooting from a helicopter, on a downward slant, and spent hours each week practicing doing just that. Given the low altitude of most private boats’ gunwales, you are not going to see very far (even shorter in rough seas), and thus reduce the effectiveness and utility of the .50 (especially after you throw in the aforementioned instability problem).

    A decent M1A and a couple mounts on the railing would probably suffice for stand-off capabilities.

    Beyond that, I am a big fan of grapeshot. You would actually be surprised how durable your average wooden fishing boat is – on the same counter-drug deployment, we spent about two hours and God alone knows how much .50 and 25mm ammunition trying to sink some abandoned wooden fishing boat. We eventually just set it on fire and left. On the other hand, a few cannisters of grape would make any boat’s crew’s life miserable.

  11. Any sailing yacht has to deal with significant roll and pitch on the high seas. To my mind, that makes any kind of single-shot gun impractical. In the Age of Sail, even an armed merchant ship would have a minimum of half a dozen black powder cannon in order to compensate for slow rate of fire (1-2 rpm) and inaccuracy due to the ship’s pitch and roll. Besides that, the weight and momentum of a heavy gun mounted on a high deck is a serious structural load — even warships have been known to suffer structural failures from repeated firing of oversized guns.

    Besides that, any weapons you’re carrying will draw hassles from port authorities, so you’ll want something you can carry dismounted and hidden, but be able to set up singlehanded on short notice.

    So, given that you have a small, relatively lightly built vessel with a crew that isn’t going to be proficient in hitting a moving target from a moving platform, you want the smallest automatic that will do serious damage to an attacker. In my mind that’s a machine gun in the .50-cal/13mm class.

  12. The issue is the best defense while docked in port, in isolated anchorage or while sailing.

    Secure Marine provides an electric fence at 9k volts that is recommended by US anti piracy agencies. Most sailors have flare guns for close defense and merchants are using high-pressure water pumps. The shotgun is allowed at most ports.

    Most robberies are while at anchorage and happen at night. That is why watches are set. Sound alarms are recommended and used often. Most robbers are just for cash and portable goods for money. Very poor areas.

    Others have suggested potato guns. Most sailors prefer non-lethal methods as the pirates have relatives ready to avenge. These relatives may be in the police or government and the poor yacht captain and crew can be imprisoned for just engaging in self-defense. Or shooting a pirate is considered shooting a poor fisherman and now the yacht has many ships chasing him.

    The yacht is traveling in waters controlled by other laws and at the mercy of the natives. No backup on the water so avoidance is the preferred tactic.

    Somali pirates are in 3-4 fast boats and often have a mother ship. They are heavily armed with AK 47 and RPG. There are 20-30 pirates with boarding ladders. Small crews are at a disadvantage shooting these boarders. Steel ships can be better protection than fiberglass and can crash into the pirate small boats. Yachts usually travel in convoys for protection and try to stay together. They keep 250 miles of the coast.

    Those in the Gulf of Aden try to stay with a lot of commercial vessels to protect each other. Cannel 16 is the radio channel used for Maydays.

    US, French, Australia navies do come to the rescue often with helicopters when called. Mariners tend to help each other and guard each other.

    Freighters may be coming to the conclusion that they should become armed since they are the main targets of pirates. Insurance issues come into play here. Three new piracy centers have been set up in the Gulf of Aden.

    International pressure is being brought to bear on the piracy problem off Nigeria and Somalia. Now permission has been given for US navy to go into territorial waters of Somalia.

    Most of the ideas posted here would get the captain locked up when he is in port. Most port regulations require a secured locked gun locker, which all arms are locked up while in port.

    A lot of sailors do get AK 47 overseas and just dropped them overboard when in the Mediterranean. So what ever you have onboard you do not want it to be expensive in case you have to ditch it.

  13. Beer Budget- Any good semi-auto in .308. FAL, HK91, M1. Saiga semi shotgun and plenty of 10 round mags.

    Champagne Budget- If I have the resources to own a $10 million dollar yacht I have the resources for a Dillon Mini-Gun and someone who knows how to run it. Plus the items in the Beer Budget list.

  14. I spent my summer working on a 51 ft passenger ferry, so I’ve actually talked about this alot with the master of the boat. The conclusion we came to was that a crew armory of shotguns would be the best thing to have, as well as (if possible) a deck mounted fifty. The idea I came up with was to suppliment all of this with a larger bow mounted deck gun, specifically a 40mm Bofors (or single shot), of course with this you’re dealing with a good sized ship (80′ plus). Plus the barrels, casings and projectiles are surprisingly quite available and I estimated at the time that one could be put together for around $10k. Of course most of the big ideas came from a discussion we had about the idea of a naval equivalent to Blackwater. One final idea here I’m just going to throw out here, belt fed 12ga?

  15. I’d say having any long gun that is loud and fire-able is better than nothing. I’m guessing that pirates are less likely to try and board you if you shoot back, even if your shots aren’t actually hitting them.

    As was mentioned before, pirates are a three-gun problem:
    -a rifle to make them keep their distance
    -shotgun to prevent boarding if the rifle fails
    -a pistol to defend yourself onboard if the shotgun fails

    On any kind of boat I’ll ever own, long-range rifle accuracy won’t even be a consideration. When the water is dead-calm, I still doubt I could hit a man-size target at 100 yards, using my gunwhale to steady a rifle. That’s why the rifle should be big and noisy, and make big splashes in the water near what you aim at. You aren’t required to hit anyone with your rifle, just scare them.

    I’d say a cheap and reliable rifle like an AK. A marine-coated or stainless pump shotgun, and a Glock.

    For larger vessels, multiples of each of those. Just don’t visit ports where an armory like this is illegal.

  16. I’d lean toward whatever I could reasonably be able to practice with. Standard combat rifle and sidearms should be enough for most situations.

    I would invest heavily in horsepower. Outrunning them (or at least keeping your distance) would be my best friend.

  17. A friend of mine had the luxury of sailing a private yacht around the world with her Husband and Daughter. On their way to the Panama canal they saw a small boat on the radar heading to them from the coast. Her Husband ordered her below with their girl and her Glock 19. He stayed topside with a bullpup 12 guage of some sort on his hip. They STRONGLY suspect from the actions of the people on the boat that they were pirates, but they never made their intentions known after seeing the shotgun and being told to go away.

  18. Thanks Sebastian, I grew up on boats and traveled to Florida Keys twice a year. We use to have our shotguns with us for fun, not defense. Some people had a puller and shoot trap of the bow. That was common in the 1970’s. Actually I got pretty good shooting trap off the bow with my 20 GA skeet gun. No concern about lead shot at the time.

    There never was a concern about crime in US waters on the intercostals or running outside.

    However Bahamas was under British control and we knew the regulations then and never had shotguns onboard on those trips.

    I have been interested in the piracy problem and having a friend travel across the Atlantic on a sailboat, we discussed this issue. Since then I have done a lot of research because I was interested.

    Surprisingly on the open seas a boat can have anything on board. If you are U.S. flagged or a yacht documented by the Coast Guard, the US laws apply and they are the most liberal. The French are very cool about this but the British are nuts. Warnings about Mexico are severe. So any mariner checks out the port regulations where they go and prepared accordingly.

    Since the yacht is flagged in the US then US law applies while even in port. Kind of like embassy privileges so as long as the arms are secured onboard and the port captain checks they are secured, mostly you are OK.

    Shotguns are the most commonly accepted as marine equipment by most nations.

    Landlubbers tend to think they can easily retreat or call for help if trouble happens. That is not true on the sea. Other yachts will listen on channel 16 and freighters will come to help. Just company can deter pirates. When you realize shooting a poor fisherman who is trying to get some cash will get you severe punishment, you think twice about shooting a native. Also some of the pirates are the countries coastal patrol trying to get extra money.

    That is why mariners try to be innovative about non-lethal forms of self-defense. The Nowlin’s who did succeed in defending themselves used a shotgun because they were U.S. flagged and the other yacht was not a U.S vessel, but was steel hulled and just rammed the pirate’s small boat. They did not try to save anyone and just told the navy once they got to a safe port. Personally I would not have been concerned about pirate lives that were shot or drowned. But sailing in that area again could be dangerous since relatives could target you.

    The fact that yachts are including a safe room and alarms and electric fences show how much people are trying to protect mariners.

    As much as we lot to fantasize about cannon and machine guns they just are not practical, as your ship would be impounded once you reach port.
    Naval warships are different, civilian yachts use avoidance; negotiation and watchfulness are their basic defense.

    A writer on marine security said that the risks are weather, natural hazards and criminal. Add guns to the mix and you add the law enforcement as your added risks.

    So a shotgun is good and slugs are good that will work for most defense and not get you in trouble with law enforcement.

  19. If found this article by a ship’s master on having guns on board

    It should be noted that a private vessel in a foreign port state’s waters (usually 12 NM) is subject to the laws of that state (as well as those of their flag state). The vessel may be boarded and searched by the foreign port state even if they never enter that state’s ports. Exception being certain shipping routes where the transit of the territorial waters of a country cannot be avoided where the state honors innocent passage by international convention but the vessel may not stop during the passage.

    In addition, the taking the vessel and its contents, including firearms, across international borders, including entering countries territorial waters, is an export. There are exceptions for hunting and sporting weapons but an EBR or a handgun would most likely get you tangled up in the International Traffic in Arms Regulations. Shotguns over 18 inch in length are controlled by the Export Administration Regulations and are restricted for export to most members of the Organization of American States (OAS) under the firearms control convention. This is where Mexico’s restrictions on firearms can get you in trouble both there and back in the US.

    It should also be noted that should you use force in foreign port state’s territorial waters, you will be tried by that state in accordance with their laws, legal conventions and if a jury is permitted judged by one made up of citizens of that port state. This can also apply if you take action against a foreign flagged vessel. Even between different states in the US, use of force and self-defense is different. In Britain they seem to be willing to prosecute the assaulted person if the use harsh words against the attacker.

  20. Most yacht captains that are US flagged do carry a shotgun, they just don’t talk about it. The Nowlins who had the pirate attack in the Gulf of Aden near Somalia had one aboard and it was part of the reason they escaped. The Nowlins also helped the Tsunami victims with radio communications so they spend years at sea.

    The young man Zac Sunderland had a .357 handgun. I hope he does not get into trouble now that has been publicized.

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