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Page updated February 23, 2011

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The Intercostal Waterway & South to the Islands

Congratulations! Cast off those lines and get going.

This page is written for Canadians headed south although many of the comments apply top anyone considering spending time cruising offshore and out of territorial waters.

Yes Piracy and murder do happen even to nice Canadians who do not carry guns.
For the gun side of the great cruising security debate check here.

I expect to have a 2005 Island update available within a few weeks as another lucky friend is headed south to join a cruising boat. Much of this update is based on 3 friends who have returned from the 2001- 2002 winter in Florida, Cuba, a circumnavigation of Cuba and the T & C.

Cruising Seamanship Thoughts

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This is Cruising Canada, cruising 2004.

A friend asked me what the five things that I would take (extra) when going cruising? The question caused me to return to some of the older pages I had written about cruising preparations to “Go South” and revisit the thoughts.

Before the things, I believe mindset is equally important and offer the following cruising wisdom:

  1. Never sail when you and your vessel are not 100% ready.
  2. There is another day, know your resources and have at least a game plan.
  3. Assume no equipment is perfect, nor does it last forever, maintain your equipment.
  4. Everything can and probably will fail at some time, and it often is the worst timing.
  5. Carry spares, emergency repair kit & practice emergency drills in adverse conditions.

I would take with me when leaving on a voyage:

.1. You should have more fire fighting capability, and at least offshore-recommended safety equipment.

.2. Your flares should conform SOLAS standards and contain at least 3 parachute flares, never skimp, be identifiable from the air.

.3. Duplicate spares and any special tools that might be required for maintenance while underway. Reference manuals for equipment.

.4. Exposure or survival suits and emergency abandon ship bag.

.5. Secondary communications above a VHS, or even SSB, such as a cellular or a satellite phone that handles voice and data, and an antenna.

For current political and travel advisories in any country, phone toll-free 1-800-267-6788 or in Ottawa, Ontario phone 944-6788.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade provides Travel Advisory Reports for general travel information and requirements for the United States and Florida. The Foreign Affairs Department also has a brochure called Crossing the 49th which covers many of the twists and turns for Canadians chasing the sun southward with a listing of Canadian diplomatic contacts in the US which may be useful were you to run afoul of the law.

You are a foreign vessel, and you are the Captain. Do not take things for granted.
Boats can sink - I recommend keeping important papers in a waterproof pouch with a spare duplicate set in your abandon ship bag (also in waterproof pouch).

You must have:

  1. A valid, up to date, passport - no exceptions
       forget half measures of drivers license in spite of what some people say)!
  2. You will also need appropriate courtesy flags for within other countries waters
  3. A Q (quarantine) flag for entering some country.
  4. Make six copies of your complete crew with complete names, passport numbers and date of birth
       it can make things much easier with cheep copiers at hand).
  5. Check requirements for visitor licensing in the countries you plan to visit through their embassy or consulate offices before you leave.
  6. Ensure that your vessel registration and ownership is in order and duplicated.
  7. If your vessel is financed ensure you have the authority to take her out of the country in writing and very official.
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Health Canada will provide bulletins on communicable diseases in other countries and travel. As a rule of thumb any time you leave the Canada for over 6 months, you may loose health care eligibility. You should check your provincial residency requirements carefully and do not count on Canadian standards of health care, or take anything for granted. We recommend additional travel insurance, as emergency care can be amazing some places.

Settle on a long term discount international phone provider where you can maintain an account even if you shut off your home phone or pick up pre paid phone cards as you go through the USA for long-distance phone calls. If you have the bucks a satellite phone would be cool, but not cheep. A normal PCS with a good roaming deal will see you through most of the USA.

Have appropriate radio licenses for any radios on board. You will find a handy Cruising Canada navigation desk VHF channel guide you can print out on our site here. I tended to use VHF 13 constantly as it is where the commercial inter ship traffic happens on most of the east seaboard, as well as bridges or locks.


I differ for many Canadian boating sites.

I SURVIVED TWO MAJOR ENCOUNTERS IN 5 YEARS, had armed people getting in my face meaning harm dozens of times, no reason to get weak knees, neutralize the threat. On the other hand I and have been boarded too many times to count, so I have been there on both sides of the argument.

I believe in armed cruising for international waters. Not gung ho crazy but responsible firearms. Know how, and be prepared to use it once clear of Canadian and USA waters if your life is threatened.

True this is a sticky point these days. When there is no one else there, my choice and conscious was always clear. Many southern states are an easy palace to finalize your requirements at a gun show or many dealers if you have a clean record or do a little hunting.

YOU WILL BE BOARDED. On the average you can expect to be boarded more often in USA waters than offshore, particularly on the way back north.Florida, Carolina's and Georgia are very vigilant due to smugglers as are Savannah and Charleston.

When you are boarded in US waters, the Captain will taken forward and the crew aft as a matter of procedure, with armed seaman at the ready. So don't be surprised this is standard a procedure.

Option B: If you build the boat is to pre plan. First your SOLAS parachute flares ready, they are you best friend. They are expensive, but if it goes wrong keep getting those bright starbursts up works wonders. I had a friend who had stanchions, rifled inside that could be turned into guns at short notice. Or my favorite using your cargo boom or spinnaker pole as a rocket launcher. A simple rocket is amazing easy to build from a hobby store and an internal primer cord makes a great delay fuse. You do not have to hit em, to scare them to an simpler target.

ABOVE ALL! Do not bring guns back into the USA or Canada due to current regulations loose them in deep water.


Talk to your doctor get adequate prescriptions for an extended time. Most doctors will help you with correct prescriptions and usage directions for an emergency medical kit if they know you and know you are headed for international waters. Take a St Johns course, you may be the only resource aboard. Drugs are a problem. Keep ALL DRUGS in original bottles. Keep a copy of the prescriptions separate (in that waterproof pouch) and the drugs in their bottles. The USA does not allow some common over the counter pain killers.

Stock drugs needed for common health problems along with a comprehensive first aid kit. You probably will use at least one of them, saving yourself a lengthy search for a doctor if you already know you have dysentery or cracked ribs.

Have a emergency dental kit, you would be amazed what you can do when choices are limited. Ensure your mouth is A-OK long before leaving and take care of them when you go. Loosing your dentures can be a real loss away from home.


Most can not have enough of this stuff, but still go. On the other hand most cruisers learn how to pick up little cash infusions along the way after a year or so. what you can do and when depends how far south and for how long. I have met some talented and resourceful individuals and cruisers as a group tend to be resourceful and interesting folk.

An Email Communications successful practice.
You are on the net now, so set up a hot mail or the like email account where you will have the same log on. Most recreation destinations now have some sort of way to log on, be that an Internet cafe or as marina guest. Worst case a old fashioned acoustic modem or that nice new little organizer will do the job.

Snail Mail:
Most of all your home mail and affairs require someone locally to field queries. An extended voyage will require setting up a mail forwarding system like several who cater to cruisers.

You will need to plan how will you handle this snail/postal mail be that a friend, family, service, money (money machines, credit card company with auto-payment, travelers checks), investment decisions.

Animals require health papers. A rabies certificate must current carried. Bahamas requires very current veterinarian documentation so one of the last Florida visits is the vets. Some places may not allow your pets to leave the boat, which caused my feline to become stressed out puss on several occasions when denied shore leave.

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Cruising & Piracy

In ten years of cruising I had two incidents which are the solid basis for my statements as I am here today.

Four American yachtsmen died February 22 off the coast of Somalia, killed by pirates who had hijacked the Adams' yacht, the Quest. Big mistake, not even with automatic weapons aboard should one attempt a single vessel passage though those waters as it is guaranteed trouble. There is no god who will protect you from desperate men. None of the defence preparations would have saved these people as being there alone was the error.

The bottom line is simple when confronted by a life threatening situation, which piracy or a boarding at sea or confrontation in port is, which one of you leave whole the only important thing.

Any experienced military person will tell you the longer the engagement continues the less your chances become of coming out on top. On the whole the bad guys today are more thugs than the pirates of old and do not expect resistance and will seek a softer target if you exhibit prepared resistance. Surprise and fear are your enemies, knowledge of hot areas while preparation and judgment your best defence.

In the next breath, it is important to stress that running afoul of many third world countries legal system can be nearly as dangerous and the attack itself. I believe that Speed, Silence, Stealth, Solution with a quick exit from the jurisdiction is often the best solution to continuing to enjoy your cruise.

  1. Knowledge, Knowledge and outright port gossip all provide the solitary cruiser insight into what areas are HOT and should be avoided. Once in the islands the local pub and marina gossip will pretty much tell you where to beware of.
  2. Secure your vessel by a secondary secure means such as a hidden SS cable on strange public mooring docks. Sometimes locals get nasty and untie the unwary visitor at night. I remember the first time I went south 1985 at Watertown, on the Erie canal we were untied at night. Twice in different boats I have had lines untied.Visit "Headed South" a Cruising Canada mini-site.
  3. Set your guard band radar at night, and do not trust unidentified approaching vessels. A burst of dozen or so is usually enough to discourage the would be boarding party.
  4. Creation of a shocker wire around the lifeline is also effective.
  5. In some anchorages Boat Boys can be a pest and a trip to your local marshal arts supplier for a bunch of (spike balls) which you to lay on the deck at night provide a great alarm for bare footed visitors, and get a good night sleep.
  6. Your basic flare gun, can also be purchased in a stainless version designed to handle a slug known as the MACHETE STOPPER, and other than trying to break your wrist provides a great companionway weapon. However be warned, it is illegal.
More official organizations and reference sources for the cruiser.

The increase in the numbers of attacks by pirates and armed robbers on merchant ships has been causing concern. It is believed that this increase applies also to yachts, but these are not necessarily reported to the relevant authorities and the statistics do not take them into account.

The International Maritime Organization is mounting a campaign to improve the steps taken by governments throughout the world to combat this growing menace. It believes that this should take account of attacks on yachts and other recreational vessels. The International Sailing Federation has agreed to help in obtaining reports of these attacks. Only by having the figures can pressure be applied to the Security authorities throughout the world for improvements to the protection which they give to small boats both in ports and at sea. Reports should cover all incidents of piracy or of robbery in which the perpetrators are armed wherever they occur.

The word "armed" should not be restricted to firearms but includes any weapon which is used to assist in the crime. Reports should include the following information:

1. Name of Yacht, owner, nationality of vessel and registration details.
2. Location date and time of incident
3. Short summary of the attack
4. Details of all reports made to other authorities.

They should be sent by Email to a dedicated.

Email address:

[email protected]
if e-mail is not available then by the quickest available means to ISAF at:
Ariadne House, Town Quay,
Southampton, Hants
S014 2AQ, UK.
Telephone: 02380635111    Fax: 023 80635789

ISAF will collate the reports and send regular returns to IMO.

Will you please draw this new initiative to the attention of your members and to all Yachting Journals circulating in your country? If you know of any Internet web sites likely to be read by yachtsmen who cruise over long distances please use your best endeavor to have it publicized on those sites.
Michael Devonshire- Chairman ISAF International Regulations Committee.

Related Piracy Websites

ICC Weekly Report
Report 1: 27 January 2000

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