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Last updated at 3:47 (UK time) 18 Jun 2010

River and sea safety including piracy

Tourists enjoying a beach holiday. Photo by Getty Images.

Beach Safety

Beach conditions and local safety provisions vary considerably throughout the world. You should check the presence of any flags and/or lifeguards at beaches before entering the water, and familiarise yourself with the signs of a rip current or tide. The RNLI and the Maritime and Coastguard agency provide comprehensive beach safety guidance.

Boat and ship passenger safety

Boat accidents aren’t uncommon in some countries because safety standards don’t match those of countries like the UK. If you’re travelling on any form of river or sea transport you should be aware of the following:

International river and sea travel

Although standards of construction, equipment and crewing are regulated globally by the International Maritime Organisation, levels of implementation and enforcement of these standards differ from country to country.

Safety regulation of passenger vessels is ultimately the responsibility of the state where the vessel is registered (the flag state). This might not be the country where you board the vessel or the destination.

British-flagged cruise ships are subject to regular security inspections and visits by UK authorities and are provided with considerable security advice and guidance by HM Government.

Domestic river and sea travel

Boats used for domestic services such as excursions are not subject to international standards. They may or may not be licensed or regulated depending on the laws of the country you’re in. So the vessel’s construction, operation and maintenance, crew training, evacuation procedures, and safety equipment may not be of the same standards as you would find in the UK.

Read the Sea Safety section of the relevant country’s Travel Advice for more information.


If you are travelling in your own yacht or boat you should be aware of the risk of piracy in some areas. Piracy has recently been reported in the following areas:

  • The Indian Ocean, particularly off the coast of the Horn of Africa
  • Off the coasts and on rivers of some South American countries
  • The Malacca Straits
  • South China Sea
  • The Red Sea

Always check the Sea Safety section of the relevant country’s Travel Advice before you travel. Maritime piracy reports are available on the website of the International Sailing Federation (ISAF), as well as at yacht piracy and Noonsite website.

Follow these general guidelines:

  • be vigilant – be wary of any small craft that appears to be going at the same speed as your own on a parallel or following course
  • identify a secure area on the yacht which attackers would have difficulty penetrating and retreat to this if attacked
  • hide a VHF transceiver somewhere on board – radios are often destroyed by pirates to prevent early alarms being raised
  • sound the alarm or fire a flare if attackers approach
  • if the attackers board your vessel, complying with their demands is usually the safest course of action
  • if an attack occurs use the following format for a distress message:
    • Vessels name and call, 
    • ‘Mayday’ ‘piracy attack’
    • Vessels position (and time and position of UTC)
    • Nature of the event

If you are attacked

Report the incident to the nearest British Embassy, the relevant naval authorities, the relevant law enforcement authorities and the IMB Piracy Reporting Office in Kuala Lumpur. The contact details are to the right.


It’s not advisable to carry firearms. If you do, the skipper must ensure that they are allowed by the flag state and host country. Penalties for the use of firearms can be severe in some countries.

See also

Useful links

  • Yacht Piracy - offers information about recent attacks on yachts