River and sea safety including piracy

Boat and ship passenger safetyLifeboats on a cruise ship. © Donovan Reese/Getty Images

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.

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 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:

  • Off the coasts and on rivers of some South American countries
  • The Malacca Straits
  • South China Sea
  • The Red Sea
  • The Indian Ocean

Always check the Sea Safety section of the relevant country’s Travel Advice before you travel. Maritime piracy reports are also available 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


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.

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.

Useful contacts

IMB Piracy Reporting Centre

Telepohone:+603 2031 0014
Fax +603 2078 5769
Telex +MA 31880IMBPCI
Email: imbkl@icc-css.org.uk

See Also

Travel insurance

Useful Links

Yacht Piracy - offers information about recent attacks on yachts

Noonsite - monitors recent piracy attacks

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