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Guns Onboard Boats

Michael Peters
Sightlines - August 2014

Locked and Loaded


Would carrying a gun onboard help the author feel safer?

When we were kids, my dad had a few guns in the house, hidden high up in his closet. It seemed to me that they were leftovers from his youth growing up in Minnesota. He would take a .22 caliber pistol and a .32 Remington rifle to Catalina every summer, in case we wanted to kill a wild pig for a Hawaiian-style luau. My brothers and I knew where the guns were in case of an emergency, but our father taught us that nothing we owned was worth the cost of a human life. We certainly didn’t grow up in a gun culture in the heart of Los Angeles, but we respected the rights granted by the Second Amendment.

With guns constantly in the news now, it makes me glad we didn’t have “Stand Your Ground” laws in California back then. Living in the birthplace of the Crips and the Bloods, I would most certainly be dead now if we’d been able to shoot anyone we found life-threatening growing up. As dangerous a place as L.A. could be at times, people weren’t too afraid a regular Joe was packing a gun in those days. With all the NRA’s talk about the “good guy with the gun,” I am not too impressed with what a Florida neighborhood watch captain and a retired police chief managed to do with such easy access to guns. 

So now our family has married into the Georgia gun culture. Both of my son-in-laws hunt regularly and carry a gun with them everywhere they go. It has been part of their lives since youth, so it is what they know. I have tried to rationalize it as being the same as fishing, but who carries a fishing pole in their back pocket? Jason and Justin hunt every chance they get for deer, while half the guys I know go fishing every weekend, so what’s the difference? But for me, I would never own a gun. Or would I?

Recently I have been thinking about buying a fast trawler for cruising around Florida and the Virgin Islands. I find myself thinking I would make an exception to the “no guns” rule I have, because without a doubt I would carry a gun onboard for protection. Of course I would need to learn to shoot, but I have plenty of family help for that. The question is: Could I really shoot someone? I don’t have any military or police training, and can’t imagine actually shooting a person. The drug runner or pirate I fear would most probably have a gun too. I am pretty sure my hesitation, matched against their desperation, would not come out well for me. But I still want a gun on my boat, because it would make me feel safer.

The winner of the 1989-90 Whitbread Round the World race and two America’s Cups, Sir Peter Blake was New Zealand’s most famous yachtsman. I say “was,” because he died in December 2001 at age 53, after being shot in the back by pirates. While serving as the new head of expeditions for the Cousteau Society, he was monitoring global warming and pollution on the Amazon River aboard Seamaster, his 119-foot aluminum schooner, when his boat was boarded by pirates. As one of the robbers held a gun to a crewmember, Blake came from belowdecks with a gun. In the midst of the skirmish, he was killed. The pirates left after the shooting, without harming anyone else. Perhaps if he had not been so heroic and resisted with a rifle, he would only be missing his wristwatch and not his life. 

So I want my gun aboard my yacht and I want to defend my family if caught all alone, far from any possible help. I don’t know if I will really be any safer, or if I will just be some idiot that is out of my element, with a gun in my hand and a scared look on my face. Too scared to pull the trigger, but provoking my attacker to shoot me, before I get up my courage. For some reason I am afraid I might just be raising the stakes of the game, maybe getting myself in deeper trouble like Peter Blake did. But against all rationale, I still plan to carry a gun onboard.

This article originally appeared in the August 2014 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.