Over the years, we have often been asked about “guns on boats.” There are many questions surrounding the concept of carrying firearms on your luxury motor yacht. Do you want to have weapons on board at all, and for what purpose – defense? Sport? Both?
The same as with the decision to keep firearms in your home, or carry them on your person, there are legal, moral, and practical concerns about keeping guns on your vessel.
If you own a motor yacht chances are you will be traveling internationally. Generally speaking every country has its own gun laws. In some areas, cruising with guns on board is completely legal, in others it could be a misdemeanor, or minor infraction, and in still other parts of the world it could land you or your crew in jail! In almost all parts of the world, at the very least, you will have to declare any weapons that are on your boat.
What you must always keep in mind is the things we take for granted as Americans, such as our “right to bear arms,” can be very different once you enter international waters. But it is even more complicated than that. To really understand the legal complexities of carrying guns aboard seagoing vessels, you must first look at maritime law, then international law, and as in carrying on land, state and local laws can even come into play.
Modern maritime law is based on United National Convention on the Law of the Sea. In international waters, defined as at least 24 miles away from any coast, the ship is bound by the laws of the country of registry and therefor the flag it is flying. In other words if you are on the open ocean, flying a US Flag, you can have any firearm on board that is legal under federal law. However, that can all change when you come into port. Once you enter “the protected waters” of any nation, you are subject to the laws of that nation. That begins 12 miles from its coastline. So, even if you are flying a US flag, if you are within 12 miles, of Mexico, you are subject to Mexican law, which requires special permits for guns aboard a vessel.
This all can be very complex, and that is why many owners and crew choose not to carry weapons on board, and rather, opt for other defensive measures, such as non-lethal arms, and water cannons. However, if you do want to have guns on board, here are some recommendations.
Best Guns to Have Aboard
When thinking about what kind of guns to have on your yacht, you again need to ask yourself why do you want them? Do you just want to enjoy some recreational shooting, such as skeet shooting off of the aft deck? Or is your main concern to be able to protect yourself in the close quarter interior spaces from a passenger who may get out of hand, or to repel possible pirates or borders? The point is no one gun is suited for every purpose, and even military and gun aficionados cannot agree on the “perfect gun” or ammunition.
About the only thing that we can agree on is that there is certainly no single gun that could suffice for every single situation that could arise at sea. That is not to say that you need to have an arsenal on board, but you do need to have a selection of at least a few different firearms to serve different purposes.
Even if you have never fired a shot, you probably know that there are three basic types of firearms: Rifles, Shotguns and Handguns. Within each of those there are subcategories based on how the ammo is chambered and fired and the caliber, or size of the round.
At the bare minimum you should consider having on board and knowing how to use at least one from each category – a long rifle, a shotgun, and a handgun.
Even if you are military trained, I really do not recommend you carry so-called “assault rifles” such as the well-known AR-15 or AK-47 on your yacht for several reasons. These types of weapons are frowned upon by military personal, and/or law enforcement who may need to board your vessel for any reason, and get “twitchy” at the thought of being out-gunned. In many countries having these weapons, or even the typical military ammo they are chambered for- meaning 7.62 NATO, 7.62 x 39, or 5.56 NATO – is a major felony, whereas even high-caliber “hunting ammo” is not.
Assault rifles are expensive to buy and maintain, they require a lot of training, and they jam – a lot. Most importantly, in any confrontation on your vessel, you are most likely to be defending yourself against thugs and marauders, and not heavily armed infantry.
That is why I make the following recommendation – a lever-action .30-30. A lever-action rifle, or “cowboy gun,” such as a Marlin Model 336, can fire just about as fast as any semi-auto assault rifle you can name, and it jams a heck of a lot less. It shoots fast, is accurate and will bring down just about anything on four or two legs. It is commonly chambered for 30-30 Winchester or 35 Remington, both are ammunition that is easy to obtain and not too expensive.
A shotgun should be on your list of “must haves” on a boat, and in fact if you were going to carry only one gun, or one type of gun on board, it should be a shotgun. Shotguns are legal almost everywhere, they do not require as much skill to take out an intruder (or an outboard motor for that matter) and they are relatively inexpensive. The Mossberg 500 Shotgun in 12 or 20 Gauge is one of the most economical and versatile shotguns you can buy.
If you want to arm yourself or your crew with handguns, against what you might think from watching movies, I would recommend revolvers instead of automatics. Automatics have too much of a tendency to jam, and also, are illegal in more places than are revolvers. A revolver is inherently safe, and if a round fails, another trigger pull will be instinctive, and chamber and fire the next round. The caliber should be no less than .357 magnum and preferably, a .44 magnum.
The other things to keep in mind that you have to consider is the ocean is a hard environment on guns and gun parts. You can minimize this with stainless steel, or nickel plated weapons, but as far as the sea goes, no gun is “rust proof,” and generally speaking the more complex the gun, the more likely that can be a problem. Which is another reason to stay away from assault rifles and autos, and stick with lever-action rifles and revolvers.
Other Defense Options
If you are thinking about firearms onboard strictly from a defensive point of view, but are unsure about guns and your ability to use lethal force, there are other options available to protect your boat and passengers.
Tasers, stun-guns, and pepper sprays are all viable non-lethal ways to arm yourself or you crew, to deal with potential trouble, provided you are properly trained in their use. I know of several owners that keep a variety of swords, machetes, and combat batons on hand – which in many ways, in the close quarters aboard a boat could be more practical defensive weapons than a firearm.
We Always Shoot Straight
At 26 North Yachts, whether we are giving you the best information about firearms, or any questions or concerns about yachting, you can always count on us to shoot straight!
Too often we have seen buyers, particularly first time yacht owners, purchase their dream of a lifetime, and then fail to realize just how to get the most out of it. That is why we offer complete yacht management through or sister company – Florida Yacht Management (FYM).
By partnering with FYM you can take all of the hassles out of motor yacht ownership, enjoy all the reasons you made your yacht purchase in the first place, and, save as much as 30% on your operating costs in the process!