Ironically, we wanted to put bars across our hatches while outfitting the boat in Florida before we left to go cruising, but the stainless fabricator that was making our arch, talked us out of it. His perspective and experience was that cruising is safe…. statistics show more boats will catch fire, than will be robbed and bars could trap us inside during a fire. While most cruising locales don’t necessarily require extreme safety measures like bars, we like being able to leave a hatch open without worrying about someone being able to get inside. On the other hand, we took the fire warning seriously.
If you decide to add bars to your boat, be sure to think through all the potential entry points. It does no good to add bars to the hatches and leave a flimsy companionway unlocked. Our companionway is heavy heavy wooden construction. At night we close it and secure it in place with a wooden stick that prevents it from sliding open. If we leave, it’s locked with a heavy lock.
A word on locks … see the article Freeze Free to keep your locks in tip top condition. Locks can be deadly if they don’t open when you need them … for example, in case of fire. Also, if you’re getting locks, make sure to get heavy enough locks so they can’t be snipped with a simple pair of hand wire cutters.
1. We can leave a hatch open without having to worry about anyone being able to get inside.
2. If it’s very hot, an open hatch while we’re gone provides much needed ventilation.
3. The overall feeling of safety and security I get with the bars in place.
1. Potential to be a fire hazard – our bars are custom fabricated to be easily removed at any point in the boat. The key to the lock is stored out of reach down by the floorboards (in the same receptacle that the floorboard keys are stored).
2. Some say they would feel like they were in jail if they had bars. Initially I saw the bars, but after having them in place for years, I don’t even see them anymore.
3. The bars only protect the hatches, not the companionway.
4. Not inexpensive.
5. More stainless to polish.
We had stainless bars fabricated from The Shop in the Rio Dulce, Guatemala. One of our conditions was that they would be easily removed from inside in case of fire. Every hatch has the same lock and key. Each hatch has a key in the immediate vicinity kept near the cabin sole.
Monthly fire drills are the final safety consideration…. What good are bars that unlock from the inside if corrosion due to lack of use corrodes the locks?
Overall, remember safety bars and heavy duty companionway construction will certainly act as a deterrent to opportunistic theft. However, if someone is seriously intent on getting into a boat and has the right tools, there’s no boat in the world they couldn’t break into. We have personally never experienced anything other than opportunistic theft and have never felt threatened in any place we’ve been.
Prepare however feels best for you and forget it (except for a fire drill, of course!). GO CRUISING!!!
If you have other ideas on how bars are best constructed for cruising sailboats, please share your comments! THANKS!