INTRUDER ABOARD! Intruder Detection Options For Superyachts
Posted March 21, 2012, 2:46 p.m.
INTRUDER ABOARD! Intruder Detection Options For Superyachts
By Dean La Vey
Not too long ago, this author had an appointment with the captain of a 70m Superyacht moored in Monaco Harbour. Having had no response on the ‘call box’ I simply walked aboard hoping to see a member of the crew. Seeing no crew, I waved at the c.c.t.v cameras on the aft deck. I then walked up to the crew door and again waved at the cameras, however there was still no sign of any crew. This yacht has a very sophisticated access control system; however the door was wedged open with a sandal. I then entered the crew door and strolled inside, made my way to the wheelhouse and knocked on the captain’s cabin door. A startled captain opened the door and asked, “How the hell did I get onboard and get past the access control system”? Where were the crew? It turned out the crew were on the internet, watching movies, and asleep in their cabins. In truth I could have gone almost anywhere and certainly could have cleaned the wheelhouse out of expensive goodies and disappeared without trace. Four watches left in a fruit tray in the main saloon were worth over $1m.
Yachts of all sizes are prone to intruders. It’s a fact of life. Some intruders simply stroll up the passerelle for a look and a photo; while others are there for criminal intent. Whatever the reason, an intruder should be detected by crew onboard or by a remote systems designed to commission a programmed response. It is mostly assumed that most Superyachts have a skeleton crew onboard either ‘out of season’ or when not being used ‘in season’. This is however not the case with some very large yachts and the majority of smaller yachts which are simply ‘locked up’. In this regard they need to employ a series of intruder alarm measures in order that unauthorized persons are detected and dealt with efficiently.
In truth, any land based intruder alarms can be employed on a yacht. Passive Infra Red (PIRs), break glass sensors, and magnetic reed switches on doors can all be employed to detect intruders gaining access to the interior of the vessel. Intruder alarms of this sort are inexpensive and the installation is almost the same as in a land based application. The main difference is the monitoring of alarms. Land based alarms are normally linked to a monitoring facility that receives notification of an alarm or interference with the system via a dedicated telephone line. An example of this is RED CARE in the UK. It can also include a GSM back up. It’s a well oiled machine on land, however not that practical on a yacht. There are companies that offer GSM based alarm systems, however these systems are highly vulnerable in a world awash with inexpensive GSM jammers. A five watt GSM jammer will knock out the alarm notification end of the system until the jammer is switched off. It can also kill off the signal to everyone else’s GSM phone for over 100m. What to do here? On a yacht things have to be done slightly differently. Triggered alarms have to be accompanied by lots of noise and by noise I mean loud alarm sounders. Noise attracts attention. It is not the same as a house alarm going off and people ignoring it. If there is an alarm going off on a 50m+ yacht, someone is going to want to know why. At the same time an intruder is not going to continue intruding with a series of 168 decibel sounders going off all over the boat. Of course, these types of systems are designed for unoccupied yachts and we have to ask if there is anything of ‘real’ value to an intruder onboard; especially out of season? The real problems occur when crew are onboard and there are no specific intruder detection measure in place.
Just about every yacht that has had a deck sensor system installed have turned them off after a month. Why? The problem with the existing deck sensor technology is that it is pressure based. Sensors are installed under the teak decking and a person walking onto the active sensor creates an alarm. The system is derived from industrial machinery safety technology such as heavy lathes etc. A pressure sensing mat around the equipment automatically cuts the power to the machinery if someone steps on the mat. In other words, if you get too close to dangerous equipment, the mat sensor cuts the power. It’s a fantastic system in heavy industry; however it is fundamentally flawed on a yacht. Being pressure based, the system is highly prone to pressure exerted by the decking itself as it flexes. This in turn causes a mass of false alarms that quite simply make the system quite redundant after a short period of time. New technology could however solve the problem with the use of under deck electro-magnetic sensor cable. A length of cable is installed under the decking and radiates a 2m X 2m electromagnetic field of energy. This field remains static until someone walks through it, in which case it generates an alarm. Therefore what’s the difference between this and conventional deck sensors? The key here is that it has nothing to do with pressure and everything to do with how the electro-magnetic field responds to a person walking through it. It operates on three fundamental principles – Mass, Movement & Conductivity. i.e. Mass of a human being, their movement and the conductivity of the field on the body. This means that the system can be fully operational and a dog wouldn’t set it off, but a human being would. It doesn’t react to deck flexing and you can easily zone it off. It’s in prototype form at the moment and should be on display at METS 2010 at the Superyacht Pavilion.
WIRELESS DETECTION MATS:
The only alternative to conventional deck sensors for the last two years have been wireless detector mats. It is in essence a self contained pressure mat disguised as a normal welcome or gangway mat. Once someone steps on the mat, the inbuilt transmitter sends a coded signal to a receiver and a number of alarm options can be brought in service. The advantage of the system is that it is completely portable and completely covert. This means you can move it around depending on the security application. In addition, the boat’s logo can be added and nobody will ever know its part of the intruder detection system. Being a coded signal, it’s difficult to interfere with and for obvious reasons I’ll not mention the frequency band it operates on. It will however transmit for over 100m and the signal can be repeated for below the waterline use. What makes this system truly great however is that it requires no upheaval of infrastructure, being completely portable.
Not strictly a marine system, however employed on some yachts are external microwave detectors. These detectors project a wave of microwave energy in different directions and react to changes within the beam. They can be prone to false alarms when the yacht is moored next to other vessels and they are quite large. In this regard they are not exactly covert or go with the aesthetics of the yacht.
No matter what system is employed, it has to alert ‘someone’ that an intruder is on the boat. If the yacht is crewed, they should know immediately when an unauthorized person comes aboard and what to do about it. There are specialized companies who train crew in this type of awareness and reaction. This author has also carried out a number of ‘test’ boarding exercises on behalf of owners and has never been detected. It should just not be possible! One had a sign in the crew mess that read ‘There is nothing more important than the security of this vessel’. It was a great photo to give the owner! If the vessel is not crewed, it should employ a system that does not wholly rely on automated monitoring. A would be intruder on a yacht can be an opportunistic thief or a professional operator who has studied the yacht, and has countermeasures to automated alarm systems. It’s no different that intruders in stately homes or art galleries who beat the most sophisticated systems. What needs to be adopted is non-conventional equipment. Like all things in security, the most effective systems are the ones that nobody knows about, or expects to be installed on a yacht.
There will always be thefts from yachts. On vessels under 20m, it tends to be the radar or other marine electronics that are targeted, however with more publicity being given to large yachts and their even larger art collections; early warning of intruders is essential. The crucial element for alarms on yachts is their suitability.