pirate07Pirates arenÂ’t the stuff of Hollywood movies or childhood fantasy; theyÂ’re a real threat to yachts. HereÂ’s how to mitigate your risks.

“Yachts are a soft target, a very tempting target,” according to Patrick Estebe, the president of Aff-AirAction, a security consulting firm with experience both on land and at sea. Indeed, while attacks are few and far between, they do occur—and in waters considered safe. In August 2008, for example, a popular charter yacht anchored off Corsica was approached by thieves aboard a speedboat, who ordered the captain and crew to open the safe and guests to hand over valuables at gunpoint. No shots were fired, according to the French Coast Guard, though hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, jewelry, and artwork were said to be taken.

Regardless of where you cruise, there are ways to avoid risks. Estebe, who has trained hundreds of yacht crews and owners, plus escorted yachts worldwide, advises the following.

Anticipate. There’s a difference between expecting a situation and simply reacting. “If there’s a fire, you can put water on it,” Estebe says. “But in terms of security, you are dealing with people’s minds. They are creative and very unpredictable.”

Weigh deterrent options. Owners and crew are more educated about long-range acoustic devices and other non-lethal methods these days, Estebe says. While he and his staff support this, he adds, “Deterrent devices aren’t as deterrent as we’d like them to be.” Why? There’s a rise in violence being used against boats. “Don’t take a megaphone to a gun fight,” he explains. Aff- AirAction personnel can escort yachts or even provide weapons training.

Bodyguards are fine—if they have their sea legs. “It’s one thing to be an excellent bodyguard on the streets of Moscow or London or Atlanta. It’s another to have maritime experience,” Estebe explains. Bodyguards can’t be proactive if they’re seasick. That’s why AffAirAction’s entire staff has years of experience on the water, including time spent as Marine Commandos.

Above all, relax. “You canÂ’t spend your day being aware of your surroundings,” Estebe says. “ItÂ’s exhausting.” Instead, when you venture on land, walk with the same calmness as you do on your local golf course. Why? FBI interviews with criminals show that they target people based on how they appear, with tense individuals ranking high, he says. — By Diane M. Byrne