Is it safe to travel by boat in Mexico?

Darren Carey, manager of IGY Marina in Cabo San Lucas, gets asked this question frequently. IGY Marina is the largest boating facility in Cabo San Lucas, and that resort port at the tip of Baja has long been the center of the universe – at least the nautical tourist universe in Mexico.

“In light of drug-gang violence elsewhere in Mexico these days, are yacht tourists (yatistas) safe in Cabo San Lucas?” I asked Carey recently.

“The short answer is yes,” he said. “We have had no incidents of tourists being attacked,” he said, “no boat thefts, no yachts getting damaged by bad weather. The worst complaints we’ve had recently are that a panga driver charged a tourist too much to take him out to Lovers’ Beach and back, and a taxi driver in town didn’t make the correct change.”

The Mexican Secretariat of Tourism recorded 5.9 million Americans traveling to Mexico last year, an increase of almost 10% over the previous year. With that many gringos visiting Mexico, what do they need to do to stay safe?

“Tourists are not being targeted by drug gangs in Mexico,” he said.

“It’s no different than tourists visiting any country in Europe or the Americas. Tourists should avoid the few areas where problems are known to exist. They should not get mixed up in buying drugs or other criminal activities. Tourists in any country should pay attention to where they are, to protect themselves from pick pockets or random criminal acts.

“In Cabo San Lucas, if visitors are going to hire the smaller unlicensed pangas tour boats, then they should make an effort to learn the price in pesos. If you’re hiring a taxi, you should ask the price in advance, because taxi drivers often don’t have a lot of change.” This avoids being shocked by a high taxi fare at the end of your drive as well.

INTERNATIONAL EXPERIENCE

Carey, who took over as manager of IGY Marina Cabo San Lucas earlier this year, comes from the United Kingdom, where he was a member of Britain’s elite Royal Navy Lifeboat Institute (similar to the US Coast Guard). He specialized in both port security and rough-weather boat handling. His non military career includes working as the dockmaster and manager of several marinas in England and Europe.

He said the IGY Marina works closely with the Mexican Naval Command that is based in Cabo San Lucas. The navy’s mission includes protecting visitors, residents and businesses from crime in the ports and high seas.

As a marina operator, Corey was an invited guest of the admiral to go out with the Mexican Navy while they exercised some of their new patrol craft, including 47 medium light boats and RIBs, and several new long-range helicopters.

Corey said the Mexican Navy units that are based at Cabo San Lucas regularly patrol in a radius of at least 250 miles in all directions. That covers almost half way up Baja and in the other direction up to La Paz. Other Navy bases at Ensenada, Cedros Island, Turtle Bay, Mag Bay and La Paz, for example, patrol overlapping areas.

Their purpose is search and rescue, said Carey, but they handle all situations. He said he was impressed with how knowledgeable and well trained the marines are.

“We cruised around East Cape,” said Carey of his Mexican Navy excursion. “That cruise was very informative, very reassuring and, well, lovely!”

Do boaters need to be protected by the military or security guards at all times?

“It’s funny, because during the daylight hours, when the navy guys are wearing their dress white uniforms, all starched and pressed, the tourists are really happy to see them in the marinas and around town,” Carey related. “They like to try to get their pictures taken with them.”

“But at night, when the same navy patrols switch into their black uniforms, or wear camouflaged fatigues, then it’s a different story. We’ve had some tourists get upset. They get freaked out by those uniforms.”

“At the marina, we are focused on security 24 hours a day, seven days a week, of course,” Corey said. “Customer service includes customer security. … All our staffers – anybody who is out on the docks – they all are trained in security. So you won’t see separate security guards.”

Carey said the IGY Cabo San Lucas marina also has multiple CCTV (closed circuit television) cameras covering every square meter of the marina at all times, with five people monitoring the cameras day and night.

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