On St. Patrick's Day morning a year ago I awoke at 4AM to a loud noise and the whole house shaking. I thought perhaps a car had hit the tree in the front yard, but looking out the bedroom window on the side of the house I did not see a car or any people. I climbed back in bed. Maybe a large tree limb had come down on the roof.
A couple of minutes later the whole house shook again. It seemed as if someone was trying to kick in the front door of my house. But the dog did not bark. My car was in the driveway. No one would be so stupid as to try to break in with me home and a dog in the house. I began turning lights on in the house and headed downstairs for a perimeter check from inside. No windows were broken and there was no intruder inside. It must have been a tree-limb coming down and I was just being paranoid. Nonetheless, I was on edge the rest of the night, unable to get back to sleep.
When I got up and took the dog out in the front yard for her morning piddle something caught my eye: a large, muddy bootprint on the front door next to the deadbolt. I should have trusted my gut that something was wrong and I was in danger. I should have called the police at 4AM, not simply gone back to bed. I no longer assume an unsettling noise or feeling is something innocent like a tree limb. Unfortunately, now I am jumpy and restful sleep is often elusive. I tell friends to be wary of boarding the boat without first knocking on the hull and announcing themselves, lest they hear a pump action a little too close for comfort.
Security aboard can be a controversial topic. I don't want to risk the legal issues that can come from cruising with guns aboard outside of the US; others would rather risk legal problems but be armed to the teeth. Even if cruising without a traditional firearm, flare guns do take 12 gauge shells and one can purchase a metal barrel to pop in a flare gun to prevent melting the gun. However, we often have many items aboard that can become impromptu weapons, and liveaboards tend to appreciate finding as many uses as possible for each item to justify its presence aboard.
My go-to defenses aboard are fire extinguishers, knives, and fighting sticks. Eventually I will add a flare gun and a spear gun. I think a flare to the chest is rather likely to ruin a pirate's day. A fire extinguisher to the face will cut off oxygen, and then you can conk the intruder on the head with the canister, too. (Using a fire extinguisher for defense was an excellent tip from a fellow liveaboard friend!) One great thing about fire extinguishers is that there are likely many aboard, mounted within arm's reach of just about any place you may be.
One of the critical aspects of self-defense is to know yourself, to know what you are willing to do. The time to have the moral conversation with oneself about taking another's life is well in advance, not when under attack. Personally, I find it hard to wrap my head around a willingness to be killed rather than take another life. That was the floppy-haired sailor guy's asserted position. I am certainly not in that camp. As a woman I feel fully entitled to assume all intruders intend to rape and kill me. I am not going to ask them if they are only there to take my bicycle.
When my budget permits I would like to have some sort of locking grate fashioned for my companionway. I would love to have radius alarms that will turn on flood lights on the deck and/or sound a horn. I would love to have a couple of webcams on deck so I can see what's out there before opening any hatches. My boat is unlikely to ever be the fanciest one in an anchorage, so hopefully I will be a less attractive target for theft. But as a single woman aboard, intruders may target me nonetheless. I can often be too trusting of people, but my crocodile brain has a good spidey-sense. The most important weapon any of us have for self-defense and self-preservation is our gut; trust it.