During the past year I wrote an article regarding the touchy subject of safety and security while camping. For those of you who have not seen it and also for those of us going away in a few weeks time for the Christmas break, I include this HOW TO CAMP SAFELY article for your perusal.
Accept that crime is here to stay.
People should not get paranoid about this topic, but should accept that crime has become part of the fabric of society. On a recent caravanning holiday to Kruger I was discussing issues of safety with a few neighboring campers at Lower Sabie and reflected on a recent discussion I had with a friend who owns a home in Marloth Park that adjoins the Kruger Park. I was shocked at the tales of horror about armed house robberies, fatal shootings and other violent acts of crime that had been perpetrated there over the past eighteen months which has left homeowners and visitors virtual prisoners and housebound after dark.
On our doorstep. Yes this happens on Kruger’s doorstep as well, and is an issue that has entered our daily lives and is part of the challenge of living anywhere in South Africa. It is only the stupid and naive who thought that this reality would not creep into the caravanning and camping sites around our beautiful country.
Topic is not Taboo. This topic is a big taboo amongst the camping community as campers refuse to reflect on the reality of crime that can turn a camping holiday into a nightmare. But during the past four to five years of camping, our family has been witness to numerous incidences where crime has effected and in some cases destroyed the family holiday.
What do we do now? It would be unfair to identify the parks concerned as most of them have rigid security protocols, but I can say that I have witnessed camping crime from as near as Hermanus to Knysna and at various other places from here to Kruger Park, including an up market park in the Lowveld where a group of German Overland Safari tourists were robbed at gun point in the confines of a well known “safe” park. The mere fact that we are on holiday and “letting our hair down” must not be reason for us to drop out guard and forget about the basics of camping safety and security. What do we do now? Do we now all sell up our camping gear and stay barricaded and locked up at home on our holidays? Hell No ...Definitely not! What we do need to do is become street wise (camping wise) and more responsible when venturing out into the great outdoors.
Share numerous hints and tips. Having been involved in retail and commercial security for a major part of my career, I think I am qualified to share numerous tips, hints and ideas that we can implement to make our next camping trip a safe affair. Before you leave home, and even before you leave the comfort of your armchair when planning your next trip, make sure you enquire if the resort or camp you are visiting has any form of onsite security. You have every right to ask the management about their security arrangements in respect of; Guards, controlled access, visitor policy, day campers, fencing, and even ask for a few referrals of past happy clients. The stricter the controls the safer you are.
Drunken and disorderly behavior. I am not intimating that all day campers are unruly or misbehaved but I have been witness to numerous incidences of drunken and disorderly behavior that has stemmed from uncontrolled large groups of day campers.
Onsite pubs. Parks that have onsite pubs that allow access to the public are a big No - No!!! These pubs that draw on the support of outside clientele attract all kinds and sorts like flies to sticky fly paper.
Caravan Security Tips. Make sure that all your locks and latches are in good working order and cut a spare set of keys to take along with you on holiday that you can keep in a safe place or in the main offices safe. Don’t place this spare set in your cubby hole, pole box or front caravan stowage as that is merely asking for trouble.
Caravan locks. Many of the locks on the inside of the caravan are a flimsy affair, and don’t lock properly and some open with a mere bump. I strongly suggest that you look at installing a small slide bolt with padlock (even on the door outside) for extra security especially when camping in the off season when there are not many people around.
Valuables on holiday. Try not to take to many valuables with you on holiday; however if you really feel the need to take the family jewels and heirlooms along, I suggest that you purchase a small safe from a retail outlet or hardware store and bolt it through the floor and fasten it to the inside of one of your storage lockers. (Use a piece of marine ply on the underside of you caravan body which you bolt the safe through and secure). Another tip is to make a false / fake bottom inside one of your cupboards with a piece of veneered chip board similar in colour to the interior of your caravan that you can remove and place some of your valuables in.
Firearms. As a firearm owner I strongly urge you to Never Ever take a firearm with you unless you are going on a hunting trip in which case you need to ensure that there are safe keeping facilities to lock away your firearms on arrival. Can you imagine the chaos in a camp site if someone start’s brandishing a fire arm and discharging it? Do you want to be held responsible for the death of other innocent campers, camping around you? I don’t think so.
Revolver under pillow! A good friend of mine took along a firearm while tent camping at Lamberts bay on the West Coast recently. He placed the revolver under his pillow inside the tent when he went to bed and upon waking up the next morning the firearm was missing. He reported it to the local police and the firearm was found some six months later in a roadblock on the Cape Flats 300 km’s away. So leave the firearms at home in your safe.
Securing Your Campsite. The golden rule is to make sure that you camp at a site where there are other campers around you. This is especially important when camping in “off the beaten track locations” and places where you have never ventured before or, in the off season. Never forget the old saying, that there is “strength in numbers”.
Introduce yourself. Camping is a communal affair as you share facilities and space, so get to introduce yourself to your adjoining neighbours at your earliest convenience and agree to look out for one another’s property when the other party is not around. You don’t need to live on each other’s doorstep but a gesture of friendliness goes a long way in a moment of need.
Adequate lighting. Also make sure that there is adequate lighting around your campsite. I always leave my outdoor spike light and the caravan outside lights on, as darkness is a criminal’s best friend. Should there be any disturbance outside your tent or caravan you will be able to see what is going on, even if it is just the friendly park Tabby Cat stealing your braaivleis left over intended for breakfast, out of the roasting pan.
Torches. Always make sure that your flashlight or torch is fully charged, or has fresh batteries in, and is in working order in case you need it.
Share a bathroom with a friend. In the off season my wife and I even use the same ablution block just for safety sake.
Attracting attention. In the event of an emergency or if you or your possessions are threatened the best form of protection or defense is to make as much noise as you possibly can to attract attention of surrounding campers and most importantly, the camp security. This can be done in numerous ways i.e.: shouting being the most basic, but I suggest that you purchase a whistle from a local sports shop which you can keep handy in your cutlery draw. Another means of raising the alarm is to keep a hand held Air Horn Canister that can be purchased from any reputable security shop, or a shop that sells safety and marine equipment. This instrument will even wake up the “Dorp’s” Mayor staying 10 km’s away, when activated. It can also be used in the event of distress when you need help in the event of a medical or other emergency.
Motor vehicle remote. Keep the car remote close at hand as many vehicles have an alarm mode on the main key, and this to can be activated to raise the alarm and chase off a potential threat. I suggest you enquire at your local dealer or read the vehicles manual for these features.
Security checks. Before turning in for the night it, is wise to go through the following routine: Make sure that your vehicle is locked and all valuables are removed from inside the vehicle including the glove compartment, and also check that the outside stowage’s of your caravan are locked. Next you need to do a quick walk about the campsite to make sure that you don’t leave any valuables outside and don’t forget the wash-line as well.
Dangerous implements. Most importantly don’t leave any potentially dangerous items such as an axe, spade, hammers and other instruments lying around, as this could be used to harm you in a burglary situation. Remember that the table inside the tent which is notoriously used to dump everything on when returning from a day at the beach or an outing is also not safe. Make sure you secure these loose items inside your caravan or in a stowage box if using a tent.
Key dilemma. Last year when camping in Knysna over the festive period our neighbours from Pretoria left two cell phones, a laptop and their Pajero’s keys on the table inside the caravan tent. Unbeknown to them while sitting around the camp fire with some friends, young thugs from the nearby informal settlement had tunneled into the camp under the fence. They cut a slit through the side of their tent and cleared out the contents of the table including the car keys. This cost my neighbor to have to fly back home to Pretoria in order to obtain a spare set of keys.
Lock your tent. When camping in a tent use a small padlock to lock your tent on the zippers when you go out during the day or even at night when you sleep. It’s a deterrent!
Be disciplined. I am sure if you reflect on the tips and employ the disciplines above you will greatly reduce your risk to potential criminal activity.
Be the Un-Super Hero! There is only one issue I have not addressed and have left that as a closing thought; and that is what you need to do in the event of being in the middle of a criminal confrontation: Don’t resist or attempt to employ Super Hero antic’s, as it’s not worth it and the goods these cowards want to steal from you can be replaced over time - your life cannot.
Happy Holliday’s & Safe Camping.
Mark Hinrichsen. CaravanParks.com Forums Member.