By Bruce Claflin, Scuttlebutt Magazine

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, boat thefts are on the decline. Their statistics indicate that boat thefts in the U.S. declined by 8% from 2017 – 2018. This reduction in thefts of watercraft is certainly very welcome news to boaters, but not a signal that boaters can relax in their vigilance to protect themselves against becoming victims of this crime.

The highest number of boat thefts occur in the State of Florida, followed by California, Texas, and Louisiana, respectively. While the top ten spots on the NCIB’s list are dominated by southern states, don’t be fooled into thinking that the problem is isolated to those areas. Certainly, theft of watercraft is some thing that every boater must concern themselves with. ‘Minnesota Nice’ only goes so far here as Minnesota ranks 12th on this list. Wisconsin follows closely behind at number 18.

The good news for Wisconsinites is that the rate of recovery of stolen watercraft is significantly higher there. Of course, if you house your boat at an area Marina you may find some comfort knowing that most have installed some level of security or video surveillance as a strong deterrent to these crimes. You will also find comfort knowing that the largest boats (cruiser class) not only have one of the lowest theft rates, but they also have the highest number in the percentage of those recovered.

Common sense would tell us that the larger the craft, the tougher it will be to steal, and the statistics we sifted through would bear that out as truth. Tops in the most often stolen category is the PWC, or personal watercraft. In addition, PWCs also have the lowest recovery rate. That category of craft is follwed by utility boats (row boats, canoes,etc.) , runabouts and fishing boats, with the aforementiond cruisers rounding out the list.

Obviously if one has a mind to steal, those boats that are trailerable are going to be a likely target. No one wants to be a victim of crime, yet I believe most of us in the boating world are fairly trusting of others we meet on the water. Even so, the old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” should govern your reasoning here. Don’t be suspicious of everyone you come across. Moreover, protect yourself by doing the things that make crime difficult for those with that intent.

I’ve spent most of my life near the water and have heard too many people say, “I only left it here for a short while…” when returning to their boat to find valuable equipment or beach bags and coolers gone. I’m guilty myself…..I no longer leave my sunglasses on the dash. So whether you are leaving your boat for a few minutes, overnight, or until next weekend, never leave valuable equipment exposed in your boat. And cruiser owners, even though your boats are unlikely to be stolen, other equipment and valuables in plain sight easily can be—so don’t forget to lock the cabin’s door, and windows.

We have, in previous issues, looked at some technology that keeps ‘eyes’ on your boat and dock area in the form of DockBot. They make and market a system that operates much like the home tech that allows app users to see their homes from a remote location. This is a very helpful tool, not only as a theft deterrent but also as an aid in recovery.

To be sure, there are many solutions on the market that will help you minmize your exposure to theft. Boaters, especially those that own trailerable boats, should take advantage of any that make sense given their own situation. Boats that are used infrequently, and stored on their trailer during the summer months are the most vulnerable. Most boats are stolen during the summer months, and holiday weekends are among the most notable. Of the holiday weekends Labor Day is the holiday when most of this type of crime occurs, followed by Independence Day.

All of the experts agree that by doing a few simple things, you can significantly reduce the likelihood of being among the victimized. The NICB offers the following simple tips to protect yourself from the criminal element:

  • Install a kill switch in the ignition system.
  • Install an alarm system especially designed for boats.
  • Remove all valuables and equipment from your boat when not in use
  • Secure your boat to the dock with a locked steel cable.
  • Park in a well lit dock area, or install motion lights or another system at your dock
  • Use a trailer hitch lock after parking your boat on its trailer.
  • Park your trailer in a locked garage, secured boat storage facility or well-lit fenced area.
  • Park the trailer so that the hitch is difficult to reach.
  • • Use a high-quality chain and lock to secure your boat and trailer to a fixed object, such as a tree.
  • Chain and lock detachable outboard motors to the boat.
  • Be sure your marine insurance policy includes not only the boat, but also your equipment and trailer.
  • Keep a copy of your registration and boat title in a safe place.

Unfortunately we know that this type of crime will never be eliminated but following these simple steps will be your best defense against becoming part of the statistics. Happy Boating!

Many thanks to Frank Scafidi at the National Insurance Crime Bureau for the background of this article.