Boats are easy targets for thieves. Boat theft costs the insurance industry and customers about $40 million per year. Boats frequently sit in your driveway, at a marina or in a yard unattended and are attractive to professional thieves or people just walking, driving or even boating along. Thieves that target boats often come by water. Every year there are thefts of small outboards from marinas with good security.

Often the damage done by thieves trying to get into a boat exceeds the value of items stolen. Most thefts involve items that can be easily disposed of for money, like stereos, CD players, televisions, tools, dinghies and small outboards. Thieves rarely steal the marine electronics because they are harder to resell and generally require another matched component to operate.

So, what can you do to prevent theft of your boat or equipment? One thing to keep in mind is that most thefts occur when you are away from your vessel—at night, during the week, particularly after a long holiday weekend or during the off-season. These are the times when you should be more vigilant.

The boating world is a lot like a small rural town where most people leave their doors unlocked. Most boats are equipped with minimal locks that are easily broken, opened, or bypassed. The first mistake boat theft victims make is to refuse to believe that it has happened to them. When a boat is stolen, owners often assume it must have been moved by marina personnel or borrowed by a friend, wasting valuable time. Time is of the essence when a boat is stolen. Law enforcement authorities should be notified immediately. The longer a theft goes unreported, the more difficult it becomes to recover the boat.

Trailerable boats are easy marks for theft. Many owners do little to lock their trailers. Anyone with a trailer hitch can easily steal the boat and be gone in seconds. Trailers should be locked to either your vehicle or a permanent object such as a tree or pole.
The more precautions you take to prevent theft, the better. Make these simple steps part of your routine.

Locks work. Thieves are quick operators. The more time and trouble it takes a thief, the more likely they will be discovered or move to another vessel. Lock your outboard, sterndrive, trailer, and hatches. There are special lock nuts for outboards and sterndrives to prevent their theft. Replace all the locks that come with the boat with security-type locks. Remove easily transportable electronics from your boat when you are going to be away for some time. Alarm systems rarely work well on boats because of their propensity for false alarms and the remote locations of marinas. People often ignore an audible alarm. Alarms must alert the marina, an alarm service or you to be effective.

Never leave the original registration on your boat. Make this part of the equipment you bring to the boat each time you plan to take it out on the water.

Engrave stereos and electronics with your driver’s license number. This makes them harder to resell and easier to trace. You can prevent personal belongings from “walking off” your vessel by putting your name or the name of your boat on cushions, fishing gear and other loose items in permanent marker. Do not leave your valuables in plain sight.

Keep photographs and videotape of your boat in a safe place at home. Photos can be particularly helpful in the recovery of a boat. Include with your home records a list of everything normally kept on the vessel including serial numbers, photos, manufacturers, and the boat’s HIN. All of this will make it easier if you need to file a claim and can help you recover your boat and/or belongings in the event of a theft.

Do not leave a key aboard. Thieves know all the hiding places. If you must, leave keys with the marina. When you are out boating for the day and are going to be away from your boat, take the ignition key with you.

Anything you do to make your boat less attractive to thieves will decrease your chances of becoming a victim. But, in the event you are a robbed, there are several steps you should take:

1. Contact the law enforcement authorities immediately. Provide as much detail as possible about your boat and trailer, including the HIN & VIN, registration numbers, engine and outdrive serial numbers. It’s a good idea to keep all of these numbers at hand, preferably in your wallet. If you do not have these numbers with you, get them to the authorities as soon as possible. The first 24 hours are the most critical for recovery. Delay is your enemy.

2. Be persistent with law enforcement. Make sure that all your information is entered in the NCIC (National Crime Information Center) system as soon as possible.

3. It is important that you become involved in the effort to recover your boat. Contact marinas, gas docks, restaurants, etc. where your boat may put in. If possible fax or e-mail them a photo, preferably within 24 hours.