Are you a boat owner? What are you doing to secure your watercraft from criminals? While we all know about car theft and how it’s rampant across the country, many boat owners don’t catch on to the fact that boat theft is also a problem.
According to research released by the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), there were 4,240 boat thefts during 2019. So, what kind of boats do thieves like to steal? It seems that the most popular choices for criminals are cruisers and utility boats. PWCs like jet skis are also popular with boat thieves.
Unfortunately, the bad news is that the cops only manage to recover just over 40% of all stolen boats and PWCs. Florida seems to be the boat crime capital of the United States, and we can understand why.
Many of the criminals stealing these boats are from drug cartels. They use small vessels like cabin cruisers and center consoles for running drugs from Mexico, the Caribbean, and South America, into the United States.
So, if you own a boat, especially in Florida, then you’ll need to take into account how you intend to safeguard it from theft. Like your car, it’s also important to insure your boat against loss. While recent reports from the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) show a drop in boat theft, we have to write that drop-off to the effects of the pandemic.
However, Florida has remained the #1 destination in the US for boat thieves for the last three years running. According to the NICB, Florida accounted for 1,114 reported boat thefts in 2018. In contrast, Californian boat owners experienced 483 thefts and 378 in Texas.
Tampa, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami are theft hotspots, accounting for around 39% of all thefts across the state.
The same report shows that the police recovered just less than 40% of all stolen boats in 2018. The report also indicates that most recoveries happened within nine days of the theft. Therefore, if the cops can’t find your boast after two weeks of searching, it’s likely that it’s gone forever.
The research also shows that Labor Day is the biggest day of the year for boat thieves, with 26 thefts reported on the holiday. The utility and value of boats make them a hot item for criminals to steal. The research also shows that most boats get stolen while on their trailers.
So, what can you do to mitigate the risk of becoming a victim of boat theft? This guide unpacks strategies you can use to keep your watercraft safe.
- What are the Risk Factors for Boat Theft?
- Security Tips for Your Boat
- Security Tips for Leaving Your Boat on the Trailer
- Security Tips for Storing Your Boat
- Preparing for an Insurance Claim after Theft
- Wrapping Up
What are the Risk Factors for Boat Theft?
According to the NICB report, the primary target for criminals is boats within the 20 to 29-foot range. Typically, these boats sit on triple-axle trailers, and they have outboard motors fitted to the vessel. Bass boats, center consoles, and “go-fast” sports boats are the most popular targets for criminals.
Thieves steal boats for several reasons. Some boats get stripped for spares, others get used in drug-running operations, and some get resold into the secondary market after repainting and reconditioning. Parting out boats is big business, and thieves can net a fortune stealing and selling boats for spares.
Stolen boats appearing in the secondary market often experience re-registration in a state that doesn’t require you to file ownership papers for the vessel. As a result, thieves get to make a quick flip on the boat, handing the buyer a bag that gets them in trouble with law enforcement.
It’s also important to note that many states don’t require trailers to display a license plate, making it easier for thieves to get away with your boat and resell it on the secondary market. Even in states that check licensing information, the digital era of tech makes it easy for criminals to create fake certificates of ownership and proof of sale.
If you don’t have a trained eye, you might miss the finer details on these documents and end up purchasing a stolen boat. It happens a lot more often than you would think. If you buy a stolen boat, it can land you in big trouble with law enforcement when they discover its stolen status – even if you have no idea it was a stolen vessel.
The police will likely arrest you at the scene and charge you with boat theft, Even if you claim your innocence. As a result, you’ll have to fork out for layers and courtroom costs managing your case in front of the court.
Security Tips for Your Boat
Don’t Leave the Keys in the Ignition
It will surprise you how many boat owners make the mistake of leaving the keys in the ignition when storing their boat in their driveway or when trailered at the dock. Leaving the keys in the ignition is like painting a bullseye on your boat for criminals. Keep the keys on you, or take them inside the house.
Lock It Up
Thieves not only steal boats, but they’ll make off with your motor if they can’t get the entire vessel. So, it’s a good idea to chain up the engine to the boat and lock it.
While this won’t stop thieves with bolt cutters, it will prevent opportunists from stealing your engine(s). Feed the chain around the axle, tires, and wheels, lock the outdrives and props, and the cabin to prevent opportunistic thieves from running away with your boat components.
Bar the Doors
If you have a cabin cruiser or cuddy model, make sure you lock and bar the doors using stainless-steel bars or hasps. This strategy prevents opportunistic thieves from breaking into the cabin.
Wire In an Alarm
Purchase an alarm system for your boat. Most of these alarms are affordable, and you can set them up for motion detection or when they detect someone opening the cabin door or hatches. A shrill alarm is enough to scare off many thieves.
Install a Kill Switch
Installing an electrical or fuel kill switch is inexpensive, and it’s enough to prevent the starting of the boat, confusing thieves.
Security Tips for Leaving Your Boat on the Trailer
Keep your boat as far away from the road as possible. Ideally, store it in your garage. If you don’t have the space, leave it in the driveway and park your car in front of it at night. If you don’t have a driveway, consider storing the boat in a boatyard.
Secure the Boat
Many boat owners think that they can outsmart thieves by removing the coupler on the trailer. However, criminals are aware of this strategy.
They often carry makeshift couplers with them for a speedy getaway with your boat. Locking the trailer hitch also isn’t enough protection for your boat. We recommend chaining the trailer to a tree.
Disable the Boat
You also have the option of raising the trailer on rests and removing the wheels; It’s challenging for criminals to get away with a trailer that doesn’t have any tires.
Remove What You Can
Don’t store electronics and other valuable equipment on the boat when you’re not using it. Remove the radios, GPS, entertainment system, and other valuable items to give thieves no options for stealing your equipment.
Alert the Neighbors
If you’re going away for the weekend, leaving your boat in the driveway, alert the neighbors of your trip. Ask them to keep an eye on your boat. If it gets stolen while you’re away, give them your contact number so they can call you. Remember, the sooner you alert the police to the theft, the better your chance of recovering your boat.
Security Tips for Storing Your Boat
The harder you make your boat to steal, the better the chances that thieves will leave it and look for a softer target. If you’re storing your boat in your driveway, we recommend installing a motion-detector spotlight to alert you to any movement around your boat at night.
Park the boat with the tongue hitch facing the garage door and park your car behind it to make it harder for thieves to hook up to their getaway vehicle.
You also have the option of installing a microdot security chip in the boat. These chips link to tracking services, making it easier for law enforcement to track and recover your boat. Post a sign that says Microdot technology protects your boat. This tactic might be enough to deter thieves.
Preparing for an Insurance Claim after Theft
If you don experience the disappointment of someone stealing your boat, you need to act fast to ensure the best chances of the cops recovering the watercraft. Most owners will never see their boat again, but there are occasions when you might get lucky and the cops manage to recover the watercraft.
It’s critical for boat owners to record all serial numbers including the hull identification number (HIN). You’ll find the HIN located near the upper-right corner of the boats transom. You’ll also find the
registration certificate number, state registration number, engine serial number, transom assembly number, outdrive number, and serial numbers for the boats electronics. Keep all these numbers on a spreadsheet for easy access.
Ensure that you keep all the receipts, purchase documents, and your sales invoice. This paperwork often features serial numbers that can help law enforcement with identifying your boat. In most cases, criminals will remove the HIN, or they alter it or cover it, and they’ll change the state registration number.
If you’re lucky enough to have the police find your boat, they’ll need proof showing you are the legal owner of the vessel. Take photos of your boat from all sides, including the registration plates and the trailer.
Review Your Insurance Policy and Coverage
Get Carry Coverage for Repairing any Physical Damage
This policy covers you for any physical damage to your boat occurring in or out of the water. Some of the incidents covered by your carry cover include damage from storms, fire, collisions, and sinking.
Carry Liability Coverage
This insurance coverage pays out for injuries and medical costs if any of your passengers experience physical injury or death while on your boat. It gives you wrongful death protection, covering your legal fees.
Ask the Insurer for a Discount
You can save on your annual insurance costs by asking the insurer to discount your policy. Get quotes from three different insurers and use them to play them against each other for a better price. IfF you implement the security features mentioned in this post, tell your insurer, and they will likely give you a discount on your premiums.
Using these theft prevention strategies makes your boat less appealing to criminals, and they are likely to leave your boat alone in favor of finding a softer target. We recommend getting your boat a cover to stop thieves from searching the deck. The covering also hides the make and model of the vessel and its looks.
Thieves can strip your boat in minutes, so a boat cover adds another line of defense. The thieves can’t identify the boat model, and they might not want to run the risk of approaching your boat to lift the cover and find out the boat make and model.
You can also mitigate your theft risk by storing your boat in a secure boatyard when not in use. It might cost you a monthly fee, but at least you’ll know that your boat is safe. Leaving your boat in the street is asking thieves to make off with it. So, sending it to dry storage is a way better option to prevent the theft of your boat than leaving it in the street.
Make sure that the boatyard has secure facilities. The yard should have a camera system, guards, and fences to keep out intruders, along with stringent access control for staff and boat owners. If you’re planning on selling your boat, do it online.
Please make sure you get the buyer’s information before they come to view the boat. Many thieves will make an appointment with you to view the vessel so they can inspect it to see if it’s worthy of stealing. Taking the information of your prospective buyers and a photo of their driver’s license makes it easier for the cops to hunt down the thieves and recover your boat.