Outboard Motor Security

You want to buy a new outboard for $800? It’s a real steal!” Yes, it is. Unfortunately, enough people answer “yes” to that question that it’s worthwhile for less-upstanding characters to steal your outboard. Can you stop it? Probably not, if the thieves are skilled and determined. Why bother, then? It’s like the story of the two fishermen standing on the edge of a lake who see a grizzly bear lumbering toward them. One of the anglers starts putting on a pair of tennis shoes. The other angler says, “What are you doing? You can’t outrun a grizzly.” The tennis shoe-clad fisherman looks up and says, “I know. I just need to outrun you.” The point being that while you probably can’t stop a determined thief, you can make stealing yours a royal PITA (pain in the [rear-end]).

The best way to minimize suffering in the event of a stolen outboard is to carry insurance, which is cheap compared to auto insurance. And you can even reduce your premium by implementing security measures. But most of us would rather thwart thieves, so the idea is to make stealing your outboard difficult enough they’ll move on to easier targets.

The easiest and quickest way to steal an outboard is to take the whole boat. And it’s amazing to see the number of boats on a trailer with no security at all. Some people chain their trailer to a tree, which is about as effective as putting a “Don’t Steal This” sign on it. A bolt cutter can slice through a chain like a Ginsu knife through a garden hose. A thief could make your boat disappear in 30 seconds. One of the best boat-theft deterrents is a tire lock such as the Lock’em Magnum Wheel Lock ($100) or the Trimax Lock It & Chock It ($95) along with a coupler lock such as the Fulton Gorilla Guard ($28).

There’s one good reason thieves tend to target outboard motors rather than just stealing a whole boat: Outboards are far less traceable. A boat is a large object, and if the owner quickly notices it’s been stolen, there’s a fair chance someone might be able to locate it. I have a friend whose boat was stolen from his dock on Marco Island in southwest Florida. He rented an airplane the next day and flew around until he located his boat 25 miles away in Naples. Of course, it helped that the boat was orange with a bright-blue top (Florida Gator fan), so adding a distinctive feature helps locate it after the fact. Boats have to be registered, and it’s more difficult for them to be registered or sold without a title, but outboards don’t need titles, and not many potential buyers ever check if they’ve been stolen. A good precaution is to write down the serial number or take a photo or video of it. Another step is to engrave the serial number in a hidden spot with a Sears Craftsman Engraving Pen ($25), especially in an area a service tech might see it.

Some steps don’t cost much to make your outboard a PITA to steal. One of the cheapest is to substitute one of the mounting bolts for one that requires an Allen wrench for removal instead of a standard socket wrench. Not many thieves carry around a bunch of tools, so it’s just enough of a deterrent to make opportunists move on.

The most common security method is the rack-type lock that fits over your clamping brackets. For smaller outboards, the Atlantic Slot Lock ($100) from motorlocusa.com is a simple, difficult-to-defeat stainless steel device that can be left in place at all times. A less-costly version is the Outboard Motor Lock ($29) from Master Lock, which uses a square tube of hardened steel to protect a four-pin cylinder Master Lock padlock. For larger engines, an inexpensive alternative is the McGard outboard lock ($37), which replaces one of the mounting bolts’ nuts with one that requires a special key to remove.

One of the frequently stolen items on a boat is a propeller, and it’s no surprise — they can cost close to $1,000 and be “liberated” in seconds with a universal prop wrench. Of course, you could take off the prop every time you park it, but you don’t want to add more work to taking your boat out. The McGard Propeller Lock ($71) requires a special key and uses the same technology as lug-nut locks that car owners with expensive wheels use.

Generally speaking, smaller outboards are easier to steal because they can be lifted by one or two people, but outboards up to 350 hp have been stolen. If your boat is in the water, a hidden battery switch is a good deterrent, so thieves can’t drive away with it. Yamaha has a feature called Y-COP that allows the owner to disable the outboard with a hand-held key fob-sized device.

Most thieves are opportunists and will steal something that appears to be an easy target. By taking a few simple steps, you can greatly increase the chance that your outboard won’t make the morning paper. BW


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