I have the dubious honor of living in the state with the highest rate of boat theft: Florida. It’s a slightly misleading stat, since Florida also has the most boats, but it’s a serious problem that boat owners can do something about.
According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), which publishes a report every year, 73 percent of all boats stolen were on a trailer. Of these boats, only 15 percent had any sort of lock. Was this because locks can’t be defeated? Not even close. Virtually every individual security measure can be thwarted, but the best approach is to make one’s boat a hassle to steal compared to an easier one down the road (sorry about that, neighbor). Taking a holistic approach is the way to go. Most thieves want to get in and out quickly, so anything that slows them down tends to work to great effect.
A lot of thefts don’t involve the entire boat but rather the small items that are easy to steal and walk away with, such as stainless steel props, which cost about $500. The best bet is a quality prop lock 1 , such as the ones made by McGard, which cost $78. Electronics theft is a major problem, so if the boat has an extensive array, a custom, lockable cover might be a good idea. For flush-mounted gear, mangling the mounting-screw heads is a pretty good deterrent, though changing units becomes a hassle for the owner. Often, just covering the console so people can’t see, at a glance, what’s there is enough to prevent theft. Outboards are an often-stolen item, but that action can be dissuaded by a lock 2 , also from McGard ($40).
LOCK ‘EM UP
There’s a reason trailerboats are the ones most often stolen. Minus any protection, a thief can hook up the trailer to his truck and spirit it away. Many owners use a lock on the coupler, but if that’s the only line of defense, they’ve made it too easy. There are several good coupler locks available at West Marine, including a brass C.E. Smith lock 3 for $13. But keep in mind, thieves will sometimes use a smaller hitch ball that will connect without the coupler being open. To counter this, buy a cheap ball, file off the threads and put that in place before attaching the coupler lock. Next, use a lockable wheel boot, similar to the ones policemen use on parking scofflaws’ vehicles. One is available from Trimax 4 for $65. Also, a square-link chain or bolt cutter–resistant cable around the trailer frame and attached to an immovable object works well. Look for the phrase “high security” on any chain, cable or lock, but keep in mind that chocks and chains wrapped through a tire wheel can be defeated by removing the wheel itself. A thief can substitute the spare tire for the one he removed, so the spare should be locked too.
SOUND THE ALARM
A lot of boat thefts — especially of fishing boats — happen when owners are traveling, because criminals know most anglers will leave fishing tackle loaded on the boat. Most boats have lockable rod boxes, but the locks are not real high tech and can be picked easily. Naturally, taking all the gear off the boat and leaving the compartments unlocked is the best approach, but it is a hassle. Another approach is to use an alarm system that has a remote signaler in addition to a loud alarm, in case the boat has to be parked away from the hotel room. Some systems, such as the T-H 2-Way Alarm Kit, have an adjustable shock sensor to set off the alarm, and its remote can pick up an alert from 3,000 yards away. It lists for $220, though it’s available at West Marine for $110 as I write this.
TRACK THEM DOWN
OK, the worst has happened and thieves have absconded with your boat. All is lost, right? Not if the boat is carrying a GPS tracker such as the SPOT Trace 5 , which is now on sale for $50. If the boat moves, you receive a text or email and can track the boat’s whereabouts and direct the police to where the thieves have taken it. It requires a $150-a-year or $15-a-month fee, but what is a quick recovery worth? There are a number of car GPS monitoring devices that are geared for keeping track of teenagers but work for boats too. Some, such as the Vyncs, doesn’t require a monthly fee or activation charge and is available for $72 on amazon.com.
The best peace of mind, though, is an insurance policy. Our advice is to go with a well-known brand — Progressive, Allstate, Geico, BoatUS or SeaTow. It’s a surprisingly low-cost way alleviate the big hit should the worst happen. Plus, good policies cover liability and accident; don’t leave home without one.