Stop, Thief!

Keep honest people honest with these tips for securing and safe-guarding your boat and trailer.

Trailers and boats can be stolen in seconds, and it doesn’t even take a professional to do it. According to BoatUS statistics, more than 5,000 boats are stolen annually — almost 75 percent of these are less than 26 feet long — and only one in 10 stolen boats is recovered.

Florida is particularly fertile hunting territory for crooks, with nearly 50 percent of boat thefts occurring in just that one state, and 75 percent of those are boats on trailers. Typically, boats are stolen and stripped of electronics, engines, Biminis and equipment. Some are then set on fire to damage the hull and make them unidentifiable. Do I have your attention yet?


An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. So said the wise and venerable Benjamin Franklin, and was he ever right, especially when it comes to protecting boats from theft. With today’s technology, there’s no reason to make it easy for thieves. A few simple steps and minor expenditures will protect the large investment — boat and trailer — sitting in the driveway and keep it where and how you left it.


Where you store or park your boat and trailer weighs heavily in the risk of trying to steal it. If you can park it out of sight, inside a garage, in a backyard, or in a secured storage warehouse, you’ll be one step ahead. If you must park in the driveway, park with the trailer tongue in or park something in front of the trailer that restricts access. Doing so makes it more difficult for you to get the boat out, too, but don’t let that curtail boating season.

Siren Marine’s MTC system includes sensors and app that sends alerts.

Motion-activated lights around a parked boat will help, but remember they can be disarmed by removing the bulb, and surveillance cameras are fantastic until they themselves are stolen. Keep gear and electronics out of sight or off the boat, so the whole package looks less tempting. Remove valuables such as wakeboards, binoculars and personal items, and secure or hide electronics with a console cover. What they can’t see can’t tempt them.


Lock It All

If you can’t park it out of reach, then lock it — all of it. Speciality locks are available for couplers, wheels, outboard engines and even propellers.

Making the coupler hitch inaccessible is the best way to prevent a trailer from being towed away. There are many on the market and they vary in design and construction materials. Most are made of aluminum (cast or extruded) and many can be disabled in minutes with a crow bar. One that’s fairly bulletproof is Proven Industries’ puck-style lock, which covers the entire coupler with a thick steel sleeve. It can withstand punishment from a sledgehammer or a saw, and differently sized models start at $215.

Another option is California Immobilizer’s bulldog-style lock with a slightly different design that starts around $75. Making the coupler inaccessible is a great start, but remember that it’s possible for thieves to just chain the trailer to their tow vehicle and take off, so coupler locks aren’t a complete solution.

Next, think about wheel locks. Old – school solutions included putting cable or chain through the wheel and the axle and locking it with a padlock. But cables are easy to cut, and thieves can always take the wheel off to remove the chain. Professionally constructed lockable wheel and maybe a little thank you note (because I’d be an ass of a thief). A better solution is a lock that covers the lug nuts, so the wheel can’t be removed. One example is BestEquip’s two-piece wheel lock, but there are many.

Now, think about how to secure the outboard(s) at the transom. A McGard outboard lock replaces one of the regular engine mounting nuts ($35) with a locking nut with a free-spinning collar that makes it hard to remove. McGard also makes effective prop locks ($50), to secure these expensive pieces as well.

Best Equip’s Wheel Lock stops the wheel from rotating.

Finally, if your boat is on a lift rather than a trailer, lock the control box or disable the lift. Be sure to tell your neighbors when you leave town, in case thieves manage to get the boat in the water and then try to tow it away with another vessel.


Surveillance & Tracking

If you can track a teenager, you can track a boat. Recently, there’s been a proliferation of smartphone apps and specific monitoring equipment designed for marine use. Via 3G or 4G, Wi-Fi or satellite, a boat can now tell its owner if it’s on the move when it should be parked, if someone has forced entry or if it’s sinking. And it can even tell parents where their teenager is taking the boat if he’s been allowed to go for a joyride. Not surprisingly, the more sophisticated the monitoring solution, the more expensive. Yachts today can turn on lights and AC before you arrive at the dock, communicate their battery levels and monitor bilge pump cycles. GOST (Global Ocean Security Technologies) even offers sound barriers and fogging repellents to rebuff crooks, but these solutions can costs thousands of dollars.

For a trailerboat all that’s really needed is a geo-fencing function. Siren Marine’s MTC system includes GPS/geo-fencing tracking with wired or wireless sensors. The basic system starts at $599 but needs additional variously priced sensors that track location, high water, temperature (in case of fire), motion and entry detection. If you’re reasonably handy, you can install the system yourself, and maintenance is minimal. You’ll need Siren’s free app for iOS or Android and a subscription for $18/ month.

Another solution is the Spot Trace, a small unit (2.6 by 2 inches) that can be kept aboard in a hidden location. It costs just $120 and operates with a subscription fee of $10/month. Trace sends texts or emails with your boat’s latitude and longitude if the vessel starts moving and crosses its geo-fencing parameters. This waterproof unit runs on AAA batteries that need to be replaced every three months, but it’s a reliable sentinel as it rides along, out of sight. A problem becomes readily apparent when a boat whose top speed is 20 knots is sending a message that it’s moving down I-95 at 70 mph.

Spot Trace is an effective after-the-fact recovery device.


Yacht Protector is a scalable system that uses a central core and wireless sensors to monitor and secure a boat. Through an app, push notifications — text and email — alert an owner to intrusion and movement outside a geo-fence, and owners can add up to 16 monitors to make the system as comprehensive as they wish.


Pound of Cure

If the ounce of prevention doesn’t work, it’s time for the cure. The best strategy is to have property properly marked, to increase the chance of recovery.

A funky James Bond-esque technology is Anti-Theft Dots. Only 0.2 millimeter in diameter (think grain of sand), the dots can be applied to the boat, trailer, outboard motors, props, electronics, binoculars and more. Chemically etched with a unique identification c

ode that lives in a registered database, the microdots can be “painted” on anything and subsequently help law enforcement identify gear that may have been separated from the vessel, if owners take the time to register their property.


More low-tech steps you can take include marking the trailer, electronics and gear with your vessel’s hull identification number (HIN), which is usually found on the upper starboard corner of the transom, or your driver’s license number, which may be easier for law enforcement to trace back to you. Also, don’t store your boat and trailer registration aboard. Take it home. Keep an inventory of what you have aboard and take pictures of everything.

A coupler lock from Proven Industries keeps thieves from hooking up.

Report a theft immediately, to enhance the chance of recovery. And just in case all else fails, insure the whole package: trailer, engines, gear and all. Finally, remember that if you’re approached by someone offering a great deal on an outboard or a fancy fishing rod, chances are you’re looking at stolen merchandise, so don’t help thieves by creating demand for their ill-gotten goods.

TO THE WEB: (California Immobilizer)


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