Boat Theft Deterrents On A Budget

Boats, lower units, and electronics are all prime targets for thieves – but you can protect your pride and joy.

Thanks to modern technology, these days there are a lot of ways to enjoy remote security and monitoring of your boat regardless of your location. But these systems can cost thousands of dollars, yet won’t necessarily stop some greaseball from un-bolting your lower unit or ripping the MFD out of your helm. And unfortunately, the theft of boats and boat parts is rampant. Almost 4,500 boats were stolen last year (according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau), and while statistics on the theft of boat parts aren’t in any national database, there’s been enough of a spike in crime to generate social media groups like Stolen Boats and Motors in Florida on Facebook.

The problem’s become so prevalent that just this past winter, the National Marine Electronics Association formed a working group to discuss ways manufacturers might be able to help address the issue.

boat theft
Here’s a sight no boat owner ever wants to see at their helm.

In a perfect world, we’d all go out and buy a GOST Apparition with a cloaking system that will scare the bejesus out of any would-be boat thief. But let’s get real: most of us don’t have $5K or more laying around, and it would make little sense to put a system like that on a small center console parked in your driveway. So, what’s the next best thing? Smart preparation.

boat theft
Sure, we’d love to have a system like this, but for many people, it simply isn’t in the cards (or the budget).

Simple Steps to Prevent Boat Theft

Preventing the theft of your entire rig starts with where you keep it. In all cases, lighting, motion-triggered lighting or audible alarms, difficulty in gaining entry, video surveillance, and signs advertising that video surveillance is taking place are all helpful. If your boat is lift-kept or in a wet slip, make sure to remove both the keys and the kill switch(es). Thieves aren’t the smartest people in the world and while they might carry a screwdriver to force the ignition, there’s a good chance they won’t have a spare kill switch lanyard in their pocket.

boat theft
Do you leave your kill switch lanyard aboard, or do you remove it after every trip?

Boats that are kept on a lift at a private pier may seem safe, but that’s not always the case. Some thieves will cruise in by water, to access private property and try to steal your pride and joy. But you can get an added level of security if you flip the lift’s breaker switch off after raising the boat – then they’ll have no way to get it into the water.

boat theft
After packing your boat up, walk up to the house and flip off the lift’s breaker switch.

If your boat is kept on a trailer, the most important measure you can take is adding a simple (and inexpensive) trailer lock. The majority of the trailer boats stolen were never locked in the first place, because the owners “thought they were parked in a safe place.” Well, there is no such thing as a safe place, and that includes your own driveway. Obviously, however, keeping the trailer in a fenced and locked facility is a lot safer than parking it out in the open.

Along with locks for the coupler, another measure you can take is to run a chain through the louvers in a wheel and around the trailer frame, then padlock it in place. The thieves might still hook up and drag your boat a few feet, but it won’t take them long to realize something’s wrong and bug out. Just don’t forget it’s there before you hitch up and hit the road next weekend.

Simple Steps to Prevent Electronics Theft

Ripping off electronics is, unfortunately, quite easy. Flush-mounting helps make it more difficult to remove a unit, but by no means impossible. So instead of making it more difficult to remove the electronics, make it a whole lot easier to pull them off the boat and lock them safely inside your home after every trip. If the electronics are flush-mounted, another alternative is to use tamper-resistant fasteners (read: not slotted nor Philips-head) for mounting. And in some cases, you may be able to fashion a locking cover to go over the electronics or the helm itself. Finally, engrave “owned by” followed by your name and phone number into the unit in a very visible location, where any would-be thieves can’t miss seeing it.

boat theft
Ironically, easily removed binnacle-mounted units are safer than flush-mounts. If, that is, you keep them at home when the boat’s not in use.

Also, be sure to record all the serial numbers on your electronics, and take pictures of them on your boat. Officials at the Miami Police Department – yes, almost a quarter of boat thefts take place in Florida – advise that marine electronics often end up in pawn shops and second-hand stores, and the biggest barrier to recovery is in some cases proving ownership.

Simple Steps to Prevent Lower Unit Theft

Lower units are a bit tougher to protect. Though they aren’t in much danger in a lift or wet slip, they’re a favorite target of thieves patrolling for trailered boats. Along with the security measures you take to keep the boat itself in as safe an area as possible, you can add a lower unit locking bolt. These require special tools to remove and while they aren’t infallible (thieves can buy tools, too), they will flummox the average dirtbag. Beyond that, if you have a wall, tree, or another vehicle you can back up close to, making the outboard difficult to access provides another excellent deterrent. And if you have a portable outboard, chaining it to the boat is your best move.

boat theft
Small, portable outboards should be chained to the boat, not merely clamped and/or bolted onto the transom.

Will doing all of these things ensure that you never have a problem with thieves? We’re afraid not. One thing everyone agrees on is that as long as there are people, there will, unfortunately, be some unsavory characters out there looking to make a quick buck no matter how much anguish it might cause an angler. But going the extra mile with these measures will minimize your risk – and hopefully, keep your boat safe and sound at night.

Get more great boating information and tips from Lenny Rudow on BD.

Lenny Rudow …has been a writer and editor in the marine field for over two decades, and has authored seven books. He is currently the Angler in Chief at Rudow's FishTalk Magazine, is Electronics and Fishing Editor for BoatUS Magazine, and is a contributing editor to several other publications. His...