By William D. Anderson

Preventing Theft
by William D. Anderson

Open rod locker with missing fishing rodsThere is nothing worse than walking down to the dock anticipating a great day on the water, only to find that your boat has been broken into and some or all of the items you had on board are gone. In many cases, these crimes are highly preventable. Using some common sense, asking the right people the right questions, and applying a few simple security rules can help you avoid this type of loss.

One of the best defenses against theft is to remove any items of value when you're not using your boat. A thief can't steal what isn't there. Removing your gear each evening might be difficult, but it is far better than finding it missing the next morning. If your boat looks empty, it will not look like a good target and a thief will most likely move on.

If you must leave items on board, lock them up. Most boats have lockable storage compartments. The problem is that many OEM locks are suitable for keeping the kids away from your expensive toys, but they will not slow down a thief. Aftermarket locks and other security products can offer a higher level of protection and can make a thief think twice once he realizes that your boat is not such an easy target. When you upgrade your locks or add any extra security equipment, make sure the products are marine grade and can withstand a wet outdoor environment.

Items stored on board should be made easily identifiable with some type of permanent marking. Engraving is the best method because it cannot be easily removed or altered by a thief. Check with your local hardware store for engraving tools.  Use a code such as a phone number, address, or some other type of marking that you can give to the police so that they can identify your items if they are recovered. Some law enforcement agencies offer this service either free or for a low fee. Identifiable markings also make it harder for a thief to sell stolen goods. Serial numbers and other identifiable codes can be entered into the National Crime Information Center stolen list to help law enforcement identify an item as stolen property and OEM lock help get it back to its rightful owner. In addition to a code, "Property of ......."  engraved in plain sight will help deter a thief from leaving with that item. It tells him he's going to have a hard time selling it, and that if he's caught with it he will not be able to explain why it is in his possession.

One phrase that comes up all the time when discussing this subject is "out of sight, out of mind". This should be rule number one. Keeping your possessions out of sight and securely locked up will eliminate your boat as an easy target, and since most thefts are crimes of opportunity, you are making it much less likely that your boat will be the source of a loss. Some insurance policies will not cover items that are taken unless they were in a locked compartment. In other words, don't leave anything laying out in the open in plain sight. Eventually someone will walk by and see an item that will prove to be too much of a temptation and take it. It only takes a second for something left in the open to vanish so don't be fooled into thinking that it will still be there even if you're only gone for a minute.

Another good practice is to photograph any items you wish to protect. Keep at least two copies for yourself and give another copy to your insurance agent. Some insurance policies require that you keep receipts for covered items so make sure those are kept organized in a safe place - not on your boat. Along with the photos, include descriptions, serial numbers or any other identifying marks, and any other information that might be useful. Double check with your insurance agent every now and then to make sure you have the coverage you need. Ask your agent what types of losses are covered and what kinds of claims are not covered. This can help you make sure you are prepared for a loss "no matter what". For some fishermen, a second policy or extra rider might be needed to get the coverage required to protect the investment made in higher quality equipment. While it is not a good idea to let people know what you keep stored in your boat, you should have a conversation about this with your insurance agent in order to make sure you have the correct type and right amount of insurance.

Another area of concern should be where your boat is moored. Lights, security cameras, and passers-by will help deter theft. Thieves do not want to be seen which is why security cameras are the bestWell lit boat slips deterrent. Check with the company that manages your marina to see what type of security they have in place and what types of losses have occurred there. Ask what they have done to prevent future losses? Sometimes a group of boat owners can get together and work with a marina to implement needed security measures or put up signs. A simple well placed warning sign will often be enough of a deterrent to send a would-be thief to the next marina.

II you become a victim, get a copy of the police report and keep the report number handy.  Your insurance company will usually obtain a copy but you never know when you may also need it in the future. If you are at the local flea market and you see your items for sale or fishing tackle being sold at prices that are too good to be true, call the police and let them check it out. If you suspect your items are present, let the police know which agency investigated your loss and give them the report number. Even if the items recovered are not yours, someone will be happy to get them back and you may be preventing your stuff from being stolen in the future. Many law enforcement agencies have anonymous tip lines or places on their web sites where someone can submit a tip anonymously and without fear of reprisal. Tips are highly valued by law enforcement agencies and are sometimes needed to start an investigation. When making a report, be accurate and provide as many details as possible.

Not all boat burglaries occur while boats are moored. Even if your boat is not on the water, many of the same rules apply. You may stop to eat on the way to a destination and return to your vehicle/boat to find you have been robbed. Or worse yet, you may not discover the problem until you arrive at your destination.  Using a trailerable cover while you travel to and from a destination will add another level of protection and help keep your boat safe (not to mention improve your gas mileage). Items left out in the open are easy targets and may bounce out of the boat during travel if they are not properly secured.

Motion sensing lightsDon't forget about your trailer, outboard, batteries, chargers, locators, prop, and other items. Apply the same rules of prevention and you can help keep those items safe too. Are you using a prop lock, trailer lock, spare tire lock? Do not make it easy for a thief to back up to your trailer and drive off with it. Is your boat stored in a secure environment during the off season? If you have a folding trailer tongue, lock it in the folded position and place a lock on the hitch. Keep all locks well lubricated so that they do not rust. If you keep your boat on your property, park it where your neighbors have a good view of it and install motion sensing lights to alert you (and your neighbors) of anyone who is where they shouldn't be. If you spot a thief, dial 911 and let the police handle it. Do not risk your safety by confronting a thief who might be carrying a weapon.

Using common sense, following some simple rules, and asking the right questions will go a long way towards preventing a loss due to theft. Remember that thieves are usually looking for the easiest of targets, they don't like light or people nearby, and they don't want to have to make a lot of noise to get what they're after. Putting some extra thought into protecting your gear can help ensure that it will still be there the next time you are ready to enjoy it.


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