Across the nation, as recreational boating continues to get popular, more and more boats, trailers, equipment, electronics and personal items get stolen each year. Most of these crimes are perpetuated by amateurs who, when tempted with an easy opportunity, can’t resist the temptation. Don’t forgetthe old adage that locks are just a means of keeping honest people honest. This surely applies to boating. You would be surprised at how often, when strolling the fuel dock, you will find a boat that has pulled up for fuel or refreshments, just sitting there unattended with the keys in the ignition – or, worse yet, idling away. Even if the keys are not present, you might see a handheld VHF radio or a pair of expensive binoculars just lying in the seat or on the dash. What can you do to ensure your boat stays in your possession? Read on for tips on security.

Permanently mark or engrave your boat, your trailer, all your parts, and electronics and personal items that you use regularly on your boat with your vessel’s hull identification number (HIN) and/or your driver’s license number. Your boat, unless manufactured before 1972, will already have a HIN on the transom. Permanently mark your driver’s license number in a location that is not readily accessible or seen. The same should apply to the trailer. Perhaps mark your boat’s HIN and your DL number on the underside of the tongue or axle. As for your equipment, electronics and other items, use some method of permanently marking them as well.

Be sure to retain a copy of your boat and trailer registrations at home in a safe place. It is also a good idea to take a hull rubbing of your HIN. Take a sheet of thin paper and tape it over your HIN number on the transom. Using a soft leaded pencil, rub back and forth across the number lightly until in shows up on the piece of paper.

Make a full inventory of your boat, trailer and equipment. List all electronic gear, binoculars, outboard motors, PFDs, fishing equipment etc. by brand, model, and serial numbers if offered. Also record your boat by make, model, registration and HIN number. Be sure to record the license number of your trailer.

Keep this master inventory list at home and keep a copy for reference in a hidden area on your boat in case you find something missing.

Take pictures or videotape your boat, trailer and equipment from all angles. Keep copies at home in a safe place, perhaps alongside your insurance papers.

Consider an alarm system. Self-contained systems are inexpensive and can be bought at most any electronics or marine store. Be sure to choose a system specifically designed for boating use. The damp and constantly moving marine environment puts demands on the alarm system, needing special sensors and properly protected location. Systems not designed for marine use may malfunction or report false alarms. Be sure, if you have an enclosed cabin, to include a smoke detector in your alarm system.


Boats should be covered and secured as completely as possible. Ignition switches should be locked, and additional steps should be thought of, such as installing a hidden “kill switch,” adding a hidden fuel shut off, or taking out motor parts such as the coil wire.

Boats on trailers are easy crime targets if thieves can just hitch up and drive away. Here are several ways that you can help prevent that:

1. As much as possible, store the boat and trailer in a locked garage, secured boat storage facility or mini-storage warehouse.
2. Keep the boat well inside your yard, preferably out of sight.
3. If possible, turn the trailer around so the it is nose-in rather than out.
4. In a carport or driveway, park a vehicle in front of the trailer, blocking easy removal.
5. For any type of outside storage, remove at least one wheel from the trailer.
6. Use a high-security chain and quality lock to secure the boat and trailer to a fixed object such as a tree or post.
7. No matter how you store your trailer, get a trailer hitch lock.
8. Some trailers are available that let you to remove the forward part of the tongue which contains the hitch.

Obviously your best bet is to remove all equipment from your boat and put it in the garage or other secure area. Make sure you lock hatches and opening ports. If your boat doesn’t have them, or they are broken, you can purchase hatch locks at any marine store. When possible, valuable and easily removed items should be secured below deck in a locked compartment. Lockers should be made with non-removable hasps and hinges and secured with padlocks. Lock outboard motors and fuel tanks to the boat. When your boat is left unattended, close the window curtains if you have them so people can not “window shop.”

If your boat is kept in the water at a dock, consider chaining it to the dock. Also, get to know your marina neighbors and form a marina watch group.

Insurance is a vital part of any theft protection plan. Unfortunately, it’s sometimes taken for a substitute for security precautions. True, insurance may replace stolen property and repair damage but there is usually a deductible that must be met and there are intangibles that insurance doesn’t cover. Down time, inconvenience and aggravation normally aren’t compensated. Finally, insurance companies do not like losses. Just one claim can result in increased rates and a loss history will probably result in cancellation. Even when no claims have been filed, using a facility with a poor crime history can result in prohibitively high premiums or denial of coverage.

Be sure to take a boating safety course such as Nautical Know How’s. You may save considerably on your insurance premiums.

What should you do if you are a victim of marine theft? Immediately report your loss to your local law enforcement agency, the United States Coast Guard if on federal waters, your insurance company and the marina or storage facility manager. When a loss happens, the ability to positively identify property is crucial to its recovery and the the prosecution of thieves and dealers in stolen goods.

By following the above suggestions you can lower the risk of loss of your boat, trailer or equipment by theft. You should also exercise caution when buying a boat or running across a “good deal” on equipment. To avoid issues, match the HIN listed on the title and registration to the one on the boat. Inspect the HIN on the transom to be sure it has not been altered in any way. (Also, contact the manufacturer to see if a second, duplicate HIN was placed on the vessel or equipment in an inconspicuous place.) And, if you think that pair of $500.00 binoculars is a real bargain at only 25 bucks… well, remember the saying about things that seem too good to be true…

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