Schedule a demo to enter to win free SeaKits Essentials


Preventing Off-Season Boat Theft


So you think your boat is all buttoned up for the winter, tucked safely away in your backyard or driveway? Think again. Here’s some advice from the insurance experts at BoatUS.

Boat owners are a trusting lot, and while one would not think of leaving the house with all the doors and windows open, boats are often left wide open and unsecured, equipped with all sorts of small and valuable accessories that can easily end up for sale on the internet. Most boats are also easily transportable, so they’re particularly susceptible to theft. Each year, Boat Owners Association of The United States (BoatUS) notes that thefts are always one of the top 10 insurance claims — and often are total losses. While some boat thefts are the work of sophisticated rings that target a specific type of boat or outboard, others are isolated crimes of opportunity by petty thieves taking small, but valuable, equipment.

Here are some tips to help stem the tide of boat thefts. Not all will apply in every situation or for every boat type, but any obstacle a burglar faces trying to steal your boat or break into it could stave off a painful loss.

On The Boat:

  • Install deadbolt locks on all doors, and secure ports and windows with inside auxiliary locks.
  • Attach strong inverted hasps and padlocks to all hatches, and secure lockers with nonremovable hasps and hinges and lock with strong padlocks.
  • Remove all portable valuables from your vessel, thereby eliminating possible targets of the thief. Don’t leave radios, binoculars, cameras, laptops, or tablets on board.
  • Maintain an inventory list ashore that includes all boat gear with the name, model, serial number, manufacturer, and description of each item. Take digital photos of the items as well as serial numbers for your records.
  • Never leave keys aboard a boat, even in a “hidden place.” Any seasoned burglar knows all the spots to look.
  • Don’t leave ownership papers on board the boat.

At the Marina:

  • Locked gates and other barriers to both pedestrian and vehicle traffic should be installed at every dock entrance.
  • Signs that clearly state marina regulations and access limits should be posted.
  • Access to boats should be limited only to owners and other authorized persons.
  • Good lighting should be focused on access points and boat docks; security cameras are even better.
  • Consider installing boat-theft systems or security cameras for your boat.
  • Boat owners should get acquainted with their dockside neighbors and report suspicious “visitors” and activities.
  • Consider developing a “Marina Watch” patterned after “Neighborhood Watch.”

On A Trailer:

  • If practical, chain the trailer to a tree or heavy post.
  • Install a coupler lock to prevent anyone from hooking up and taking off with your boat.
  • Remove the wheels if you won’t be using the boat for a while. Or lock your wheels to the trailer. A length of heavy chain, or cable, run through each wheel and around the axle or trailer frame is a great deterrent to theft of the trailer or your wheels. Don’t forget to lock your spare tire.
  • Out of sight is less tempting. If the boat has to stay in the driveway, don’t park it facing the street. Thieves may carry coupler devices that can be quickly attached to your trailer.
  • Smaller outboards should be removed and stored in the garage. Use purpose-made locks for larger outboards.
  • Remove the trailer’s license plate and, if possible, the tail lights. Some boaters have removable brackets to make it easy. No thief wants to be stopped by police for missing lights or license plates.

Dock Storage:

  • Tie the boat to something secure with a chain or cable that cannot be lifted over or torn loose from the piling or mooring. Run the chain or cable around a thwart or stanchion.
  • Use one-way bolts, locknuts, and backup plates on eyebolts.
  • Consider leaving the boat’s engine out of commission when unattended — remove a few sparkplug wires or install a hidden ignition or fuel cut-off switch.
  • Secure outboard motors with special locking transom bolts.

Buyer Beware

If you’re shopping for a boat, be cautious of super “deals” — someone could be trying to sell you a stolen boat. There are a few red flags that should warn you of a potential scam. If the asking price is unusually low for that make and model of boat or the seller is in a rush to sell it to you, watch out; “too good to be true” usually is. Members can contact BoatUS Value Check to find a boat’s reasonable value.

Buyers should make sure the boat has a valid Hull Identification Number (HIN) and that the one on the boat matches exactly to the HIN on any paperwork, such as title and registration.

The boat’s registration numbers should not appear altered, either on paper or on the hull, and both should match. If the seller says discrepancies in identification are because the boat was sunk, burned, or rebuilt, be wary. If the seller has only photocopied versions of ownership documents, or title and registration are from out of state, watch out. Likewise, if the seller has no title or other proof of ownership, walk away from the “deal.”

BoatUS Editors

Contributor, BoatUS Magazine