Not Docked And Unlocked: More On Boat Theft

Maybe you think you don’t need all that high-security stuff. Maybe you think you don’t need to bother with a boat security system, that you don’t need to store it under motion lights. That it’s okay to park your tens-of-thousands-of-dollars investment in a trailer, tongue-out, in your driveway, all tires on, no boot, no tongue lock. Maybe you think, Who the heck is going to bother to steal something as big as a boat? 

By Adam Melnyk /

Well. Lots of people. 

BoatUS found that boats were ninth on the list among the top 10 insurance claims filed. And only one in ten boats is ever recovered. Of those boats, 75 percent of those stolen were shorter than 25 feet; 46 percent were runabouts, 28 percent were cruisers, 13 percent were personal watercraft, 8 percent were bass boats, and 5 percent were other types of watercraft.

[Check out our Security Tips For Boaters.]

The site claimed that if it had to build the most attractive boat to get stolen, it would be a trailerable runabout of less than 25 feet with an outboard motor. Of the stolen boats, 73 percent were stolen from a trailer; 17 percent from a dock. Only about 15 percent of boat owners who had their watercraft stolen said they had any kind of lock installed. Many repeated that, “They didn’t think they needed locks because where they kept their boats seemed safe.”

It’s not.

Florida ranks number one in boat thefts in America: 47 percent of all boat thefts happen in the Sunshine State. It’s so bad that sheriffs in Naples, according to Fox4Now, had to host a forum with private boat owners to discuss theft prevention. Sergeant Brian Sawyer said that, even if you have a boat at a marina, you want to consider “a GPS or some ignition-killing device, so somebody can’t just get in and take your boat.”

He also recommended security cameras with proper placement — not so you could just see the top of thieves’ heads — and said that if you keep your boat on a trailer, you must have wheel-locking mechanisms. The sergeant also said that all electronics should be marked with the owner’s driver’s license number, and pictures should be taken of everything of value, in case it’s stolen and then recovered. To choose a camera, read our review of the best home security cameras. 

Stolen Boat Tales

And if you think your padlock is enough to keep the baddies away, think again. A Winchester, N.H. man was arrested on May 31 for stealing a boat and trailer from a car dealership May 21 around 4 a.m., according to Sentinel Source. He sawed through a padlock and hooked the trailer up to his own truck before driving off. 

And what happens when someone takes your boat? Well, here’s what happened to a boat that was stolen in a Minnesota town, according to SC Times. A boat and trailer were stolen from a business. It was found on a walking path, of all things — and stripped of its “250-horsepower outboard motor and many electronic pieces, including a trolling motor, battery and electronic fishing accessories.”  Deputies say it was worth over $80,000. 

It gets worse. Police have recently discovered an international boat theft ring operating out of the Tampa Bay area. Lock up your boats, and lock them up well, or they might end up in Mexico, says Tampa’s News Channel 8. They could be used for nefarious purposes, or they could just be stripped — if you’re lucky. Most of the time, the Coast Guard reports that the boats are long gone.

So boat theft isn’t a myth. It can happen to anyone — non-Floridian or Floridian alike; docked or on a trailer. What these boats did have in common, however, is inadequate security systems.

Boat owners need to pay attention to Sergeant Sawyer: get some GPS, use CCTV pointed in the right direction (some stories I came across discussed boat owners who used CCTV but didn’t catch the thieves’ faces); and use kill switches on the ignition. If you’re storing a boat on a trailer, make sure that trailer can’t move under any circumstances. Taking the tires off is a good idea. Don’t rely on something as flimsy as a padlock to secure your investment. And finally, if you can possibly avoid it, don’t leave expensive things attached to/on your boat. Use a prop lock; take your fishing gear inside. Otherwise you may find your boat stripped.

Elizabeth Broadbent

Elizabeth Broadbent

Elizabeth Broadbent lives in a medium-sized city in the South with her three children, three dogs, and patient husband. She works as a staff writer for Scary Mommy, and her writing has been featured in The Washington Post and on

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