In this article we talk about easy methods to prevent boat and trailer theft.
The idea of security is to implement simple techniques that make your marine possession “too difficult” or “too high a risk” to be stolen. Some might say you only have to provide enough security so a thief chooses the next boat.
This may not be that far from the truth. A quick scan of ten trailers at a local boat ramp showed only one wheel lock in use and three of ten boat trailers had no security at all.
Lets look as some deterrents to theft-
An alarm system, An upgraded locking system, Marking the boat for easy identification. Methods of immobilizing boat, Reducing motivation includes-
Lowering the amount of perceived gain from theft Reducing the perceived value of the stolen items-IE paint and permanent engravings #1 Rule-Keep valuables out of sight
Keeping valuables out of sight is listed as the number one theft deterrent on every police and insurance checklist. For the owner of a boat this is not really an option. The crew may be living or vacationing inside the boat so the thief may imagine there will be something of value inside even if every cupboard is closed and the table is clear.
Lets look at some other deterrents.
Trailer boats Trailers and boats are particularly easy to steal as they are designed to be drug behind another vehicle. Some common methods of theft prevention are-
Wheel locks are a simple device that immobilizes the wheels of a vehicle or trailer preventing movement. Wheel locks are often used by police to immobilized vehicles and have a sound reputation as a theft deterrent.
Wheel locks come in a variety of qualities. In the most basic form they simply clamp around the wheel, but leave the lug nuts and bearing exposed. For the professional thief this is slightly better than no wheel lock. Once the thief has a collection of trailers it’s only a matter of carrying a spare tire in the tow vehicle. By changing the tire protected by the wheel lock the trailer is quickly rolling along behind the new tow vehicle.
Better is a wheel lock that covers the lug-nuts and wheel bearing. The SAS wheel lock made in New Zealand is a prime example of the higher level of protection that covers the wheel bearing and a lug nut. This is good as it prevents the thief from easily changing the tire.
Vulnerable ball hitch
Most ball hitches arrive with some type of locking mechanism. At first glance this may seem sufficient, but is it really?
The lock on the tongue of the trailer must be designed to prevent a pair of bolt cutters from reaching the lock shank. An inexpensive pair of bolt cutters will slice the shank of almost any lock quickly and quietly. For this reason most trailer locks now employ the single shank style of lock, thus preventing bolt cutter access.
Hacksaw the lock
The single shank is still vulnerable to a hacksaw. A short length of pipe placed around the lock shank prevents the hacksaw from getting a bite. Make sure the pipe completely fills the shank width so a hacksaw blade can’t be slid down the side of the lock.
Ball hitch bolts
The bolts that secure the ball hitch to the trailer are the next easily removed piece of the security puzzle. Once a thief is in the trailer theft business keeping a supply of interchangeable trailer parts is simple.
The tongue nuts can be made more secured with red lock tight or tack welded to prevent simple disconnection and re-bolting to another trailer. Leaving extra thread showing on the securing bolts during installation can also increase the difficulty of removing the hitch.
Recently there has recently had a rash of trailer thefts from boat launch areas. When the unfortunate fisherman returns to the dock to find his trailer nicked he often heads off in search of another trailer. During his absence the stolen trailer returns to load the victims boat (fitting perfectly) making a clean get a way with a double theft, boat and trailer.
One method to help prevent theft like the above scenario is to leave the trailer locked to the vehicle. Back the trailer into an obstacle like a curb or tree so there is less room to maneuver the trailer away from the vehicle.
Trailer load locks
Once the trailer itself is secured now we turn out attention to the load carried on the trailer. Jet skies are a prime theft target. Two or three men can easily lift a jet ski from the trailer and transfer it to another location. For this reason the Jet ski or load itself can be cable locked to the trailer.
Most law enforcement agencies recommend painting the trailer and boat with a distinctive paint job. This can be difficult for a boat trailer, but the plate number or phone number can be welded directly into a support beam. It’s a good idea for this number to be plainly visible to help reduce motivation.
A detailed paint job can be expensive. Some prefer to simply paint stripes while others use high quality printed stickers. This paint scheme can increase the value of the trailer and boat while deterring theft.
Picking the location to park your boat is an early choice that greatly effects the risk of theft.
Phil McSweeney of “Safe and Secure” (SAS) wheel locks tells us the highest theft risk is light industrial areas during the day. The amount of noise and work normally taking place in such areas can mask a theft, yet this is commonly thought of as a safe parking area.
Parking on the street in front of your house is better, but it’s easy for thieves to notice when the house is vacant. Parking by the side of the house, or between houses is better yet, and a second stored vehicle blocking the departure path of the trailer is an added deterrent.
Best is storing a boat in a well lit, camera-monitored area with one road in and out. Signs warning of passive recording of the number plate of every vehicle can go a long way in deterring the initial theft or locating a stolen vehicle.
Boats stored in the water are reliant on the marina security system. When deciding on a marine consider-
Are security cameras set up? Are they monitored? Have there been thefts recently? Was the security upgraded since the thefts?
It’s common for a company to purchase all the correct security devices only to ignore the system expecting to review the tapes if a theft happened to occur.
Marinas like Gulf Harbor, north of Auckland, have an excellent protection record, while boats on moorings in the adjacent Wade River have reported a string of violations. The difference can be attributed to the Gulf Harbor single road access and monitored security while the Wade River has multiple road access points and little security.
Etching the plate number into the window of a boat can help deter thieves. It should be noted the vehicle identification number should not be used as this number can be matched to the boat key for easy duplication.
A window marking warning of an alarm can help, but the warning should not include the alarm brand name as this gives the thief a clue to the type of alarm he has to disable.
Take photos of your boat from all angles. Take photos of the serial number, number plate, and engine identification tags. Take another set of photos of each piece of equipment’s identification plate (IE radios, auto pilots, etc) so if the equipment is separated from the boat you have a method of easy identification. By photographing you don’t have to spend time writing long numbers as the serial numbers are stored in a single photo set.
Keep boat photos (and document photos) in a safe place, preferably stored on the net (IE emailed to yourself) so you can find them quickly if needed or away from your home computer.
GPS tracking is quickly becoming the prime method of locating a stolen boat. The GPS tracker runs continuously monitoring a pre-determined guard ring. If the boat leaves the trailer park or marina the alarm sounds, and sends a text to a cell phone. The owner can view a web page that shows the vehicle’s progress. It’s a simple matter of calling the police with a description and current location of the vehicle.
GPS tracking can be purchased with two reporting options, satellite, or the less expensive cell phone reporting. This is important as if a vehicle is driven into an area without cell coverage, or a yacht is taken offshore the locating beacon will stop reporting.
Some tracking systems, such as pivotel.com.au report worldwide through the Global Star satellite system while Geosystems.co.nz and Verifind.co.nz are local NZ suppliers that report through the cell phone network.
Equipment costs start around seven hundred dollars. Short-term rentals units are available.
Yachts from the Caribbean have found themselves in a one-upmanship challenge with local thieves. In an attempt to prevent outboard theft, yachts began using a standard clamp lock on the securing bolts that hold the outboard to the tender transom. Thieves quickly learned to disable the commercial locking devices with a simple crescent wrench.
Specialty shops began making an upgraded stainless version of the outboard clamp. Thieves began using a hand sledge and a large punch made from rebar to break the outboard mounting clamp bolts. Stainless clamp bolts were built and distributed throughout the fleet.
The thieves then began cutting the transom out of the tender with battery operated reciprocal saws to remove the outboard. Yachts started adding a stainless plate on each side of the transom in an attempt to outlast the battery packs.
Yacht crew’s took further precautions by hoisting and locking the tender into davits, but thieves cut the locks. Special davits were designed that clamped the complete tender or outboard. Thieves began using high tech pipe cutters to slice through stainless davits or rails that secured the tender. The yachts began building davits and rails with an inside tube that a pipe cutter couldn't’t reach.
Traveling by boat means we often carry many important documents with us. Passports, bank cards, ownership paperwork, even the possibility of a document that may allow the thief further access to our lives might inadvertently be kept in the boat. To help secure these valuable papers many install a safe or a strong box.
A safe should be well hidden away from public view and well secured to the hull. The idea is to install the strong box so it takes time to find, and makes noise to remove. Thick bolts that can’t be accessed from the backside are a good start.
One of the most common mistakes in safe installation is talking about it. This is a real case of “loose lips sink ships.” Once the a potential thief knows about the safe their motivation level rises to open the “surprise.”
Electronic safe prices start as low as $75 dollars and a better version with mechanical tumblers can cost upward of $400.
Once you have taken all the anti-theft precautions you can simply relax and enjoy the day. If you return to a stolen trailer or boat you will have an inconvenience, but at least you’ll be financially covered.
Or will you?
Phil McSweeney of SAS reports many insurance companies require that some forum of extra protection had been installed and used on the stolen trailer. For this reason Phil recommends checking the fine print of your policy and taking a photo of the anti theft devices in use. Keep these photos stored on your hard drive and emailed to yourself so if the unfortunate were to occur you have simple proof the secondary locking device was used. This can reduce the chances of a delay of payment.
In the unlikely event your boat or trailer is stolen you should take the following steps-
Call the local police to file a report. Notify your insurance Post photos of the stolen items on http://www.stolenz.co.nz
Don’t buy a stolen boat
One way to reduce the chances of your boat being stolen is to reject the purchase of a stolen boat. The NZ Police website recommends the following to prevent unknowingly purchasing a stolen vessel-
Expect to pay a fair price. An unreasonably low boat price should raise concerns. Be sure to inspect the serial number of the boat and outboard motor. Look for signs of recent ownership changes. Trace the ownership history. Record the seller’s details. Take a photo of the seller. Contact the local police with the plate number to check if the trailer is stolen.
See- http://www.police.govt.nz/ for more information.
Ten cent solutions
Ten cent solutions are mostly a bluff in an attempt to prevent theft. Still for the DIY here are some simple techniques that have proved themselves in the field.
A common “ten-cent” alarm system is to connect a battery to a siren. A clothespin with contacts on the openings acts as a trigger switch. The clothespin is held open by a bit of plastic sheet. If the skiff is moved the plastic pulls free, and the clothespin snaps shut sounding the alarm.
More simple and inexpensive methods of reducing theft include-
A red LED flasher mounted on the trailer can present an image of an alarm system. Remove the coil lead, or other important part when the boat is left unattended. Engrave your number plate on the engine, parts, and windows in a high profile location. This will lower the motivation, as the vessel parts will be less valuable. Engrave another set of numbers in a hard to find location so if you ever stumble across your engine you have proof the outboard was once yours.
On the horizon are a series of new technologies to help prevent theft.
The advent of computerized engine control systems will soon lessen the value of stolen vehicle parts. Without the manufacturer interface the stolen parts will not function outside the original vehicle thus reducing the “chop shop” value.
GPS tracking and satellite monitoring means the main engine can be shut down by a single push of a button from a remote location. Imagine the surprise of a thief when motoring along and the engine suddenly shuts down. A voice from a manufacturer representative asks why the boat is underway.
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