Stopping Boat Theft

It’s a growing problem in Florida. Here are some ways to protect your rig.

Outboard engines are a hot-ticket item for some thieves. Store your boat in a safe location.

Boats are being stolen in Florida and the Bahamas at an alarming rate. They disappear from backyards, from storage facilities, from marinas and from private docks. The thieves are very selective and are after the big center consoles or other fast offshore-capable boats.

It can happen to the best of us. Retired Hollywood, Florida police detective Pete Salvo had his 26-foot center console stolen from The Bahamas. Pete, now private investigator (Off Duty Detector Dogs, Inc.), notes that when a boat is stolen in the Bahamas, it is not entered into the National Crime Information Center since the theft did not occur in the U.S., so the Coast Guard or the Marine Patrol could stop the boat but never know it was a stolen boat. He agrees that boats are stolen for their sea keeping and “cargo” capabilities but adds that the smugglers can come into port undetected with a bunch of other similar fishing boats on a weekend. Engines, too, are often targeted on trailered vessels.

Pete’s recommendations to prevent theft are to make sure neighbors are watching, using a boat lift, locking to the dock with a steel cable, utilizing good lighting and motion detectors, disabling the engines, have a good alarm and a GPS tracking system that will alert you if the boat is moved, then track it. For trailered boats, store in a secured area, use trailer and wheel locks, wire up motion detector lights. Another recently released on-board theft deterrent is the Dock-N-Loc, a $99 product that locks an outboard engine steering ram as tight as a boot on a car.

Assuming the thieves decide to make a go of it, here are some electronic devices you could throw up in their way.

Among alarm options is the CB4000 Paging Portable Alarm from Boat Alarms ($499; This has a continuity wire and motion center which, if tripped, will trigger a 110 decibel siren with flashing lights for 40 seconds. At the same time, if you’re within a mile of the boat, you’ll receive a page.

This system renders boat lifts unusable.

If your boat is kept on a lift, common sense tells you to turn off the power to the lift, lock the breaker box and lock the lift control box. However, we’ve heard at least one case in which thieves brought a portable generator to hot-wire the lift. A St. Petersburg-based firm, Boat Lift Security Systems (, now offers a product that cuts power to the lift if someone tries to use it without proper access, and activates an alarm and flashing lights. It can also be tied into your home security system, alerting the monitoring service. Cost is $1,695, and installation is between $200 and $300.

Never leave your ignition keys on the boat. Thieves know the key-hiding places. Keyed battery switches are also a good idea, such as those made by Hella; again, remember to remove the key at the end of the day. Another recently released on-board theft deterrent is the Dock-N-Loc, a $99 product that locks an outboard engine steering ram as tight as a boot on a car.

Now, assuming the would-be thieves get past your locks, bypass your alarms, lower the boat to the water, start the ignition and somehow manage to steer the boat…make them have to contend with a tracking device similar to a Lo-Jack system on cars or trucks.

SPOT HUG system can be set to transmit an alert if the vessel is moved from its geofence. During regular cruising, it can be used to send progress reports to friends and family.

One such system is the multifunctional SPOT HUG. How it works is, a 4-inch square tracker unit installed on the vessel receives position data from GPS satellites, and transmits that position data to an Asset Monitoring Center and/or the GEOS International Emergency Rescue Coordination Center. If you’re away from the boat, you can set the system to send an Unauthorized Movement Notification to the Asset Monitoring Center, followed by continuous updates which may be tracked by law enforcement. At sea, you can use SPOT HUG to inform your family ashore of your progress and status, or send an SOS. The system costs $150 and the annual registration is $150.

Cobra C-Pod, multiple security functions.

The C-Pod system from Cobra Marine ( can erect a geofence around your vessel, among other functions. This sends an alarm text to your mobile phone, or e-mail. It also has magnetic intrusion sensors for doors or hatches, as well as options including motion detectors and smoke, fire or bilge alarms. Suggested retail price is $499.95

Don’t let technology give you a false sense of security. It’s always good policy to look for secure storage and don’t leave the boat where trouble is likely to occur. Even if it doesn’t get stolen and is only broken into or vandalized, lost time and insurance deductibles are still costly.

If you look at your own boat with theft prevention in mind, I’m sure you’ll come up with other deterrents which would be a worthwhile weekend projects. While you’re at it, help others locate their stolen boats by taking note of stolen boat ads or posters and visiting the new web site designed to help recover stolen vessels. FS

Originally Published Florida Sportsman Jan. 2011

  • Mark Modzelewski

    I had my jon boat stolen 2 times. It doesnt even have a motor on it. It is just a empty aluminum jonboat

  • John McGarr

    I am glad to see that Florida Sportsman has covered boat theft since it is a problem that every boater should be concerned with. When you are researching which one to buy, make sure you check out Siren Marine! Here is a review posted on the Hull Truth. I am biased because I work for the company, but the words of our customers are unsolicited and accurately describe why they chose Siren Marine above all other options.…