England Ireland Find Havens
England Ireland Find Routes

Next Previous

Reducing boating related theft

Be the first
to comment

What is the issue?
Theft of seagoing vessels and their equipment is thankfully rare, but it does happen. According to a study of BoatUS Marine Insurance External link claims about, 10 out of every 1,000 personal watercrafts are stolen, 2 out of every 1,000 runabouts, 8 per 1,000 cruisers (with cabins), 3 per 10,000 trawlers and 2.5 per 10,000 sailboats. But this does not touch on equipment theft which is much more common and on the rise.

Why address this?
You have worked hard to obtain your vessel and its equipment, and you want to make sure that it stays in your possession. Crime cannot be eliminated but with some forethought and security practices, the risk of it can be vastly reduced.

How to address this?
A vessel that is not exposed and shows a strength of precautionary security steps will put the vast majority of criminality off. The first two steps to set you down this path are:

  • • Think like a thief. Look upon it as if you were out to steal from yourself and think what factors about your boat, your practices or your mooring arrangments leave and exposure and/or make it easy to take the vessel or its equipment. How can these be reduced or eliminated?

  • • Bolster the common theft preventions. There are common denominators that play in defence of all theft: time, noise, and visibility. Every measure you take to increase the time it takes to execute a theft, the noise involved and the visibility of the process will make theft more difficult and more unlikely.

The good think about all the above variables is that they are all independent of each other. So if you work on several of these options at once you don't just get a marginal improvement in the security of your vessels you get an exponential increase.

Below are some lists of some ideas that may help you work on theft prevention. If there are any missing opportunities to help make sailing more secure, please do not hesitate to add a comment.


Before we start it is important to remember the old adage that locks are just a means of keeping honest people honest. This certainly applies to boating because the vessels are made of lightweight and thin materials that will never stop a determined thief. You could place yourself in a worse position by doubling down with heavy locks and hatch reinforcements as is included in the list below. It could result in your lockers and hatch being smashed up by a determined thief instead of just having the boat being rifled by an opportunist. Or, as most crimes are committed by amateurs who, when tempted with an easy opportunity can't resist the temptation, present a steadfast front that will encourage them to pass by. There is no perfect answer I am afraid. Hence we provide as many ideas as possible so you can make your own best judgement as to which make sense for you and the theft you intent to protect against.

  • ☐ Install an alarm system. You don’t have to spend a lot of money as even a very simple improvised fog horn with a trip wire can scare off a thief. Self-contained electronic systems are inexpensive these days and can be purchased at most electronics outlets or chandeliers. It is advisable that the alarm you purchase is specifically designed for marine use, as it will be able to withstand the damp marine environment. Non-marine alarms may report false alarms, have a higher tendency to malfunction, and a shorter lifespan. It may make sense to include a smoke detector in your alarm system so is can serve a dual function. It may be worth also investing in an electronic tagging device to get further peace of mind.

  • ☐ If you fit an anti-theft device place warning stickers where they can be easily seen.

  • ☐ If you have not got an anti-theft device fit the stickers anyway and add a blinking LED to make it appear like a security device is fitted. This may be just as effective at nudging thieves to pass up on the boat that appears to be just as well guarded.

  • ☐ Perspex is easy to cut through to gain access, especially since the advent of portable grinders. If you have a perspex hatch that is large enough for a thief to pass through glue and bolt a stainless steel bar across it and lock the latch handles in place.

  • ☐ Avoid hasp and padlock for the main hatch as they are completely vulnerable to the blow of a hammer or bolt cutters. Fit a rim lock instead, many can be inserted into the washboard itself to still allow flat storage. The best security is offered by domestic 'single cylinder jimmy-proof deadlock' which is the type you see securing the doors of New York apartments. This type of lock makes it possible to also lock the companionway from the inside. It does, however, have the disadvantage of preventing the top washboard from stowing flat.

  • ☐ Make sure you use strong fittings and padlocks to secure lockers. Storage area locks installed by the boat manufacturer are not adequate to deter thieves.

  • ☐ Use pre-drill bolts so split pins or split rings or lock nuts can be deployed to securely fasten down all expensive deck equipment.

  • ☐ Protect your anchor by either riveting over the anchor shackle or having a locking arrangement when in port.

  • ☐ Etch the boat name on to the windows and all equipment via an etching kit that is available from most car accessory outlets. Bigger items can be marked with a spray marking template Experience. As for your smaller equipment, electronics and other items, use some method of permanently marking them as well. If possible place your name and phone number so that it is clear everything is marked. Thieves don’t want to risk possessing anything easily identifiable and subsequent disposing of the equipment will be difficult. These details will also assist the police tracing stolen merchandise and getting it back to the rightful owner.

  • ☐ Life-raft, life rings, dinghy, engine and all moveable equipment should have the vessels name clearly stencilled on.

  • ☐ Stick privacy window film on the inside of portholes so people cannot check out the vessel during the day. In hot climates, privacy film has the added benefit of reducing the light and heat by a quarter and UV transmission by up to three quarters.

  • ☐ Securely fit boat electronics with theft-resistant hardware such as security bolts or screws.

  • ☐ Installing a hidden "kill switch" hidden fuel shut off or locate the battery switch in an inconspicuous place on the vessel.

  • ☐ Record all the serial numbers of your equipment as a matter of policy. Take pictures of the boat and all its equipment and any unique identifying features. Keep copies at home in a safe place. Being able to identify your property with documentation is crucial to the recovery of your boat and equipment and the prosecution of the thief.

  • ☐ Keep your boat keys separate from your engine keys.

  • ☐ Stickers stating that all valuables have been removed from the boat is also another good deterrent.


Casualness and convenience tend to outweigh cautiousness when we relax on the water. Many vessels pulled up for fuel just sit there unattended with the keys in the ignition with a handheld VHF radio or other expensive pieces of equipment laying about the cockpit or on the dash.

  • ☐ Berth your vessel so that it is not easily accessed but clearly visible to others boaters.

  • ☐ Don’t leave your keys in the ignition and try get into a habit of always taking them with you.

  • ☐ Ensure all unused ropes, fenders and other items are out of sight in your cockpit lockers and cupboards.

  • ☐ Take away and stow seagoing safety equipment such as life-rings and dan buoys etc.

  • ☐ Remove the outboard motor and stow it in a locker, it’s much safer in your hidden than hanging on the transom like a wedge of money perched on a rail - admittedly mea culpa on this one. If it is not possible to stow it out of site lock it to its mounting bracket and padlock the engine cover closed to prevent parts been removed. Wrap a visibly heavy chain around and through it and any associated exposed fuel tank and bring it back to a strong point.

  • ☐ Padlock all external lockers.

  • ☐ Fasten a chain or wire over the life-raft.

  • ☐ Lock a chain or wire painter to the dinghy and all secondary equipment around the vessel such as anchors etc.

  • ☐ Have removable lights so that can be detached and stored down below. This is especially the case with expensive LED lights and particularly so if you typically do not sail at night.

  • ☐ Don’t leave anything loose in the cockpit or on the deck.

  • ☐ Provide no window shoping opportunities by covering over the wheelhouse and drawing across curtains so that no equipment is not on show. If you can’t entirely cover-up be sure to store alcoholic beverages and valuables where they won’t be seen.

  • ☐ Put your valuables in a strong, fixed locker below decks and secure it with a quality deadlock or padlock.

  • ☐ Remove and hide the battery key when leaving the vessel.

  • ☐ Or, if you are in a suspect area and leaving the boat unattended for the evening, leave a light on in the cabin plus the domestic radio up loud so the vessel appears to be occupied.

  • ☐ If the dinghy needs to stay in the water, be sure to use a locking cable to secure it to the primary boat or to the dock as the case may be.


Most thefts occur because boat owners simply fail to remove items from boats, making them easy targets.

  • ☐ Avoid leaving a boat on remote moorings. These isolate locals provide the perfect opportunity for a vessel to be broken into in the early hours. Again mea culpa on this one.
    If you have a nice looking boat you are better off to have it in a marina in many districts.

  • ☐ Choose a marina wisely. Generally, vessels in marinas are safe especially if the berth is in an inaccessible corner.

  • ☐ Check if the marina permits chaining the boat to the dock and if they do it is worth doing so with a stainless steel chain.

  • ☐ Don’t leave a spare set of keys in the gas locker or cockpit locker. This is a common practice and thieves know it. Take them home.

  • ☐ Remove valuables and easily transportable electronics from the boat. If you want to keep such items on the boat, be sure to keep them out of sight and locked away.

  • ☐ Remove all valuables including instruments, lifejackets etc, from the boat including from lockers, which can easily be broken into. Store equipment at home. The more equipment you take off, the less attractive your boat will be to a thief.

  • ☐ Only keep copies of the registration and official title document papers aboard and remove them when leaving.

  • ☐ If you are selling the vessel avoid having a “For Sale” sign on your boat. This gives thieves an excuse to snoop around without drawing suspicion.


Boats on trailers are easy crime targets because all a thief has to do is hitch up and drive away with it and all it contains. Approximately ninety percent of stolen boats are taken whilst they are on a trailer. If you must leave your boat on a trailer, take some extra precautions:

Trailer hitch facing into a hedge with a hitch lock on and a chained to a tree
Image: Michael Harpur

  • ☐ Store the boat and trailer in a locked garage or secured boat storage facility. Keeping a boat locked away undercover will also protect it from the ravages of the elements and reduce decay and the dreaded seasonal fit-out time.

  • ☐ If you store the boat at home, park it on the side or behind the house as best you can. Always park it so the trailer hitch doesn’t face the street.

  • ☐ Attach a high-security chain and quality lock to secure the boat and trailer to a tree, post, or another fixed object.

  • ☐ Put a boot on one of the tires or take off at least one wheel from the trailer.

  • ☐ Using a trailer hitch lock or buy a trailer that has a removable hitch.


Above all have your vessel well insured. While boat insurance won’t keep your boat and equipment from being stolen, it can help you recover quicker if it is. Immediately report the loss to the local police, insurance company and, if you use a marina or storage facility, you should report the loss to them also. Sometimes the storage facility will take care of the police report just check that this has been carried out.

Gather your inventory list and pictures and be ready to answer any questions they may have about the incident. Being able to identify your property with documentation is crucial to the recovery and the prosecution of the thief. It’s worth checking sites such as eBay and Gumtree in case whoever stole your property attempts to sell it on. You should immediately contact the police if you recognise any items being sold online that you believe to be yours.


It is important to take the extra time to ensure that your boat and equipment is properly protected. Many people don’t make boat security a priority until it’s too late. By following some of the above suggestions you can reduce the risk of boat related crime, you’ll be the better off and enjoy your sailing more.

Also see preventing your dinghy and outboard from being stolen Experience when it comes to cruising and details on lifting a dinghy Experience that also prevents theft.

With thanks to:
Michael Harpur, Yacht Obsession.
A photograph is worth a thousand words. We are always looking for bright sunny photographs that illustrate this experience. If you have some images that we could use please upload them here. All we need to know is how you would like to be credited for your work and a brief description of the image if it is not readily apparent. If you would like us to add a hyperlink from the image that goes back to your site please include the desired link and we will be delighted to that for you.

Add your review or comment:

Please log in to leave a review of this tip.

eOceanic makes no guarantee of the validity of this information, you must read our legal page. However, we ask you to help us increase accuracy. If you spot an inaccuracy or an omission on this page please contact us and we will be delighted to rectify it. Don't forget to help us by sharing your own experience.