Boat theft prevention tips

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Boat theft prevention: How to thwart thieves and enjoy the water this summer

Imagine this: Your client and six close friends head to his marina, to take his boat out for a day of fun in the sun. Only when he gets there, his boat is missing. Vanished. Boat theft prevention wasn’t high on his list before, but it will be now.

Every year, thousands of watercraft are stolen in the U.S. because owners are too trusting or careless about theft prevention.  About half are recovered.


Luckily, there are a number of marine theft prevention techniques and tools that you can deter thieves from boat stealing. Experts say it’s all about time, noise and visibility: Do things that significantly slow down the time it takes to steal a craft. Add measures, such as alarms, to make noise. And provide adequate lighting so that intruders are visible.

Related: Off-season marina tips for your commercial marine clients

Let’s dive more deeply into tips you can use.

General security tips for boat theft prevention

  • If you use a marina, choose one with full-time security and good lighting.
  • Never leave your key in the ignition or “hidden” on the boat when unattended. Thieves know the best hiding places.
  • Install an anti-theft alarm, kill switch or tracking system.
  • Secure the boat so it can’t be easily moved. When using a trailer, install a quality trailer hitch lock.
  • If the boat will remain on the trailer, consider removing a wheel from the trailer and hide it in a locked location away from the boat. Or, chain and lock all wheels to each other and the trailer frame, so that it can’t be rolled.
  • If your boat includes a dinghy, stow it onboard when your boat is moored on the water. Otherwise, us a cable and padlock to secure it. If the dinghy has an outboard motor, either remove and store it or add an outboard motor lock, securing it to the transom.
  • If the boat is stored at home, place in a location not visible from the street.  If possible, park it so that the trailer tongue faces away from street, to make maneuvering more difficult. Install stern drive and propeller locks to slow would-be thieves down.
  • If you have a dolly jack, raise it to full height and lock it there.
  • Install a deadbolt locks on all doors; secure ports and windows with inside auxiliary locks.
  • Use strong inverted hasps and padlocks to all hatches. Secure lockers with non-removable hasps and hinges, using a strong padlock.
  • Remove the registration, title or document papers when the boat is stored. Just don’t forget to bring them with you when you take the boat out.
  • Remove all personal property that can be easily taken, such as fishing equipment or portable electronics. Otherwise, lock them down. Using a diamond-tipped tool, etch your driver’s license number on expensive items.
  • Maintain an inventory list ashore that includes all boat gear with the name, model, serial number, manufacturer, and description of each item. Digital images or photos of your gear could also go into this file.
  • Using the same etching tool, add your driver’s license number in a hidden spot on the motor, and if the vessel is stolen, tell police where to find the number for easier identification
  • Paint state numbers on – peel-offs make easy rip-offs easier
  • Make sure your boat insurance is up-to-date.


Power boats

  • Remove the distributor rotor (if there is one) or take out the spark plug cable when you leave
  • For long absences, also consider taking your propeller
  • Use a patented locking bar to keep the pad nuts from being loosened
  • Lock portable gas tanks on board
  • Use gas-line locks to prevent thieves from using their own gas supply
Related: Preventing storm damage to boats


  • Either remove all sails or stow them all below. Run a chain through the clews and lock them to the boat structure.
  • If the main must be left on the boom, then run a chain through the headboard and under the boom – and lock both ends together

Protect your fun and freedom out on the open water by incorporating these boat theft prevention tips to keep your watercraft safe.  Keep your insurance up-to-date, so that if the worst occurs and your boat or equipment is stolen, you’re covered.