Thefts of large out­board en­gines have ticked up­ward over the past six months in coastal states of the South­east and mid-At­lantic re­gions, ac­cord­ing to a num­ber of marine in­sur­ance com­pa­nies. Tak­ing care to safe­guard your mo­tors, par­tic­u­larly when your boat is in stor­age, can be as sim­ple as park­ing prop­erly and us­ing rel­a­tively in­ex­pen­sive locks.

“There has been a rash of or­ga­nized thefts of mul­ti­ple out­boards through­out Flor­ida, Ge­or­gia, South Carolina and Vir­ginia,” says Mark Yearn, of Nor­man-Spencer Agency, an in­sur­ance provider of­fer­ing cov­er­age for boat deal­ers and mari­nas na­tion­wide.

Armed with cord­less im­pact wrenches and power saws, teams of thugs strike boat deal­er­ships and stor­age yards at night, cut­ting through fences, un­bolt­ing large out­boards and muscling them into trucks, says Yearn. Boats in dry stor­age or on trail­ers are the eas­i­est tar­gets. Mul­ti­ple out­board in­stal­la­tions at­tract the great­est at­ten­tion, giv­ing theft rings a big pay­off.

“This is a pro­fes­sional op­er­a­tion, and there is good rea­son to be­lieve that the stolen units are be­ing loaded into con­tain­ers and sold over­seas,” Yearn adds. As many as a dozen out­boards have van­ished in a sin­gle haul.

Marine elec­tron­ics also dis­ap­pear dur­ing these breakins, but out­boards rang­ing from 150 to 350 hp, weigh­ing as much as 780 pounds and costing up­wards of $30,000 each, rep­re­sent the higher value tar­gets.

Un­like boat hulls, out­boards are not reg­is­tered with state de­part­ments of mo­tor ve­hi­cles, so they prove dif­fi­cult, if not im­pos­si­ble, to track, Yearn points out. That makes out­boards well-suited to the black mar­ket.


Since the chances of re­cov­er­ing a mo­tor dwin­dle from slim to none once it’s stolen, the key lies in pre­ven­tion. But how can you pro­tect your out­boards?

“Thieves look for the low-hang­ing fruit,” says Bill Gilbert, of Caribee Boat Sales in Is­lam­orada, Flor­ida. “You need to make things as dif­fi­cult and time-con­sum­ing as pos­si­ble for thieves, giv­ing them pause to re­think and then look else­where for eas­ier tar­gets.”

Based on tips from Gilbert and oth­ers in the marine and in­sur­ance in­dus­tries, here are five ways to pre­vent out­board thiev­ery. Use as many of these sug­ges­tions as pos­si­ble to thwart the ef­forts of ne­far­i­ous types.


Stor­ing your trailer boat at your place of res­i­dence, be­hind a locked gate, of­fers the great­est se­cu­rity. Even when you’re not home, friendly neigh­bors can help keep an eye on your place and no­tify po­lice of sus­pi­cious ac­tiv­ity. One im­por­tant tip: Avoid post­ing on so­cial me­dia that your fam­ily’s on va­ca­tion or oth­er­wise not home. That can tip off op­por­tunis­tic thieves to an easy tar­get.

Home-se­cu­rity de­vices, such as mo­tion lights and se­cu­rity cam­eras, can also de­ter lar­ceny. How­ever, one of the most ef­fec­tive mea­sures is man’s best friend. Whether it’s a fox ter­rier or Dober­man pin­scher, a dog that alerts to the pres­ence of strangers is the great­est alarm of all. The ca­nine need not be fierce but should pos­sess a loud bark to let you and neigh­bors know some­thing’s amiss. A prom­i­nent “Be­ware of Dog” sign is also ef­fec­tive in spook­ing would-be thieves.


If you’re forced to store your boat at a yard (many of which are part and par­cel of boat deal­er­ships) or in a dry rack at a ma­rina, look for se­cu­rity mea­sures aside from a fenced perime­ter, locks on the gates and ra­zor wire atop the walls. At Caribee Boat Sales, for ex­am­ple, video sur­veil­lance mon­i­tors the prop­erty around the clock. Perime­ter beams alert se­cu­rity com­pa­nies of a breach any­where around the grounds.

Crooks live by night, us­ing dark­ness to cloak their deeds, so look for stor­age fa­cil­i­ties that are well-il­lu­mi­nated in the hours be­tween sun­set and sun­rise. Se­cu­rity guards or dogs pa­trolling the premises dur­ing off hours are also ben­e­fi­cial.


The way you park your trailer boat mat­ters. If pos­si­ble, back the boat up to a con­crete build­ing or solid block wall so there’s lit­tle room for bag­men to ma­neu­ver around the tran­som. Don’t back up to a chain-link or wooden fence on the prop­erty line, as thieves will quickly cut through these mea­ger de­fenses.

If you use dry-stack stor­age, ask for a slot on the up­per lev­els, which makes ac­cess dif­fi­cult for crooks. Boats on the ground level are the most vul­ner­a­ble.


A McGard out­board-mo­tor lock (about $28) rep­re­sents cheap in­sur­ance. It threads over one of the tran­som bolts to serve as a mount­ing nut, and only a spe­cially keyed socket wrench can re­move it. Oth­er­wise, the cylin­der around the lock spins freely, even in the fierce grip of a pair of chan­nel-lock pli­ers.

A de­ter­mined thief might even­tu­ally de­feat the lock by cut­ting through the tran­som bolt, but the ex­tra ef­fort will cost valu­able time in which he stands a chance of get­ting caught in the act. A smart bur­glar will move on to a less risky tar­get.


Com­pa­nies such as GOST, Siren Marine and SPOT of­fer the abil­ity to mon­i­tor your boat and mo­tors around the clock with on­board sen­sors (both wired and wire­less) that con­nect to apps on your smart­phone, tablet or com­puter.

These sys­tems of­fer track­ing de­vices such as the com­pact SPOT Trace (about $50 plus $15 monthly ser­vice plan), which can be hid­den un­der the hood of your out­board. It ac­ti­vates with move­ment and alerts you via text and email, then uses satel­lite tech­nol­ogy to track the lo­ca­tion of the out­board.

How­ever, the great­est value lies in the abil­ity to alert you im­me­di­ately if some­one tam­pers with the boat while it’s in stor­age, says Daniel Harper of Rhode Is­land-based Siren Marine.

Some sys­tems are highly cus­tom­iz­a­ble, with a mul­ti­tude of sen­sors to suit the se­cu­rity needs of dif­fer­ent boaters. For in­stance, with a re­motely stored trailer boat, a mo­tion de­tec­tor can sense ap­proach­ing thieves at a dis­tance of 3 to 5 feet from the hull.

False alarms from an­i­mals, such as guard dogs and for­ag­ing rac­coons, plague some sys­tems us­ing mo­tion de­tec­tors, but ad­just­ing the sen­si­tiv­ity can re­solve this is­sue. Siren, for ex­am­ple, cal­i­brates its mo­tion sen­sors ac­cord­ing to body mass. “This al­lows it to dis­tin­guish be­tween hu­mans and smaller crea­tures to elim­i­nate false alarms,” Harper says.

An ac­celerom­e­ter serves as an­other use­ful sen­sor in pre­vent­ing out­board theft. “It de­tects any minute move­ment or vi­bra­tion of the boat, mo­tors or trailer,” Harper points out.

Sen­sors can also take the form of pull-switch ca­bles con­nected to mo­tors or other valu­able on­board equip­ment. Dis­con­nect­ing or cut­ting the ca­ble ac­ti­vates the sen­sor. These can be placed in small, com­mon items, such as can­vas snaps that ac­ti­vate when some­one un­but­tons the boat cover.

These boat se­cu­rity sys­tems can be pro­grammed to sound an on-site alarm, such as a pierc­ing siren and blind­ing strobe light, and send you an im­me­di­ate alert via a cel­lu­lar net­work, al­low­ing you to con­tact the proper author­i­ties or re­spond in per­son. They also al­low you to turn the sys­tem on and off re­motely with your mo­bile de­vice or com­puter.

Put these se­cu­rity mea­sures to work in and around your boat to pro­tect your­self from be­com­ing a vic­tim amid the ris­ing num­ber of out­board thefts.

Elec­tronic se­cu­rity sys­tems, such as those from Siren Marine, can alert you via a mo­bile de­vice if some­one tam­pers with your boat.

Look for a boat-stor­age fa­cil­ity that of­fers se­cu­rity el­e­ments such as video sur­veil­lance and abun­dant il­lu­mi­na­tion at night.

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