Ge­or­gia among top 5 states for boat thefts

The Covington News - - Local News - By Amy Leigh Wo­mac The Ma­con Tele­graph

MA­CON, Ga. - A pon­toon boat sits tem­po­rar­ily in a cor­ner of Joy Wil­son’s front yard.

A tor­nado de­stroyed the Wil­sons’ boat house on Lake To­bosof­kee, forc­ing the fam­ily to make other ar­range­ments for their two boats on dry land un­til re­pairs are com­plete.

Be­hind the fam­ily’s new car­port, a ski boat is stored with a cover. A Jet Ski is moored in the wa­ter.

Wil­son said she never con­sid­ered the pos­si­bil­ity of the boats be­ing stolen, even though the fam­ily is se­cu­ri­ty­minded, with a sur­veil­lance cam­era cap­tur­ing all ac­tiv­ity that hap­pens out­side the Brim Drive home.

“ We haven’t heard a thing about” boat thefts in the area, she said.

Crime statis­tics show that Ge­or­gia has been ranked as one of the top five states for boat thefts since 2004, ac­cord­ing to the Ge­or­gia Depart­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources. Rank­ings based on 2007 data place Ge­or­gia at the top of the list.

In re­sponse, the Ge­or­gia DNR formed a Ma­con-based, one- per­son marine theft unit in July to in­ves­ti­gate the thefts and help ed­u­cate boaters.

“ It’s how we’re hop­ing to get a han­dle on the prob­lem,” said Capt. Dan Par­rish of the Marine Theft Unit.

In the first six months of 2008, 259 boats were stolen statewide, com­pared with about 300 in 2007, he said.

Smaller boats are eas­ier tar­gets be­cause they’re eas­ier to take. The most com­mon boat re­ported stolen is a Jet Ski, Par­rish said.

“ They’re eas­ily avail­able and they all look alike,” he said, adding the ves­sels can be man­u­ally lifted into a truck.

While Par­rish said he’s still an­a­lyz­ing boat theft statis­tics, he said the thefts ap­pear to be scat­tered across the state, with most ves­sels be­ing stolen from back­yards as op­posed to bodies of wa­ter.

“ If it’s on the wa­ter, they have to have a means of haul­ing it,” Par­rish ex­plained.

The state doesn’t re­quire a ti­tle to reg­is­ter a boat, Par­rish said, which helps thieves.

Without a ti­tle, boats stolen in Ge­or­gia eas­ily can be rereg­is­tered in a new name.

The ap­pli­ca­tion re­quired by the DNR for regis­tra­tion sim­ply re­quires a de­scrip­tion of the ves­sel, owner in­for­ma­tion and a sig­na­ture from the owner cer­ti­fy­ing the boat wasn’t stolen.

“ It’s strictly tak­ing their word,” he said.

As a re­sult, Par­rish said the state also has be­come a “ dump­ing ground” for boats stolen in other states.

It’s typ­i­cal for a thief to steal a boat in a neigh­bor­ing state, reg­is­ter the boat in Ge­or­gia and then use the Ge­or­gia regis­tra­tion to ap­ply for a new ti­tle in a third state, he said.

With no link­ages be­tween Ge­or­gia’s com­puter regis­tra­tion sys­tem and other states,

it’s dif­fi­cult to prove out- of­s­tate own­er­ship without the ti­tle re­quire­ment, he said.

To com­bat the prob­lem, Par­rish said he plans to lobby for Ge­or­gia to re­quire ti­tles for regis­tra­tion in the same man­ner ti­tles are nec­es­sary for car reg­is­tra­tions. “ That’s some­thing we’re go­ing to move to try to get into law,” he said.

Pre­vent­ing boat theft is a mat­ter of con­ve­nience, Par­rish said. “ It’s a mat­ter of how easy an owner makes it for a thief to take it, “ he said.

It can take as lit­tle as 30 sec­onds for a thief to park in a drive­way, hook a boat trailer up to a truck and drive off, said Gary Tit­tle, an em­ployee of Cen­tral Ge­or­gia Ma­rina and Boat Sales at Lake To­bosof­kee.

While a qual­ity boat lock costs as lit­tle as $ 15 to $ 25, the lock can slow down a thief enough to make them choose an­other per­son’s boat, Tit­tle said.

The de­vices make it harder for thieves to hook a truck to boat trail­ers. Some even pro­vide lock­ing cov­ers for the balls of a trailer hitch that must be re­moved be­fore the trailer can be at­tached to a ve­hi­cle.

“ It’s go­ing to help a lot,” he said of the locks.

He also rec­om­mended chain­ing Jet Skis to trees or other im­mov­able ob­jects.

If a boat or Jet Ski must be stored in a drive­way or yard, Tit­tle sug­gested rou­tinely park­ing ve­hi­cles in front of the trailer and block­ing ac­cess to the hitch.

Re­mov­ing trailer wheels also can be a de­ter­rent dur­ing the off- sea­son, he said.

“ It’s bet­ter on the tires any­way,” Tit­tle said.

When out on the wa­ter, Par­rish said boaters should be mind­ful not to leave ves­sels unat­tended with keys in the ig­ni­tion.

“ Peo­ple don’t think about tak­ing the keys out like you would with an au­to­mo­bile,” Par­rish said. “ It’s the same thing as if you pulled up to the store in a car.”

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