Georgia among top 5 states for boat thefts
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.”