Face­book Group Ral­lies Boaters Against Thieves

Soundings - - Con­tents - —Kim Kavin

Frus­trated with boat thieves, two own­ers take ac­tion and cre­ate a com­mu­nity watch group through Face­book.

South Florida at­tor­ney Bruce Marx posted a mes­sage on his Face­book page last April, ask­ing friends for the email ad­dresses of lo­cal dock­mas­ters. “It’s time that a ma­rina com­mu­nity watch be es­tab­lished,” he wrote. In that post, Marx’s anger didn’t show, but he was boil­ing at his key­board. Thieves had stolen a Garmin chart­plot­ter off his 31foot Con­tender. They’d struck while the boat was at a dock in Mi­ami. “I’d had it for a lit­tle over a week,” he says of the plotter. “I was shocked, ir­ri­tated and mad all at the same time.”

And he was far from alone. Theft of helm elec­tron­ics and out­board en­gines is sky­rock­et­ing, es­pe­cially in Florida. CNBC an­a­lyzed Florida Fish and Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Com­mis­sion records last year and found a nearly 20 per­cent rise in out­board thefts from 2015 to 2016 alone.

One vic­tim of out­board theft was Marx’s friend Scott Bax­ter. The diesel me­chanic has a 22-foot Pathfinder that thieves hit, tak­ing his Yama­has with just 200 hours on them. Bax­ter got new en­gines, only to be en­raged when thieves struck again. His sec­ond set of en­gines had only about 10 hours on them.

When Bax­ter saw Marx’s Face­book post, he felt en­er­gized. Marx had in­tended to start an email list, but Bax­ter ramped up the idea and cre­ated a Face­book group. The men—both with­out a lot of so­cial me­dia know-how— called their page the South Florida Ma­rina & Boat Watch Group. They in­vited all the boaters they knew to join. And those boaters in­vited their friends. And so on. “It grew fairly quickly,” Marx says of the group’s mem­ber­ship. “We’re now at 10,000-plus. We knew it was go­ing to catch on, but we didn’t know it was go­ing to catch on that quickly.”

The group, Marx says, in­cludes mem­bers of law en­force­ment who not only look to pho­tos and in­for­ma­tion that mem­bers post as ev­i­dence in cases that the of­fi­cers are work­ing, but who also sup­ply the group with in­for­ma­tion to be posted for com­mu­nity as­sis­tance in chas­ing down leads. Marx, Bax­ter and other friends mod­er­ate all in­com­ing posts be­fore they go live, mak­ing sure that the group’s mem­bers stay on topic.

The ap­proach is work­ing. One of the mem­bers saw a video that an­other per­son had posted on a pri­vate Face­book page. The video showed a guy try­ing to steal a boat. The group mem­ber re­posted that video to the South Florida Ma­rina & Boat Watch Group page, look­ing for in­for­ma­tion about the thief. “Within a day,” Marx says, “they knew who this guy was and they got him ar­rested.”

Marx and Bax­ter are not ask­ing for money, and they’re not al­low­ing ad­ver­tise­ments in their so­cial- me­dia space. They’re also not ad­mit­ting peo­ple to the group who are from out­side of South Florida; the idea is for lo­cal res­i­dents and law en­force­ment to get to know one an­other and work to­gether. “Two days ago, some­body posted that there were some Jet Skis float­ing in the canal,” Bax­ter says. “I called a friend who lives there. He went and took some pic­tures. Within an hour, we had the pic­tures up and it was re­ported to the po­lice depart­ment. This is the kind of thing we’re try­ing to build up.”

Both men say they’d love to see more boat own­ers com­ing to­gether on these is­sues, join­ing forces re­gion­ally to stop lo­cal thieves. “You can start this all over again in other lo­ca­tions,” Marx says. “It re­ally is a sim­ple idea. It takes a lot of per­sonal time and ef­fort—some­body needs to be ready to do that—but if you want to make a change, you roll up your sleeves and do it.”

Bruce Marx

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