by Mike McCrea / Paddler Magazine, Jan/Feb 2002
Few things can ruin a paddling trip like losing a boat. Losing your craft to a river mishap is bad enough, but losing one to a thief is even worse.
First, before considering how to make your boat less likely to be stolen, put the magazine down, go outside and make a record of the serial numbers of your boat(s). While you’re out there write your name and telephone number somewhere on the hull with a permanent marker. Now you have a unique identifier for your boat (the serial #) and, having inscribed your contact information, your boat stands a better chance of finding its way home if it blows off your car on the highway or continues on down the river without you. Do it now.
Preventing Theft - Cartopped boats are particularly vulnerable to theft, perched high and inviting, for all to see.
While there is little you can do to make your boat "theft-proof," every little bit will help. A boat that obviously requires more time, tools and noise to spirit away is a boat likely to stay safely in place.
Any lock is better than no lock. Even a simple padlock and chain will be sufficient to deter most cut-and-run scum. If your boat is frequently left in unprotected areas, a beefier lock or cable system is advisable. Thwarts or seats can be too easily cut or unscrewed to serve as secure lock-down points, so mounting a steel ring beneath a deckplate or gunwale on canoes, or on the stern of kayaks will create an additional degree of difficulty for would-be boatnappers. A "Club" type steering wheel lock (the longer truck-version), spanning the cockpit of a kayak fore and aft, will be nearly impossible to remove without destroying the boat. The same goes for commercially available cable-lasso systems that loop around bow and stern.
We frequently cartop two tandem canoes. When I lock our boats atop the truck I lock them both to the roof rack and to each other. Given enough time, tools and determination a thief could detach the roof rack from our vehicle, only to be faced with the cumbersome task of making off with two tandem canoes that are cabled together—an awkward and attention-drawing proposition at best.
Now that your boat is secured in some fashion to your car, consider where you park. Leaving your vehicle in a secluded location only provides more time and privacy for boat thieves to defeat your locking system.
When away from your vehicle for extended periods of time it may be safer to park up by the road, in plain sight, rather than hidden away down by the river. When staying overnight in a motel ask for a room "down and out, up front;" desk clerks know that this means a first floor walk-out room ("down and out"), up toward the front of the motel instead of back in the shadows by the dumpster ("up front").
If the Worst Happens - You wake up early one fine morning only to find that your boat has gone missing from your roof racks. First, find that copy of the boat's serial number and call the police. Then call every other area enforcement agency that routinely deals with paddlers; if you are in a State Park, National Park or National Forest—let them know. Same goes for the State agency that enforces boating regulations.
Next, with a copy of the police report number and other relevant information in hand, call your insurance agent. Your homeowner’s insurance may or may not cover the theft of your boat. The time to investigate your insurance coverage is before your boat is stolen. Under some policies boats are covered only if stolen from your home, or coverage may be limited to far less than your boat’s replacement value. Insurance riders are available to provide coverage for pricier craft, multiple boats or other special circumstance.
Now, cast your net even wider. Post a "Stolen Boat" notice on the message boards of any local paddling clubs and on the internet (see sidebar). Ask the staff at paddling shops to keep an eye out for suspicious behavior, such as an obvious neophyte seeking to accessorize a boat like yours. When you’ve done everything you can, sit back and take satisfaction in the bad karma that must come the way of boat thieves. Strainers. Shoulder dislocations. Frigid, bruising swims. Black flies. Poison ivy. Plagues of locust. Hopefully all in the same day.
Is That Used Boat a "Steal" Or Is It Stolen? - Besides obvious indications of theft, like damaged security rings or severed grab-loops, other signs ought to make you suspicious. For example, if the seller won’t meet you at his home, will accept only cash, doesn’t know much about paddling, becomes evasive when you ask about the boat’s serial number or where he bought the boat, hasn’t a clue about the make, model, usage or value of the boat, consider asking around to see if such a boat has gone missing.
How to Avoid Becoming a Theft Victim
If you live near the water make sure your kayaks are put inside, or are out of sight, chained up, and booby trapped in such a way that a thief would make a lot of noise to get it. If you must store your kayak outside remove anything you can (hatch covers, hatch gaskets, seats etc.) to make your kayak harder to sell and therefore less desirable to the thief. If you do this and your kayak is subsequently stolen it may quickly show up at a dealer for parts replacement. Call the manufacturer and all the dealers of that model in your area to report the theft and the items he may be trying to buy--as well as filing a report of the theft with the police and on the Mariner Kayak Stolen Kayak Database using their Stolen Kayak Report Form (MS Excel version / Adobe Acrobat version). Don't store paddles or gear with the kayak. The thief will take them as well, or if near the water use them in his get-away.
One method used (twice that we know of, once in Seattle and once in Portland) is for the thief to call someone who has advertised a kayak for sale. The thief then arranges to come and look at it. In the Seattle case he didn't show up that evening but the next morning the kayak had disappeared. In Portland the thief made arrangements to see the kayak in the morning and the kayak disappeared that night. If you are selling a kayak get a phone number and call the prospect back before revealing the location of the kayak, especially if it might be easy to steal.