Call For a Tow

The Nuclear Solution for Boat Theft

By Tom Neale, 3/23/2006


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I came up with the perfect solution to keep people from stealing my dinghy. It was from a progression of hard lessons learned. The first begins with good old common sense. I’ve got a dinghy that’s so ugly nobody would want to steal it. It’s so ugly that most people run away when they see it coming. I’ve had it for around 17 years and nobody’s stolen it yet. But some of us have got to have pretty dinghies and pretty boats, so the issue of boat theft is still important and we need to be ever prepared. I’ve noticed a lot of discussion about this on the BoatUS forum, and I’ve gotten some questions about it in my Ask the Experts section of the BoatUS site. So I’ve gotta tell a story or two in order to demonstrate the lessons learned that finally got me to the ultimate dinghy theft solution, which goes far beyond even the ugly boat tactic.

Around 25 years ago (way before I got my ugly dinghy) we were anchored near a bridge in Florida. We had a brand new Boston Whaler Inflatable with a brand new Johnson 15 HP outboard. The rig was tied alongside, bow and stern, right outside where I was asleep. I had a strange dream that night, but it didn’t wake me up. It had been a long and stormy day and I was beat. When I went up on deck that morning, the dingy was gone. Right under the “watchful” eyes of the bridge tender and with numerous other boats anchored around.

My first reaction was to go ashore and call the police. Guess what. I couldn’t get ashore. No dinghy. And those were way before the days when I had a cell phone aboard. I called the Coast Guard on the VHF and they said, you guessed it, to call the police. Finally the marine police answered on the VHF and one came alongside. He was friendly and understanding but said, “Look, I’ll make a report, but I’ve got to tell you, we’re not going to find it. The dinghy is probably rolled up in the trunk of a car now, or in some one’s boat, and the motor’s probably already sold.” So to add insult injury, I had to go to a marina, wondering whether I’d be able to buy another dingy after paying docking fees.

The folks at the marina were really great, as was everybody else we talked with (seems like a lot of us deal with this problem) and I ended up getting a new dingy and motor there and headed on off to the Bahamas. And as you guessed, the officer had been right. They had tried, but I never saw that BW or new motor again. Lesson: the police can’t always find your dinghy, even when they try.

A few years later while we were anchored in Nassau, a friend came over in a sail boat, proudly towing his large 20 foot runabout with what I remember to be around a 150 horses on the stern. You guessed it. He woke up one morning, looked over his stern, and it wasn’t where he’d left it the night before. The line was cut. Yes, he called the police, but he also jumped into a friend’s tender and started searching around the harbor. Not long later he found his boat, over on the Paradise Island side, down near the western end. It was pulled up on the beach and the motor was missing. The “mechanic” had apparently been so in a hurry, or so thrilled with the catch of the day, that he’d left his tool box in the runabout. But that wasn’t all. He’d also left his wallet and his driver’s license—with his picture—in the tool box. (There was no money in the wallet, I guess because he hadn’t sold the motor yet.)

“Well this is cool,” thought my friend, “I’ll just take this evidence down to the police station. The driver’s license, of course, had the thief’s address on it. As they say in the islands, “No Problem.” Well, it wasn’t. He said that the police looked at the license, made some notes, and said they’d go looking for the man, “probably next week.” You guessed it; he never got his motor back. And the tools were really lousy…cheap and, for some reason, rusty. This reaffirmed several lessons, not the least of which is that there are better ways to get tools. Another lesson is that the police especially can’t find your dinghy when they don’t try. Another lesson is that it’s much better to exercise “self help” before boats get stolen rather than after.

Boat Theft

1. I’ve used and really like the Abus Stainless Steel Diskus 24/70 lock. It’s a bit pricey but I think worth it. It has a tough stainless steel body and a small shackle opening. It would be very difficult to saw or cut the hasp with bolt cutters when it’s closed around something, and you can’t get the key out (and therefore loose it) when the lock is opened. There are several variations in this series.

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Then came the night a few years later when we were asleep actually tied to a dock. The dock had a locked chain link fence around it. When up on the deck I heard such a clatter, I arose from my bunk to see what was the matter. Some idiot had clambered over the fence and onto our boat and was stumbling around on deck at the davits, trying to lower my dinghy into the water. He was having a hard time trying to figure out how to make the davits work, and he wasn’t trying to keep it much of a secret. I yelled out the hatch a few feet away from him and told him to get the H…. off my boat. He was making so much noise he didn’t even hear me at first, or maybe he thought there was some other guy on some other boat. I finally got his attention and got the message across. Quite startled, the poor darling did get off my boat. To be more accurate, he fell off my boat. To be more accurate still, he fell off and rolled into the well used bilge of a pumpout boat that had broken down and was tied on the other side of the dock. Having spent the evening wondering how anybody could work on that particular pumpout boat (or anywhere near it) without a gas mask, we had little trouble imaging what he found in the bilge as he made his splash landing. The last we saw of him, he was staggering away gagging.

I’ve seen a lot of well reasoned and helpful answers about boat theft. We all have that to worry about it. We’re united in this problem, whether we’re in SeaRays, Meridians, Mainships, Rinkers, Grand Banks, Wellcraft, Hunters, Dorals, Sabres, Krogens, Bayliners, Posts—you name it. But I now have THE answer for all of us. It’s an extension of my ugly dingy theory, but going a giant step further. I’m going to buy a well used pumpout boat for my dinghy.

Actually, if I could find one big enough, I might even get one for my cruising boat too. The benefits are staggering. For example, I wouldn’t have to worry anymore about people anchoring too close. Plus, I might even get fewer Coast Guard boardings. But, more importantly, the risk of boat theft would be down the drain. Come to think of it, a pumpout/cruising boat would probably be virtually unsinkable. I wonder… you think that maybe BoatUS insurance would give a discount on their rates for pumpout/cruising boats and tenders?


Copyright 2004-2008 Tom Neale