You know the old saying, “When the cat’s away, the mice will play” In a way, it describes what’s going on at marinas and boat storage lots in Southern California and across the country. As many of us are doing our part to help prevent the spread of coronavirus — working from home and even staying at home during our leisure time to keep ourselves and others safe — emboldened thieves are taking advantage of our good behavior.
While crime rates have dropped overall in this weird new reality, the same cannot be said for crimes like auto and boat thefts and break-ins. In fact, the opposite seems to be true, as some law enforcement agencies have reported upticks in these types of property crimes.
This shift makes perfect sense, at least from the perspective of losers whose only job skill is taking other people’s stuff. Streets are largely empty, with cars being left in parking garages or curbside for days on end, meaning there’s very little chance of being seen or discovered mid-theft. And boats? They’re even more at risk during this time.
If you keep your boat on a trailer in a storage lot, you have to wonder who is watching the store, as it were. Whether people are self-isolating or are just lacking the disposable income for a fill-up and a scoop of squid right now, boats are sitting idle more than usual at this time. And this makes them highly attractive targets.
Boats kept in marinas — particularly those that don’t have security gates to keep strangers off the docks — are also being exposed to additional peril. Some marinas are closed or operating with minimal staff, facts that apparently have not escaped the attention of opportunistic thieves.
A recent story that was posted on Facebook and rapidly made its way across other social media channels and forums perfectly illustrated this disturbing trend. According to the riveting account by Steve Dunlap, owner of the beautiful 42-foot Lagoon catamaran charter boat Some Tuesday, he was notified by a work crew that was stopping by to do some canvas repair that when they arrived at the boat’s berth in Long Beach, they found nothing but an empty slip. Fortunately, Dunlap has AIS (Automatic Identification System) on the boat, which became active when the thief (who apparently had some boating skills) turned on the boat’s navigation electronics.
This allowed Dunlap to see and track the boat’s position and heading/speed using his phone and a popular marine traffic app. He soon found his pride and joy halfway between Santa Monica and Malibu, headed up the coast to who-knows-where. Long story short, by tracking the boat’s AIS signal and getting on the horn with the L.A. County Sheriff’s office, Dunlap was eventually able to assist the sheriff’s patrol boat in locating Some Tuesday and arresting the wanna-be Jack Sparrow red handed. As they closed in, deputies found the thief frantically lowering the dinghy into the water in a vain effort to escape.
When faced with the business ends of a couple service weapons and asked to put his hands in the air, the thief defiantly replied, “you can’t arrest me, it’s a non-violent felony.” Sadly, there is some truth to this. For a variety of political and other reasons related to our current health crisis, property crime in California is considered barely a crime at all — and justice will be at delayed, at best, while courts are closed. While learning that the thief was literally handcuffed to the patrol boat’s tow post brought Dunlap some brief sense of justice, Mr. Lowlife was literally back on the streets and free to steal again in a matter of hours. It would be naive to think that thieves don’t know this and are emboldened by it.
Still, what matters most here is that Some Tuesday eventually ended up back in the hands of her loving owner — albeit with about $4,000 in damages. If not for a coincidental visit by the canvas workers on that particular day, this story might have had a much different and less satisfying ending. This point wasn’t lost on Dunlap, who mentioned in his post that he had already ordered a Connected Boat system from Siren Marine, to make sure that in the future, he would immediately receive an alert if his boat was moved or even boarded without authorization.
This is how the story came to my attention. In the interest of full disclosure, I provide Siren Marine (sirenmarine.com) with marketing assistance and have even represented the company at various WON events and fishing tournaments. It’s apparent that experiences like Dunlap’s are on the rise across the country, and not all are ending in such relatively “happy” circumstances.
Siren Marine has been in the boat monitoring and security business for a decade; time spent refining its technology and product line to be affordable, practical and easy to install for DIY boaters of all skill levels. With a base MSRP of $599 and a wide range of available wireless and hard-wired sensors, this system can easily be scaled to meet the security/monitoring needs of a bass boat or a bluewater battlewagon.
Siren’s cellular-based technology gives owners the ability to monitor their boat whenever they’re away — keeping tabs on position/movement, unauthorized entry, battery status, shore power connection, bilge pump activity, and much more. The array of security sensors includes motion sensors, pressure sensors, even canvas snap sensors that will trigger an alert as soon as the cover is removed. Depending on how the system is set up, alerts can also trigger strobe lights and sirens in addition to alerting the owner (and others you link to the account, like dock masters, for example) on any mobile device. The use of cellular communication makes this system practical and affordable for most boaters who keep and use their vessels in coastal areas. For those who want the added coverage and global tracking ability of satellite, it’s easy to attach the optional SirenSat Offshore antenna and enroll in a separate satellite service program.
The abilities of Siren’s Connected Boat technology (a term for which it holds a U.S. Trademark) go far beyond security. Those who want the full advantages of this advanced telematics technology can integrate a variety of additional components, such as Siren’s NGK-1 NMEA2000 gateway, various relays and C-Zone digital switching to remotely monitor critical engine and vessel data, and even turn lights, air conditioning, bait pumps, and gyrostabilizers on or off before heading down to or leaving the boat.
The best way to combat boat thieves is to not be an easy victim. Crooks are like opportunistic hyenas on the African plains; they will always seek out the weakest and easiest targets first. Diligence can take many forms, from common-sense steps like covering your boat and removing valuables like rods/reels, tackle and marine electronics onboard when you leave — even if it’s just overnight. If you keep your boat on a trailer, invest in a good trailer hitch lock and chain the wheels with a heavy-duty chain and padlock. Can these measures be defeated by a determined thief? Sure. But it makes that unsecured boat down the way look awful tempting.
The next level up, of course, is availing yourself of today’s advanced boat monitoring and tracking technology. Now more than ever, we could all use some peace of mind.