Virginia Watercraft Owner's Guide

Boat Theft Prevention

Equipment Identification

Boat owners should mark all equipment when purchased. Many local law enforcement agencies will loan an engraver for this purpose. Engrave a unique identification number and the state's abbreviation in a concealed area. These identification numbers will assist law enforcement officers in tracing stolen merchandise back to the owner.

If your boat was built before 1972, it may not have a hull identification number. Since most registration numbers can be removed easily, it is a good idea to inscribe that registration number onto some unexposed location on the interior of your boat. This works well for backup identification.

Document It

Make a complete inventory of your marine equipment, boat, and trailer. In the event of any type of loss, this information will prove invaluable in making a prompt, accurate report for law enforcement and insurance personnel.

Photograph or videotape the interior and exterior of your vessel showing all installed equipment and additional gear. Date and sign the photographs and add any clarifying or identifying messages. Store the photographs in a safe place, not in the boat.

Store It

When securing the vessel, take home as much gear as possible, including TVs, radios. CBs, small outboard engines, and other gear. There may be some equipment which must be left on the vessel. Rather than leaving it around the cabin, lock equipment inside when you leave. A secure boat cover would also help. Out of sight—out of mind!

Outboard motors, especially the larger ones, may be impractical to remove. Adding an outboard motor lock can make them more secure.

Trailerable Boats

Stealing a boat is much easier if a thief can hitch up to your boat on a trailer and drive away. These tips may help.

  • If possible, store the boat and trailer in a locked garage, secured boat-storage facility or mini-storage stall.
  • Boats stored at home may be put in the back or side yard out of sight.
  • Store the boat with the trailer tongue not easily accessible.
  • If storing a boat in an open driveway, carport or open side-lot, park another vehicle or other large object in front of the trailer.
  • Remove one trailer wheel.
  • Store the spare tire in an automobile, truck or secure it to the trailer with a chain and lock.
  • Secure the boat and trailer to a permanent object with a good quality chain and lock.
  • Purchase a good quality trailer hitch lock and use it—even if stored inside.
  • When it is necessary to leave your boat along the shoreline during an extended outing, remove the outboard motor or secure it with a transom lock.

Vessel Security

There are several things that can be done to reduce the risk of vessel theft.

  • Marine Hatch: Marine dealers carry special exterior hatch locks. When fastened with a quality padlock, one of these improves security. Depending on the type of boat, it may be possible to add or substitute hinges for improved security.
  • Forward Hatch: Special interior hatch fasteners, or even a padlock can be added. These should be unlocked when the boat is in use.
  • Windows: For sliding windows, place a length of doweling in the track to prevent the window from being forced open. Locksmiths and hardware dealers also carry a variety of special, small locks and fasteners which can be used to increase the security of other types of windows.

There are many systems which can be installed on boats. Care should be taken to select one designed for marine use—one that is resistant to water, salt and humidity with a reset function.

Report It

If your boat, trailer or gear is missing, report it immediately to the following groups. Use your written and photographic marine record to give specific and complete information.

  • Local law enforcement agencies.
  • Your insurance company.
  • Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
  • The dock or harbormaster.
  • Neighboring boaters.
  • Local newspapers.

When Buying a Boat

  • Be careful when buying a boat because it could be stolen.
  • Be certain that the boat's description on the title matches the boat you are buying. Check year, make, length, and hull identification number.
  • Be sure the model and serial number on an outboard motor have not been removed, tampered with or altered.
  • Be suspicious of a fresh paint job on a late model vessel.
  • When buying a used vessel, try to deal with a reputable marine dealer or a broker licensed by the state.
  • If the price seems too good to be true, there is a good chance that the boat is stolen.