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Theft Proof Your Yacht

Studies show that the end of boating season—when fewer people are present in areas where yachts are kept—is prime time for thieves. Here’s how to batten down the hatches and keep your yacht and its contents safe and secure.


In many parts of the country, yachties are buttoning up their boats for the winter. As you prepare your yacht for hibernation, there are a few extra steps you can take to protect your yacht and its contents from prowlers. Read on for expert tips on how to make your vessel less vulnerable…


  • Lock the door. Many yacht owners fail to do this, mostly because, over time, salt air has a tendency to stiffen manufacturers’ locks, making it difficult to rotate the key. But an unattended, unlocked yacht is an open invitation for invasion—and lubrication can help loosen the lock and make it easier to use.
  • Never leave a key on board—even in a “hidden place.” Thieves typically know all the hiding places. Even when a tech pulls a dock cart up to a yacht, everyone in the marina can see where a key is stashed—and some prying eyes may not belong to fellow boat owners.
  • Leave a spare key with the dock office in case of a break-in or other emergency. Many leave keys with the marina’s administrative offices, which are often closed on weekends. Dock offices, on the other hand, operate daily, open earlier and close later.
  • Should your yacht need servicing while you’re away, alert the dock office to add your service personnel to their approved vendor list. That way, all technicians will be required to check in and out of the dock office.
  • Secure dinghies to the mother boat, preferably using a cradle that requires a powered davit to lift and lower the dinghy. Disconnect the power to the davit. This creates a major hurdle for thieves.

The outboard is another issue. If it’s small and lightweight, it may be unscrewed and hand-carried off the boat by a thief. The easiest method of securing the dingy outboard is to use a marine-designed U channel to slide over the outboard thumbscrews and lock it. This prevents anyone from unscrewing the thumbscrews and removing the motor. If the dinghy is in the water, use a long cable with a marine grade combination lock to secure the dinghy to the mother boat swim platform. You should also have a painter to secure the dinghy.

  • Draw curtains to avoid “window shopping” by potential thieves.

Note: If you’re selling your yacht, avoid placing a “For Sale” sign on it. This gives thieves an excuse to snoop around without drawing suspicion.


  • Permanently mark or engrave all of your equipment, electronics, and personal valuables you use regularly on your yacht with your state driver’s license number. No other number can be easily accessed by law enforcement and enable them to contact you if stolen property is recovered. Many sailors make the mistake of marking items with their vessel’s hull identification number (HIN), but there is no national database for HINs. Only the DMV has it all.
  • Post a business card with your name and cell phone number aboard your yacht where neighbors can see it. That way, if they notice anything suspicious, or a break-in occurs when the dock office is closed, they can contact you directly.


  • Installed items like the GPS, chartplotter, radar and TVs usually will not be stolen because they are too difficult to remove.  But when leaving your yacht unattended for long periods like the winter, remove as many pricey personal items—pop-out stereos, binoculars, hand-held GPS devices, rods and reels, and any other items a thief could stow in a bag and sell quickly. Instead, store these in a safe place at home during the off-season.


  • Make a complete inventory of your yacht and equipment. List all electronic gear, outboard motors, PFDs, dinghies, fishing equipment, etc. by brand, model, and serial numbers if available. Keep this master inventory list at home in a safe place. Also keep a copy for reference on board in a hidden spot—in case you find something missing.
  • Photograph or videotape the interior or exterior of your yacht and showcase all installed equipment and additional gear. Photos are the best route to take, since it will be easier for a claims adjustor to enlarge these. Store these photos or footage in a safe place—not on your vessel. 


  • An alarm system offers some help in deterring thieves, particularly if you place alarm system decals where they can easily be seen. Crime statistics reveal that thieves will usually pass up a yacht that appears to be well guarded. Just be sure to choose an alarm system specifically designed for proper marine use, so it will be able to withstand a damp and constantly moving environment. Systems not designed for marine use have been shown to report false alarms, have a higher tendency to malfunction, and a shorter lifespan.
  • Keep in mind that if your yacht is in dry dock, an alarm may never be heard, and if it’s docked in a marina, the alarm may be ignored (just like the majority of today’s car alarms) until it stops. Your safer bet is to invest in a vessel monitoring system that will call, text, or email you every time your yacht’s door opens, a window is opened, or the bilge pump operates. Best of all, if the entire yacht is stolen, a GPS tracker will follow your boat, thus increasing the chances of a full recovery.


If your yacht is stored at a marina during the off season, be sure that:

  • Locked gates and other barriers to both pedestrian and vehicle traffic are installed at every dock entrance.
  • Signs that clearly state marina regulations and access limits are posted
  • Access to yachts is limited only to owners and other authorized personnel.
  • Good lighting and security cameras are focused on access points and boat docks.

Make plans to visit your yacht frequently, or make arrangements with someone else (dockmaster, family, friends) to check your vessel. Be sure the dock office has your cell phone number, vessel name and slip number—and that all the contact information the marina has for you is up to date. Also provide back-up cell phone numbers they can call in case a break-in occurs and you need to be reached quickly.



If you are a victim of marine theft, report your loss immediately to your local law enforcement agency—and, if on federal waters, to the U.S. Coast Guard. Also call the Pantaenius 24-hour claims hotline at 913-381-4286, or use our app.

Information provided by Captain Chris Caldwell, formerly with the Sherriff Office’s Search and Rescue Unit in St. Charles Parrish, Louisiana. Chris is currently the owner of Captain Chris Yacht Services, LLC, and can be reached by phone at 772.205.1859, online at www.captainchrisyachtservices.com, or via email at chris@captainchrisyachtservices.com

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