Preventing Boat Theft

Boat and marine theft is big business and has become a problem nationwide. Millions of dollars in insurance claims are made each year due to the theft of boats, motors, trailers, and an array of associated equipment.


What Thieves Like & How They Work

Favorite Targets:

  • Boats under 20 feet long
  • Personal watercraft (SeaDoos, jet skis)
  • Boats easily transported and stored

Favorite Times:

  • Before daybreak
  • Just before sunset
  • Mondays or after long holiday weekends
  • During the "off-season


You Should Know Your Vessel & Keep Records

Know what you have on board:

  • Make a list of everything normally kept on the boat motor, radio, depth sounder, trolling motor, etc. Include: model numbers, serial numbers, manufacturers' names, and written descriptions. If possible, photograph these items and keep them in your special file.
  • Does your insurance cover your equipment as well as your boat? Find out.
  • Engrave/mark your boat and equipment with your driver's license number.
  • Use a waterproof, permanent marker to write your name on sails, personal flotation devices, chairs, cushions, fishing tackle and other loose items.

Keep a record of:

The Hull Identification Number (HIN). The HIN consists of a series of 12 letters and numbers unbroken by spaces or dashes. All boats commercially built since November, 1972 have a unique HIN. The series of numbers and letters is usually found on the back of the boat on the starboard side. What your boat looks like. Photograph or video your boat from different angles. Include the registration and HIN numbers. Record the boat's color, make and model.
Tennessee requires the registration numbers to be displayed on the forward part of the hull of the boat. Make sure the information about your boat matches the information on your registration certificate, especially the HIN.
Keep these records in a special file such as a safety deposit box with other important personal documents.


Protecting Your Boat From Thieves

  • Get the strongest locks and chains available.
  • Doors: Replace spring-latch locks with deadbolt locks or strong hasps and padlocks.
  • Outboard Motors: Secure with special clamping locks and transom bolts (sold by marine dealers). Hatches: Install hinges on the inside of hatch covers when possible.
  • Windows and Portholes: Add small locks and fasteners. Place dowels in the tracks of sliding windows and doors.
  • Consider adding a boat alarm.
  • Take equipment home when possible.
  • Make or buy a security locker to stow equipment when not in use.
  • Never leave keys in the ignition.
  • Install a master power switch in a hidden location.
  • Install a gas line lock to prevent a thief from fueling the boat from his or her own tank.

If you trailer your boat:

  • Lock it to the trailer
  • Lock the trailer to a tree or post
  • Keep out of sight, in a fenced area or inside a storage building
  • Remove a wheel from the trailer
  • Use a trailer hitch lock
  • Record the serial, make, and model number of the trailer and store with other important documents

If you keep your boat at a marina:

  • Install good lighting
  • Start a "marina watch" organization


What To Do In Case of Theft

Immediately notify:

  • Local police
  • If at a marina, notify the owner or harbor master
  • Written notification to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency
  • Provide your HIN, registration and serial numbers to the local police. Ask that this information be given to the National Crime Information Center computer
  • Call your insurance company


Buying a Boat?

Ask to see the boat's registration. Compare the description and HIN number to the boat itself

Be suspicious if:

  • The HIN seems to have been tampered with (paint color differs or any sign of alteration)
  • The registration describes a "home-made" boat, but the boat is clearly factory-made
  • Serial numbers on equipment are missing or appear to have been altered
  • The price is incredibly low