stolen boat

WaterLine photo by Capt. Cayle Wills

The aftermath of the theft: A naked outboard with no connections.

Over the years, I have written a couple of columns about securing your boat from theft. We’re going to talk about it again because it has hit close to home this time. Very close. Actually, right at home.

My boat was stolen out of my driveway last week in an attempt to steal the motor. I have always said two very important things in my past columns: First, if they want it, they’ll take it. And second, it’s not a matter of if — it’s when.

My boat was stolen at 2 a.m. Monday, Aug. 19. Two boats were stolen from my Ridge Harbor neighborhood that night. I was awakened by my wife at 7:30 a.m. on her way to work asking if I let someone borrow the boat. The theft of my boat was a failure on several levels, few of which I feel are really mine.

Every once in a while I actually follow my own advice. My trailer and boat were parked in my driveway with my truck and my wife’s car. Whoever gets home last parks diagonally in the driveway blocking in the boat. That morning, my truck was in the front yard. We had gone on a bike ride at one of our state parks the day before and I had to unload the bikes from the truck. This, I feel, was my only failure.

The boat sits 5 feet from a street light. Evil doesn’t like the light. My trailer had two tongue locks: A basic lock to keep the tongue from opening and a larger lock that actually goes in the tongue. That lock has a half-inch steel bar that wraps around the tongue to keep it from being opened. Between the light and the locks, it has always been enough to make thieves look elsewhere.

And that has been the point of all my other security columns. Keep it secure enough to make them look at easier thefts. They were bold enough and had the right equipment to quietly cut both locks off the trailer from under the street light.

The neighbor across the street saw it happen. Her husband followed the water trail left on the street by my boat as far as he could, then he went to work. Nothing was said until that morning when the wife discovered the empty spot where the boat was supposed to be.

Now, if the neighbor had simply knocked on my door and woken me up after they left, I could have stopped both motors from being stolen because both boats were found exactly where I told the police they would be, up Washington Loop in a field. That’s where I looked that morning, and it’s exactly where I would have looked that night.

My response was simple. “Are you freaking kidding me?” If you see something strange, report it. A few months ago, half of Punta Gorda was shut down because someone reported what looked like a woman walking down the street with a rifle. That’s not even illegal, I might add, but half the town came to a stop.

I would also like to mention that both boats were stolen from under the noses of our neighborhood watch.

While the investigators were doing their job, the son of the man who leases that field stopped and told the investigators that he saw headlights in the field at 2 a.m. when he drove a buddy home. He told his father this in the morning.

Wait. Stop. You saw headlights in a locked field — one that only your father has the key to, one that only your father has permission to be in. And you knew your father was sleeping in bed. Yet you waited until the morning to say something?

Again, failure. If it had been reported, this bit of intel could’ve had the police there in time to stop the thefts and catch the thieves red-handed.

The father said he was awakened around 2 a.m. by his dogs barking at the fence where the boats were ultimately found. His response was to simply go out on the back porch and tell the dogs to shut up.

That’s four stages this could have been stopped. Four stages the ball was dropped.

I was lucky. My motor wasn’t taken. The thieves cut the connections and removed all the nuts from the bolts that hold the motor on — it just wouldn’t come off. Galvanic corrosion from dissimilar metals between the motor mount and the wedge plate that I run has that motor stuck to the plate. The investigators said that something must’ve scared them off.

I put two of the nuts back on a couple of threads and shook the motor. It should’ve fallen off. It didn’t. When I bought this motor, we had to remove the old one with a cold chisel and a sledgehammer. Too much noise for thieves.

The other boat’s motor was gone. They didn’t take anything else — no electronics, no trolling motors, nothing but the outboard engine.

I’m now adding wireless cameras to my anti-theft arsenal, ones that record to my local computer. All high definition, all with night vision. If they get me again, I’m gonna get them right back.

While my motor wasn’t stolen (and you can’t imagine the relief I felt pulling up to that field and seeing it still on the back of my boat), plenty of damage was done. The cowling was taken. That’s a $1,400 hit. Everything running to the motor was cut: Power wires, wiring harness from the binnacle, fuel line, hydraulic steering. That’s going to take me some time and a little bit of money to repair.

The cowling is probably the most expensive part of this adventure. I’m looking for a used or damaged one I can repair and repaint. But having a brand-new Yamaha isn’t helping, as it has to be a 2015 or newer to fit. I may repaint the new cowling to look like a Mercury. Nobody steals those … At least I managed to keep my sense of humor through all this.

The lesson learned here? I think you already know, but I’ll say it anyway. Do what you can to keep your boat from being stolen — but if they want it, they’ll take it. And it’s not a matter of if, it’s when.

Capt. Cayle Wills owns and operates Bad Fish Charters on Charlotte Harbor. Contact him at 941-916-4538 or Capt.Cayle@ReelBadFish.com. You can also visit him online at ReelBadFish.com or Facebook.com/BadFishCharters.

Capt. Cayle Wills owns and operates Bad Fish Charters on Charlotte Harbor. Contact him at 941-916-4538 or Capt.Cayle@ReelBadFish.com. You can also visit him online at ReelBadFish.com or Facebook.com/BadFishCharters.

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