We were savoring a meal of fresh mahi-mahi with new friends and soaking up the quirky backpacker atmosphere of the Caribbean beach town we planned to explore the following morning. Winterlude, our Passport 37, was anchored less than 100 yards away, just out of view. After lingering over one last rum punch, we dinghied back out to our boat in time to catch the last rays of the setting sun over the picture-perfect anchorage.
After tying off our dinghy astern, I boarded the boat and started down the companionway hatch. Then I stopped and stared at the empty navigation desk where our laptop had been. The list of missing items grew as we went through the boat. Finally we came upon the screen that was dangling from the hatch over the Pullman berth. We knew immediately that we’d allowed ourselves to become victims of petty thieves.
Fortunately, most thefts from boats, wherever they occur, are perpetrated by random opportunists. You can tilt the odds in your favor by securing access points to your boat’s interior and changing your habits to make it much harder for others to remove gear from your boat.
If you want to keep it, put it away or lock it up. Go over all items on deck, and store below or in a secure locker anything that could be removed quickly by a thief. Those things you should keep on deck, like containers of gas for the dinghy, should be locked to a strong point on the boat.
Get local knowledge. Local VHF or SSB radio nets can provide information about safety issues and places to avoid. Even if there is no formal net, there may be a VHF frequency (other than channel 16) that is being used by cruisers.
Don’t discuss your plans on VHF. Avoid broadcasting information you don’t want to make public, such as when you’ll be going ashore, because it lets any listener know when your boat will be unattanded. Always assume your cruising friends aren’t the only ones listening.
Lock when you leave. Lock all hatches and the companionway. And check the companionway hatch: Is it sturdy enough to resist a hard kick? Could your lock be cut with a pair of common cable cutters? If so, correct the situation.
Hide your valuables. We remove all our electronics from their usual locations before we go ashore. My laptop is hidden in a drybag, and I store our camera, cellphone, camcorder, iPod, and cash out of sight. I store the same gear in the same place every time to make sure I can find it.
Leave a light on. Lights make it appear that the boat is occupied. Leaving a radio on helps, too. In locations where opportunity thefts are likely, the more questions you raise in a prospective thief’s mind, the less chance there is that your boat will become a target.
Leave the anchor light on. Some cruisers I know have installed a motion-detector alarm in the cockpit; others have mounted a flashing red light by the companionway. The light isn’t connected to anything, but a would-be thief won’t know that. We have a Mega Light utility light (davisnet.com) in the cockpit, and we often leave it on. Alarms are available that turn on lights, make a noise, or both.