by Robert A. Gardner, CPP

It hasn't reached epidemic proportions yet, but crime is a growing threat to recreational boating. Theft of boats and expensive hardware and electronics is increasing. Less serious crime, like petty theft and random vandalism, is even more prevalent.

Marine crime prevention, like home or business crime prevention, is mostly a matter of anticipating potential risks and eliminating them. Most crimes occur when a criminal finds a safe and easy opportunity to strike. Remove the opportunity and you usually prevent the crime. Even in the high-risk settings, aggressive prevention makes successful attacks unlikely.

Anticipating risk can be as simple as talking to your marina neighbors. In most cases, a chat with fellow boaters and marina officials will give a good idea of local security problems.

Providing secure facilities should be a basic responsibility of marina management. Protection can be achieved through a combination of security policies, controlled access, observation and user awareness.

Access to boats should be limited only to owners and other authorized individuals. The general public should never permitted unescorted access. Locked gates and other barriers to both foot and vehicle traffic should be installed at every dock entrance. Signs clearly stating marina regulations and access limits should be posted prominently. Appropriate lighting should be provided for nighttime observation at access points and on docks.

Responsibility for enforcement of access restrictions should lie primarily with marina officials. At large facilities this may include law enforcement or trained, professional security personnel. Even small marinas should always have someone available to observe and protect boats.

An established marina security program doesn't relieve boaters of responsibility for their own protection. All unusual or suspicious persons and activities and violations of marina rules must be immediately reported. Overall security can be enhanced by forming a "Marina Watch". This is styled after the "Neighborhood Watch" programs used in residential areas.

By getting to know your dockside neighbors, you can more readily recognize suspicious activity and people who don't belong. Just knowing that marina management and users are alert and willing to get involved is enough to deter most criminals.

The "Neighborhood Watch" concept of target hardening also applies to boats and storage lockers. Boats should be covered and secured as completely as hull designs permit. Ignition switches should be locked and additional steps such as installing a hidden fuel shut-off and removing the motor parts should be considered. When possible valuable and easily removed items should be secured below deck in a locked compartment. Lockers should be equipped with non-removable hasps and hinges and secured with strong padlocks.

Alarm systems should also be considered. Self-contained systems used in conjunction with alert neighbors and active security patrols are effective deterrents. Be sure to choose a system specifically designed for boating use. The ever damp, constantly moving marine environment demands an alarm with carefully chosen sensors and properly protected electronics. Systems not designed for marine use will be prone to malfunction and false alarms. Remember to include smoke detectors or other appropriate fire sensors in the system.

When a loss occurs, the ability to positively identify property is crucial to its recovery and to prosecution of thieves and dealers in stolen goods. "Operation Identification" is another "Neighborhood Watch" program applicable to marine security. Serial numbers of all individually identifiable parts and equipment are recorded. When a loss is reported to police, serial numbers are entered into the National Crime Information Center's computerized stolen property file. This information is then directly available to police departments in the United States and Canada. Police agencies in other parts of the world may also receive stolen property information through international law enforcement networks.

Property without serial numbers should be prominently engraved with the owners state Driver's License or Identification number. Recovered property can be traced to the owner through state motor vehicle records. Hidden numbers, secret or coded numbers and Social Security numbers that are not associated with state vehicle records should be avoided. Hidden numbers may be missed, secret or coded numbers will probably be meaningless to police officers and difficult to trace back to the owner. Information about the holder of a social security number is considered confidential by the government and may be difficult or impossible for even law enforcement agencies to obtain.

Insurance is an important part of any protection plan. Unfortunately, it's sometimes seen as a substitute for security precautions. True, insurance may replace stolen property and repair damage. But, there is usually a deductible that must be met and there are intangibles that insurance doesn't cover. Down time, inconvenience and aggravation normally aren't compensated. Finally, insurance companies don't like losses. Just one claim can result in increased rates and a loss history will probably result in cancellation. Even when no claims have been filed, using a facility with a poor crime history can result in prohibitively high premiums or denial of coverage.

For most of us, basic, common sense security measures provide enough protection. But, if you are a public figure, a corporate executive or very wealthy you face some unique threats. Members of these high-risk groups, and their families, are often targets for robbery, extortion and kidnap for ransom. Achieving acceptable levels of security when facing these kinds of risks requires careful planning and special precautions. This is especially true onboard a boat. On the water you are extremely vulnerable to attack from all directions, including below. In addition to all the standard security measures, a careful inspection of the boat - above and below the water line - each time you go aboard and a very good communications system are the absolute minimum in necessary added precautions.

Proper planning and common sense can keep boating safe and crime free. Additional information on boating crime prevention can usually be obtained from local police departments, the Harbormaster's Office and the Coast Guard. If you are in the high-risk category, ask your corporate security department for help or contact a security consultant who specializes in personal protection. In some cities, the police department's crime prevention or special operations units may also be able to provide some assistance.

Copyright © 1995 by Robert A. Gardner, CPP
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