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Outboard motor theft continues to rise

The New Year saw the unrelenting crime wave of outboard motor theft continue, with around one motor a day being stolen on average in January, according to joint insurance and police theft register stolenboats.org.uk. This follows what was also a very active December for thieves and the latest loss registers show the vast majority of UK marine thefts are now of outboard motors. Recovering stolen motors is often extremely difficult and success rates are low. This is born out by recovery registers that show a disappointingly small number of engines are being restored to their owners.

The primary reasons for the continued increase of this trend are twofold. The first is because outboard motors, which are obviously designed to be detachable, are relatively simple to steal especially compared with integral motors. The second is because outboard motors can be high value items, which are expensive to acquire legitimately and this opportunity and incentive is what is driving this trend and the thieves.

The latest theft data highlights a trend that has in fact been growing over the past five years and is one that is now becoming a major problem. Large and highly organised gangs are behind the majority of these thefts that steal outboard motors to order. Sophisticated and extremely determined, these gangs often target motors with values ranging between £8- £15,000 in order to smuggle them out of the country. Some reports suggest that many are finding their way into Eastern Europe. Outboard motors in this value range are in the medium to large category, which also shows how utterly undeterred thieves are by their physical bulk and sheer weight in their pursuit of these high value units. Generally thefts tend to occur in areas where there are large accumulations of boats with outboards, for example marinas and boating clubs, however the problem is nationwide and does not just affect isolated regions. In 2013 outboard motor theft was among the top 10 marine insurance claims of the year and the trend is showing no sign of slowing.

Owners of outboard motors therefore face a great challenge in protecting their property against organised criminals that are targeting these engines on a wholesale basis. Clearly defeating thieves that are determined and well organised is not easy but it can and is being done. One thing marine loss databases do not show are the number of failed attempts by thieves that have been thwarted by resolute owners who have taken preventative measures. So what measures can be taken in order to protect outboard motors from theft?

The first step owners should take is to ensure the most secure and suitable anti theft device for their particular engine and boat is installed. In some local constabularies police have introduced branded engine covers which are fitted instead of the standard factory supplied cowling. This acts as a deterrent as a thief would then be forced to buy a new cowling, thereby drawing attention to themselves and arousing suspicion. Any engine that can be removed easily is an obvious target for thieves and, given the growing scale of the problem, many owners are deciding to fit more than one anti-theft device. Obviously the more visibly secure an engine is, the less likely it is that a thief will attempt to take it. Given the poor rates of recovery success, prevention is definitely better than cure and not only for this reason but also because if a loss does occur it may affect the price of future insurance premiums.

Owners should also ensure that their insurance policy wording relating to anti-theft devices are complied with in full to avoid the possibility of a claim being invalidated due to failure to comply with all policy wordings. Owners should further ensure that all serial numbers are recorded as this information will be required by insurers and the police in the event of a theft. It is also worth bearing in mind that claims made on marine policies for outboard motors are paid on an indemnity basis as unfortunately there is no provision or entitlement to a new-for-old settlement.

Further security measures include marking the engine somewhere with your own unique mark such as a post code and also taking photographs. Technological advances in recent years have made motion-activated surveillance cameras (MASC) very discrete and inexpensive to buy and install. These automatically photograph and/or record any movement and wireless cameras have made surveillance possible in remote areas where it was not in the past. There are a range of general purpose MASC’s that can be used although not all will have adjustable sensitivity or be suitable to mount directly on a boat, although these may be suitable for shore mounted use. There are also a range of marine specific infra-red, solar powered and time-lapse video security cameras available. When storing a boat ashore consideration should be given to general security, such as lighting and ensuring that recorded CCTV covers the appropriate part of the yard being used.

Boat and yard owners should also be vigilant, particularly during autumn and winter months when dark nights begin to set in. Finally there is some evidence of smaller engines being stolen from boats while they are afloat, so a collective effort is required by all concerned to be observant and alert and to report any suspicious activity immediately to the police. As awareness of the rise of outboard motor thefts increases among owners and clubs so steps are being taken to make thieves think twice before they strike. The above are all sound measures individuals can take to prevent theft. However, given the depth and scale of the problem, local collaboration between club members, boat owners, other waterway users, insurance advisors and the police is the kind of effort now required to produce a robust response to this worsening problem.