Local News

Watercraft hot items among thieves in Florida

—One out of every four watercraft reported stolen last year was in Florida, and the most pinched item was the personal watercraft, such as a Jet Ski, a report released recently states.

Of the 5,537 watercraft thefts reported in 2013, 1,310 were from the Sunshine State, making it the state with the highest number of thefts of Jet Skis, runabouts, cruisers, sailboats and boat equipment, states the National Insurance Crime Bureau, a nonprofit group that prevents and detects insurance fraud and vehicle theft.

Personal watercraft thefts were followed by runabouts, boat utility items such as trailers, cruisers and even 44 sailboats, the reports states.

The top five manufacturers of the stolen items were: Yamaha (555), Bombardier Corp. (522), Kawasaki Motors Manufacturing (166), Alumacraft Boat Co. (114) and Tracker Marine LP (111).

“Most thefts occurred during the spring and summer months with July recording the highest number with 691,” the report adds. “February recorded the fewest with 260.”

While watercraft theft, especially that of Jet Ski-type watercraft, is reported in Highlands County, it’s not a big problem, law enforcement officers say.

“We do run some cases,” said Highlands County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Nell Hays.

About a year ago, local marinas were hit by robbers, said Lake Placid’s Performance Marine General Manager Mike Whitaker, whose business was targeted, too.

“They did some damage,” he added.

It appears a ring of thieves traveling around the state stealing parts for resale may have been involved, said Lake Placid Police Chief James Fansler.

The majority of the boat part thefts took place just outside Lake Placid, Fansler said. “We did, however, have a few attempts,” he said.

Fansler said the Lake Placid area doesn’t have a big problem with theft of personal watercraft.

“There have been items stolen from residential boat docks such as poles and other fishing gear,” he added. “My best advice would be to lock up what you can and not leave anything outside that can be easily stolen. If the boat dock has the ability to lift the boat out of the water, it may deter a would-be thief.”

Boater Steve Fox said he keeps his pontoon boat stored in a secured boat storage lot at Golf Hammock. He also uses a lock on the hitch.

He had a couple of fire extinguishers go missing. He now keeps them stored out of sight. “You have to keep things out of sight,” he said.

Jay Carnes was pulling his bass boat in the Veterans Beach parking lot Thursday. Carnes keeps his boat in his car port and makes sure his boat trailer’s “tongue,” which hitches to his truck, is locked.

Carnes retired about a year ago from the sheriff’s office as a detention deputy and said while watercraft thefts are reported it’s not a big problem locally. His advice to people is to be watchful of their surroundings.

Hays advises people to put a lock on their boat trailer. Typically, Jet Skis are placed on a trailer and thieves cut the chain, she said.

“Keep them out of plain sight if possible,” she said.

Hays has done courtesy home inspections for folks and found keys still in locks when the items were not in use.

“Taking the keys out would be a nice touch,” she added.

Whitaker said they sell locks and alarms to prevent thefts. He advises people to lock the trailer wheel.

Sometimes, thieves steal the whole unit; sometimes, it’s the motors, stereos, or other parts.

However, “if they want it bad enough, they will get them,” he added.

NICB has the following recommendations to prevent watercraft theft:

When you dock it, lock it and secure it to the dock with a steel cable

Remove expensive equipment when not in use

Chain and lock detachable motors to the boat

Do not leave title or registration papers in the craft

Disable the craft by shutting fuel lines or removing batteries

Use a trailer hitch lock after parking a boat on its trailer

Install a kill switch in the ignition system