Safety & Security

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Thieves Targeting Tournament Boats

20 Oct, 2021

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
Side Effect of the Chip Shortage: Black-Market Sales of Electronic Marine Equipment

When the alarm went off in the early morning hours of October 6, it wasn’t to alert the Florida homeowner about a burglar on his premises – it was a signal that someone had boarded his boat illegally.

The good news: The system worked. The event was captured on a security camera from across the street and it was clear from the footage that two unauthorized individuals climbed on board. Immediately, the system triggered an alarm and strobe, causing the perpetrators to flee. But, say those in the industry, it’s a symptom of a greater problem – and one that may not resolve for some time yet. And it’s affecting at least one sector of the sports tournament industry.

“It appears they were going for the electronic displays,” Brian Kane, chief technology officer for Global Ocean Security Technologies® (GOST), the security system, told Bass Resource. “Preventing marine electronics from being stolen off the boat is now more important than ever before. Given supply chain and chipset shortages, our customers can’t afford the downtime of not being able to safely and efficiently operate their boat for fishing tournaments and leisure trips for what could be many months before stock is available.” 

We all know the chip shortage has resulted in a shortage of cars (new and used) on the market. But that chip shortage is translating into a spike in charter boat break-ins, and fishing event owners should be aware. While such thefts might not occur much at the smaller boat end of the spectrum (bass boats and kayaks are examples), it's the larger vessels, generally used for marine fishing, that are targeted.

In Cape Cod, over two dozen such break-ins were reported in one marina alone, noted the local CBS affilitateAccording to the article, the GPS units, chart plotters, and fish finders are state-of-the art. Some sell for $15,000 or as little as $400. Most boats have them and thieves know it.

In particular, multifunction displays, or MFDs, as they’re known, can turn a quick profit on the black market, and with the proliferation of stolen goods available on the dark web (even frequent flier miles are sold there), many thefts are untraceable.

“MFDs are highly visible, they cost thousands of dollars, and are essentially bolted to their host boats,” Daniel Harper, founder and CEO of Siren Marine, which markets -electronic security and monitoring systems, told reporters at Saltwater Sportsman. In fact, a 16-inch MFD retails for as much as $6,000, and many saltwater fishing boats are equipped with two, three or more.

And, note reporters, the trend toward flush-mounted MFDs is a contributing factor. Though aesthetically pleasing, this installation makes it inconvenient for boat owners to remove electronics for safekeeping.

Mark Reedenauer, president and executive director of the National Marine Electronics Association (NMEA) say the problem is ongoing.

“We’re definitely aware of it. We started hearing about it in 2019, when there were some thefts in pockets in Florida. Then some of our member companies were broken into as well and it was obvious the people were selectively taking the large displays.”

At a meeting during a boat show in 2020 prior to the pandemic, NMEA members voiced their concern and suggested various ways to combat the problem, including having manufacturers allow the owners of such equipment to create passwords, using tamper-proof screws to hold displays in place and other best practices. NMEA ran multiple articles on the issue in its magazine, Marine Electronics Journal.

One theory regarding stolen equipment is that it is being taken out of the country, possibly to South America, and resold there.

Reedenauer says social media has played an important role among boat owners and NMEA members in generating awareness and sharing ideas.

Many boats are broken into while they are docked in a marina; however, others where the fishing season is limited, are soon going to be pulled out of the water, shrink-wrapped and stored in a multi-boat facility – and thieves often see such areas as prime hunting grounds.

“They’re going to boatyards, storage yards and cutting fences, sometimes hopping the fences, they cut the shrink wrap to the boats, they go in and they’re taking GPS units out of boats,” Bourne Police Lt. John McDougall told CBS.

Because almost without exception, charter boat owners do not live on the same premises as their boats and thus, can not guard them, officials are encouraging preventive steps. Covering boats to make it less obvious what equipment is aboard is a good step. Having a security system is becoming incredibly useful. And finally, having a strong insurance policy will help owners in the event of a crime.

Fishing tournament event owners may want to consider ramping up security when a number of boats will be docked in one area during an event. If break-ins have occurred in the area previously, find out if security cameras have been installed, or whether other measures have been taken.

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