Stop Thief

Protect your boat from sticky fingers—and sinkings.

If you, like me, invested a lot of money in your boat and spent many hours getting everything set up just right, then sinking or theft, simply put, sucks. Aside from the inevitable insurance company hassles, you have to look for a new boat, outfit it, replace all the items that you had onboard, and recover from the emotional impact of the loss. In a recent boat security survey taken on www.boatered.com, 96 percent of the respondents didn't own a marine security system, yet only 14 percent said they "didn't see a need for one." Most stated they were likely to buy a marine security system. The results reflect the fact that boat owners recognize the importance of protecting their investment. Plus, it's not unusual for a 25' boat to have $5,000 worth of electronics on board. We are all anxious, of course, to protect our babies from the forces of evil.

With the development of new cell phone technologies and recent rate reductions, a number of companies now offer onboard security systems designed to monitor bilge water levels, bilge pump cycling, and battery strength and to detect fire and intrusions. These systems range from simple alarm triggering to dial-out service to a central monitoring station.

Beacon Marine Security Limited (416/696-7555) has a unit called the HarborMaster Mark II. This system monitors the conditions described above and determines whether the boat is adrift, checks for explosive fumes, and monitors the boat's electrical system. Should an alarm be triggered, the system sounds an audible alarm and dials out, via a cell phone housed within, to a central computer system. The report is then transmitted to up to eight different phone numbers specified by you. These could include pagers, cell phones, friends' homes, the marina office, and so forth. The system also keeps a log of things like bilge pump cycles and battery strength so you can determine if, for example, your pumps have been cycling more than usual, which may enable you to fix a small leak before it gets big. This data, says Beacon, will be accessible on the Web, so you can sit at home while you monitor your boat in the marina. The system also contains a backup battery in case of total electrical failure for additional fail-safe capability. Marine Technologies International (941/272-5800) makes a similar system called the Aqualert, and Sure Action Inc. (800/648-4301) produces Marine Guard 2000.

Some new products also let you protect your slip. Newport Marine Systems (877/850-8824) offers a unit that allows marina security to monitor each vessel in its mooring. Costs run from $1,000 for a basic installation to more than $3,000 for all the bells and whistles. The top end gets nearly every system function monitored and has additional detectors that can determine when someone is walking on the deck. The monitoring charges are an extra $20 to $30 per month.

The next wave, according to experts, will be videocameras mounted fore and aft so you can watch your boat from home. Other technology is here now, however, for boat owners who need a little peace of mind at a reasonable price. And, because of the importance of a security system, I'd suggest that you do your homework before buying: Get references and have all the guarantees in writing. In the meantime, be sensible. Never leave anything valuable out in the open. If possible, remove your electronics from their mounts and place them in lockable stowage. On a fishboat, don't leave your rods in the rocket launchers or under-gunwale holders. If you do, make sure you can lock them in place. Some rod and reel companies build special locks for this purpose, and some boat owners use bike locks. The final tip? Never-ever-leave your keys onboard.