Gone In 60 Seconds

With trailer theft on the rise, lock it or lose it!

FSF Staff August 5, 2011

Sadly, boat and trailer theft is a serious issue. According to BoatU.S. statistics, approximately 12,000 trailerable boats are stolen annually across the country. Even scarier is the fact that Florida is the epicenter of this crime ring. And don’t think for one second that thieves are only after your vessel—your trailer is worth a pretty penny. While efforts are put forth to recover stolen boats it’s unfortunate that stolen trailers have an extremely low recovery rate. So what measures can you take to ensure the security of your property?

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Imagine returning to the boat ramp with a sunburn and cooler full of fish, only to realize that you no longer have a trailer attached to your tow vehicle. After shouting any number of four letter expletives, you may ask yourself how in the world someone could steal a trailer during broad daylight. The cold hard truth of the matter is that even when locked properly, trailer theft is relatively simple.

While locking devices are obviously essential, the ramp you choose also plays a key role. Choose boat ramps with well-lit parking lots that are regularly patrolled by local law enforcement.

Think about when you pull into a ramp parking lot in preparation of launching your boat for a day of fun in the sun. Would you look twice if you noticed two guys casually moving a trailer from one vehicle to another? Unless you spotted bolt cutters you probably wouldn’t think too much of the situation, especially once you see the two bikini clad college girls launching their wave runners. They may need your assistance.

Expert thieves are often so gutsy that law-abiding citizens wouldn’t ever think any illegal activity was occurring. The bottom line is that thieves are out there and your trailer surely isn’t the first trailer they’ve stolen. You need to take the necessary precautions to make sure your trailer—with or without boat—is as difficult and inconvenient to steal as possible. Even the best trailer locks aren’t 100% theft-proof, but combine several deterrents and your trailer will certainly be less attractive than those that aren’t properly secured.

The right place to start is with a hitch receiver lock. Get into the habit of leaving it on permanently to eliminate the theft of your ball mount when your trailer isn’t in tow. Without this lock, thieves can simply deploy the trailer jack, slide back the trailer and quickly insert it into a different receiver on a waiting vehicle.

Next is a lock for the trailer’s coupler latch. This will prevent thieves from simply hitching up to your trailer and driving off with it. Both of the aforementioned locks should be made of high-strength, hardened metal and include pick-resistant locking mechanisms. Nevertheless, these devices are only deterrents. Given enough time, a thief could easily unbolt your tow ball. With the help of your trailer jack the ball will rise out of the ball mount, where a prepared thief could easily attach it to a waiting getaway vehicle. Exceptions obviously exist with triple axle trailers that are difficult to move, but the most commonly stolen trailers and boats are small to mid size. A pair of desperate thieves can quickly move a trailer carrying a flats skiff, bay boat or small center console.

While locking pins and coupler locks will somewhat protect your investment when connected to your tow vehicle, you’ll need a bit more when your trailer is left unattended. This is likely the most attractive time for thieves, as your boat will likely be included in the package. This is why it’s an absolute necessity for all trailer boaters to have a specialized coupler lock that features a precise fit into the ball socket on your trailer tongue. Numerous options exist, but again this is no place to save a buck. Sadly, this challenge, too, has been overcome. Professional thieves show up well prepared with contraptions designed to latch onto and pull locked trailers. They’ll even unbolt your tongue and replace it altogether. Once in a secluded alley or warehouse, an acetylene torch removes any locking device in seconds.

Trailer wheel locks are quite possibly the best option. Here you have two options. The simplest deterrent is to lock a heavy-duty cable or thick chain through one of the trailer’s wheels and around the axle and trailer frame. An even better option is to purchase a locking wheel clamp device similar to a bright yellow or orange boot used for parking enforcement. Always attach the device to the driver’s side of the trailer so it’s clearly visible.

While locking devices are obviously essential, the ramp you choose also plays a key role. Choose boat ramps that are busy with well-lit parking lots that are regularly patrolled by local law enforcement. Ramps monitored by security cameras are also favored.

If your trailer’s permanent park ing spot is in your driveway, there are a few steps you can take to make theft difficult. Store your trailer where it’s the least visible to passing traffic, and if at all possible NEVER leave your tongue facing the street. Also, chain your trailer to a nearby tree or fence.

It’s sad, but regardless of how many deterrents you employ, if crooks are serious about stealing your property they will likely find a way to do so. Given enough time no locking device is impenetrable, and thieves seem to be getting more desperate as the years pass by. Nevertheless, taking the above precautions will certainly reduce your risk of becoming a statistic.

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