Marine equipment thefts continue to plague Florida

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The theft of outboard motors and electronics is an industry problem we don’t talk about much, but we should. That’s the position of the Marine Industry Association of Southwest Florida as it convened a special one-day forum to address thefts.

The meeting drew industry and law enforcement officials from dozens of communities along Florida’s west coast.

“We don’t know if it’s a national problem,” said Good Event Management president John Good, whose company administers all SWFMIA operations, “but it’s a growing problem in Florida and it’s a priority for our association to address. It’s costing dealers a fortune. Not just in lost products and damaged property, but for all the security measures that also cost time and money. Like, many dealers now face removing and storing lower units and electronics — more labor expense.”

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So it’s no surprise the nearly 50 industry attendees at the forum included dealers, outboard motor representatives, electronics dealers and suppliers, marina operators and marine insurance reps, among others.

From law enforcement, more than 40 officials from 13 different agencies were in attendance. It’s believed to be the largest multiagency gathering ever held to examine the problem of marine equipment thefts. These included: U.S. Coast Guard; U.S. Customs & Border Patrol; Florida Fish & Wildlife; Florida Highway Patrol; sheriff’s departments from Sarasota County, Charlotte County, Manatee County and Lee County; and the police departments from Fort Myers, Sarasota, Cape Coral, Longboat Key and Venice.

Law enforcement agencies led the first part of the forum. For example, Lee County sheriff Mike Scott appointed detective Tim Galloway, a very experienced boater and a Coast Guard veteran, as a full-time detective for boating related crime. Galloway is thought to be the first detective in Florida solely dedicated to boating issues.

He described the well-publicized case of a stolen triple-engine Invincible Open Fisherman that was pursued from Fort Myers to the edge of Cuban waters on Christmas Eve in 2015. Supported by intel from local agencies, the pursuit covered nearly 360 miles in the Gulf of Mexico involving local law enforcement assets, Coast Guard vessels and aircraft, and a tracking device on board.

Galloway highlighted the importance of all law enforcement being aware of this problem. It was notable, for example, that the Florida Highway Patrol was attending the forum to learn about the problem and be better able to watch for suspicious boats and trucks on the road. Indeed, a highway trooper recently pulled over an old truck pulling a new boat that turned out to be stolen.

A briefing by Global Ocean Security Technologies (GOST) that manufactures satellite tracking systems was also included. It was noted that many insurance companies are now either considering or requiring tracking systems on boats with three or more engines sold in Florida.

 Officer Tim Galloway addresses the forum.

Officer Tim Galloway addresses the forum.

The interaction between industry and law enforcement attendees was outstanding,” Good said. “Many ideas were exchanged on protecting property, for example, using video camera(s) and their strategic placement; lighting; cabling systems; and boat placement on the property (best not to place all high end boats together).”

Of special note was the assistance of representatives from Yamaha, Mercury, and Suzuki. Most law enforcement attendees said this was the first time they were able to discuss with experts things like serial numbers and ways to identify lower units and gear cases. The reps also took away a list of possible actions manufacturers could consider from the law enforcement attendees.

Like a plot in a movie, the Boat House (Naples, Port Charlotte) had a boat stolen the very evening of last week’s forum. And last weekend Kevin Sherburne at HWH Electronics in St. Petersburg Beach reported an area boatyard was hit and seven boats lost electronics.

Meanwhile, another dealer in Clearwater, equipped with video surveillance, recorded thieves stealing two Yamaha 300s and the lower units off two adjacent 350s. Sadly, the video did not capture the license plate of the van used, which police say was likely stolen. But it illustrates the importance of camera placement and the risk of placing boats in a way that makes it easier for thieves to work on multiple boats at the same time.

A salute, then, to the SWFMIA for its determination to tackle a tough problem and make a difference for its members. Continuing to monitor these incidents and drawing members and law enforcement agencies closer to the problem and solutions, exemplifies the kind of positive contributions made by marine trade associations. It’s why every dealer, indeed every marine business, should be a member of their local MTA.

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