To Catch a Thief

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Law enforcement and insurers are seeing growing incidents of outboard and electronics thefts that originally started as a South Florida phenomenon and are now happening up and down the East Coast and west to Texas and beyond.

“Each year, marinas, boatyards and dealerships are suffering what now amounts to hundreds of thousands of dollars in thefts,” says Dan Rutherford, director of claims and risk management for Maritime Program Group, a One80 Intermediaries company that insures marine facilities nationwide.

Rutherford cites Lt. Nancy Alvarez of the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office in Florida, who reports that organized thieves are targeting boat storage yards for high-end GPS units (mainly Garmin) and 4-stroke outboards (mostly Yamaha). She adds that there are no jurisdictional boundaries confining these crimes.

The thieves are sophisticated and conduct countersurveillance on businesses and boats. Marinas and dealers should be alert to subjects posing as potential customers or subjects taking photos while walking through the marina. Marinas should also be alert to suspicious vehicles in their parking lots or neighboring properties.

The thieves don’t discriminate; they hit customer boats and new inventory. So what can you do to protect yourself and your customers? Of course, we want our marinas and dealerships to be enjoyable, attractive, open and not looking like a fortress. Unfortunately, that’s what the criminals want, too. While chain-link fencing is often customary, it’s no barrier to a thief intent on gaining access. Bolt cutters are in every crook’s tool bag.

Actually, here’s what they love, according to Rutherford: a fenced-in property that is dark, out of site from a well-traveled roadway, not patrolled, and filled with millions of dollars of high-value boats with the latest electronics and outboards. And indoor rack storage buildings are not immune.

If the building is not locked and lit (inside and out) 24/7 with security cameras and motion detection, it’s a petri dish waiting for the bacteria to arrive, Rutherford says. “Surveillance cameras are strongly encouraged, with data-storage plans,” he says. “The problem with just having a security camera without motion detection is that a video of some dirt bag in a hoodie and sneakers doesn’t get law enforcement any closer to identifying a suspect after the theft has occurred. Motion detection is the key.”

What Are Your Responsibilities?

What can you do if your dealership falls victim? Here is Rutherford’s initial checklist:

1. Contact the local police or jurisdictional authority.

2. Do not clean up or touch anything.

3. Don’t let your staff walk through the area or disturb evidence in any way until law enforcement has cleared the scene or released it to you.

4. If your customers’ boats have been hit, notify each as soon as possible and advise them to notify their insurance carrier.

5. Tell them they should individually file a police report.

6. They should also gather any information they have to identify the stolen property — such as the model and serial number — and provide it to law enforcement.

But are you responsible? This is where your insurance comes into play. If the loss is your own inventory or your business’s personal property and you have insurance coverage, you’re fine. You probably will feel awful that this happened to your customers, but you generally aren’t responsible for their losses.

“When you take in the property of others and charge them a fee for rack storage, dockage, repairs, yard storage, et cetera, you are creating a bailment,” he says. “That bailment is usually one for mutual benefit — you benefit by getting paid for the service, and your customer benefits from that same service, i.e., getting a place to store and service the boat.”

Your second defense is making sure you have no uninsured boat owners in the first place. Uninsured boat owners are your worst nightmare. Everything that happens to their boat is your responsibility, according to Rutherford. That’s because they have nowhere else to turn but your insurance policy. Some boat owners insure for liability only (P&I), and that’s fine, but it will not cover them for theft or physical damage. Beware.

Perhaps most important is having signage and exculpatory language in your storage, dockage and repair contracts. No property of others should ever be on your property and in your care unless you have a signed agreement that clearly outlines responsibilities. And with today’s increasing number of thefts, it’s more important than ever that you carefully rev

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