Anyone who has ever had a personal watercraft stolen knows there is nothing quite like that initial moment when you first realize your prized water toy is gone and probably gone for good. The increasing popularity of PWC’s and their ease of transport make them a tempting target for thieves. The following are some anti-theft tips gleaned from many sources.

General Precautions and Documentation of Your Pride and Joy

Take pictures of your watercraft for identification purposes. (Dale’s Jet Sports customers can skip this step since they always keep wallet sized photos on their person)

Take pictures of the engine compartment, Hull Identification Number (HIN), PWC trailer and any unique identifying features of your PWC.

As an alternative to photos, grab the video camera and make an identification video of your ride, trailer and accessories. (This serves two purposes: 1. documenting the overall condition of the craft for insurance purposes and providing visual evidence for possible recovery if stolen and 2. it will make a great home movie when it’s too cold to venture out on the water).

Write down the hull identification, trailer ID, state registration and engine serial numbers and keep them in your tow vehicle’s glove compartment for quick access. Make copies of the registration, insurance and purchase invoice (if available) and keep one in the tow vehicle and one securely nestled at home. You will need these numbers to provide to law enforcement authorities in the sad event your PWC is stolen.

Mark your territory! Engrave a unique identifying number in several places including the trailer. Police departments often suggest using your drivers’ license number and state abbreviation. Also, consider using an indelible ultra violet pen (invisible to the naked eye but shows up under ultraviolet light) to mark key components.

General Anti-Theft Tips

Tip: Do everything possible to make stealing your PWC a MAJOR hassle for a thief. If it requires too much work, causes too much noise or draws unwarranted public attention, they will move on to easier prey.

PWC on the Water

If possible, never leave your watercraft unattended. If you must leave the watercraft (to investigate sightings of food or females) consider chaining the PWC to a dock or other immovable object.

NEVER leave the lanyard attached to the PWC or attached to the life vest sitting on top of the PWC. Take the lanyard with you!

Consider purchasing a waterproof battery disconnect switch. Even if a thief has the lanyard they will enjoy endless frustration trying to start the powerless PWC. Some battery quick disconnects such as the Hella Products PN 87181 provide a removable key (when switched to the OFF position.) Battery disconnects are also handy for off season storage. Note: certain makes of Sea-Doos experience an electrical drain even when lanyard is removed and a battery disconnect can extend battery life.

PWC on the Trailer

Time to invest in some high quality pick and drill-proof trailer locks! The keyword here is “invest” – avoid purchasing cheap locks. PWC trailer locks you should consider include a coupler latch lock to secure the coupler onto the ball while it’s attached to your tow vehicle, a coupler lock for unattended trailers, a receiver lock to lock the draw bar in the receiver, a bow pin lock to secure your watercraft to the trailer and finally a trailer anti-theft wheel lock.

If you need to leave your prized PWC for an extended period of time and don’t have a trailer wheel lock or a large attack dog to chain to it, simply remove a trailer tire. Tip: Place a locking lug nut on the lug bolt of the trailer to prevent a wheel from being put on the trailer.

Invest in a heavy gauge steel wire cable lock (sometimes called contractor grade cable locks) and lock the PWC onto the trailer. Be sure to use a vinyl coated cable to avoid scratching the paint job. PWC racers have been known to go to great lengths to secure their watercraft including: running the cable through the wheels into the engine compartment, under the drive shaft and through the trailer frame.

When Traveling with your PWC

When you park your PWC for the night at a hotel, look for a secure location with good lighting. Ask the hotel if they have parking lot security cameras and park accordingly. If you’re traveling in two vehicles have your buddy park his car close behind your trailer.

If you have’t yet acquired any friends, park the trailer facing your motel door. If it’s late evening (or no one is watching) chain the trailer to any large immovable objects you may find nearby. Try to keep slack in the chain to a minimum and never place the lock where it can touch the ground and easily be pounded with a hammer.

Note: hotel staff members do tend to express mild displeasure when you park in the portico and chain your watercraft to the granite pillars. (Well what would you have done? It was at 3AM on the South side of Houston with brand new Sea-Doo in tow!)

Consider purchasing a motion sensor alarm for the tow vehicle if not so equipped.

Always make sure the tow vehicle is locked. Don’t leave it parked on the street.

Keep the craft covered. Tip: certain persons (who shall remain nameless) have even resorted to advanced camouflage tactics such as installing a faded out TigerShark cover on their PWC while traveling.

Extended PWC Storage

Keep the watercraft out of sight, preferably inside a garage or behind a locked gate. If the craft must be stored in the open cover it with a non conspicuous cover or tarp. Even if its inside a garage, chain it to an immovable object. If you have automatic garage door openers consider deactivating them while you are out of town or away for extended periods.

If persons of questionable moral fortitude express an interest in your ride simply reply with a long sigh and “oh THAT THING? It needs a major engine overhaul”

For longer term off season storage remove the trailer wheels and remember to install a coupler lock. Place a locking lug nut on the lug bolt of the trailer to prevent a wheel from being put on the trailer. Store the spare tire out of sight in a garage or car trunk.

If the craft is stored outdoors (back yard, carport, driveway, etc.) consider installing a cemented ground anchor to secure your case hardened Mega Chain or cable lock. Anchoring methods can vary from the simple U bolt to flush mounted anchors such as the spiffy Y anchor (www.yanchor.com)

Razor wire fencing, security lighting and motion sensor lights may also help discourage would-be thieves. Consider purchasing four legged security AKA the PWC watch dog.

If your craft is stored in an open driveway or yard, install a trailer anti-theft wheel lock, turn the trailer so the hitch is inaccessible and/or park another vehicle in front of the trailer. If you own multiple craft, park them facing each other and chain the trailers together.

If you live on a lake and theft via water is a possibility, remove the battery or otherwise disable the watercraft.

‘Purchasing Used Watercraft & Parts’

The final part of personal watercraft theft prevention involves reducing the market for stolen boats, engines and parts. Since thieves are generally looking to make a fast buck and not keep the craft for recreational purposes, it is incumbent on all buyers of used PWC’s and parts to be wary of the growing problem of stolen watercraft.

Remember: If the deal seems too good to be true…

Always check to be sure the Hull Identification Number (HIN) matches the HIN on the registration and that the tag hasn’t been tampered with. Look for signs the watercraft has been repainted or has missing registration numbers. Never purchase a watercraft if the seller is unable to produce a title or proof of ownership.

Ask the seller about the PWC’s history, ownership and registration. Ask a question only a PWC owner would know if the craft is premix, ask about the oil injection system or if its oil injected ask about the recommended premix ratio. Get a feel for the person by asking where they like to ride, where they get the PWC serviced, why they are selling, what they are going to buy next, how much does insurance cost, etc.

Be extremely wary of online auction sites. If the seller is located in another state, ask for a picture of the Hull Identification Number, ask for a physical address, phone number and email and then verify the information. Side Note: exercise additional caution with international sellers since many are just scams. Look for tell tale signs such as a seller in Australia but the PWC picture has a Texas registration number, the registration number is obscured or missing, seller offers free shipping from the UK, and of course prices that are too good to be true. If you notice questionable auction items, inform the auction site.

If you suspect fraud, report it to authorities.

Finally, remember to lobby your representatives to make personal watercraft theft a capital crime punishable by death! But until that momentous day arrives always make sure your insurance is paid up.