It was unlucky for the thief and a stroke of luck for police, but the busting of two highly organised boat reberthing syndicates in Sydney, which had stolen boats worth millions of dollars was more than lucky. It was the result a well-planned and ongoing operation.
Operation Tingchow, mounted by Sydney Maritime Police, has resulted in the arrest and charging of 13 boat thieves and the recovery of 38 trailer boats - some of them belonging to Club Marine members. The boats had been stolen and rebirthed with new paint jobs, given new registration plates and then resold to unsuspecting buyers.
One prospective buyer answered an advertisment for a Bayliner similar to the one that was stolen from outside his home a few months before. He thought the boat looked familiar - it was. It was his own boat the thief was offering him back and at a higher price than he had originally paid for it second-hand.
The thief had swapped the trailer, removed the hull identification number, which established proof of ownership in New South Wales and used a loophole in the Queensland law to register the boat in his own name. The Queensland identifaction tag was fixed to the boat and presented as proof to NSW Waterways that he owned the boat. Waterways then issued him with a boat code number. It was as simple as that. When police arrested the thief he insisted that he was the legal owner on the basis of the registration.
In other cases the Sydney gang members had actually re-stolen boats from unsuspecting buyers and torched them to destroy evidence when they got wind of police interest.
But boat theft is not confined to Sydney. It is happening all over Australia. Trailer boats are particularly targeted because they are easy to steal and easy hide in a workshop or shed until they have been rebirthed.
Although, since the busting of the two Sydney syndicates, high-scale boat theft has dropped. It appears that organised thieves are lying low for a while. But don't be lulled into a false security, the profits are far too attractive and it won't be long before other groups take their place. There is also the opportunist who sees an unsecured rig and the chance of some easy money and simply hooks it up to a vehicle and drives it away.
If you own a trailerable boat it is vulnerable. Don't take the attitude that it will never happen to me - it can. The first step is to fit an anti-theft device to the trailer. Club Marine now requires members who have trailerable boats insured to fit anti-theft devices to their trailers left unattended otherwise an excess of $1000 is applicable if the rig is stolen.
But Club members should also be conscious of where and how they store the rig when not in use. The most vulnerable are those parked in the street outside an owner's home or in an open carport. Boats have been stolen from backyards and even from security garages in high-rise buildings.
There have also been a few cases of families packing up the boat the night before an outing with all their gear and parking it in the driveway or under a carport so that they can get an early start only to find that in the morning it is missing. Boats parked near building sites are also vulnerable. There is so much coming and going of trucks and other vehicles in the area that no one notices someone or a vehicle that should not be there. There have been a number of recorded thefts of boats in these areas.
Selling a boat privately can also have it pitfalls. There have been cases where thieves have answered newspaper advertisements, checked the boat out, and come back that night and stolen it. In another case thieves blatantly rolled up to a private address where they knew a boat was kept and told the owner's wife that they had come to take it to the workshop for service. It was never seen again.
For most people a boat, after their house, is their biggest investment, which they have worked hard for and often have made sacrifices to buy. To lose that investment can have devastating effects on a family. We remember a case a couple of years ago where a ski-boat was stolen from the driveway of a suburban home in Melbourne, in broad daylight. The owners, after some astute detective work of their own, found the boat in a respray shop. The offenders were arrested and the boat returned, but the aftermath on the family had long reaching effects. The couple's two young daughters were so traumatised that they were afraid to sleep in their own beds at night - in case someone came and took them away.
We are not suggesting that you go overboard (pun intended) with the security of your trailer boat. We are saying that you should be aware that boats on trailers are vulnerable. It is no good saying "it won't happen to me" after the boat is gone. Sure it is insured, but that is not the point. At the end of the day you will be worse off, financially and boatless. It might not be that easy to replace the boat with a similar one or one as good as the one you lost.
Fit a security device to the trailer - the small cost is worth it. The device may not stop a professional thief, but it will certainly slow them down and will make an opportunist look for an easier rig to steal. And above all don't leave the rig unattended in the street, at the boat ramp, in the pub car park, or in a position where it is easy to just hook up and drive off with.
Don't make it easy for thieves to steal your pride and joy.