Ever felt the sickening, heart-wrenching shock that comes with the realisation that your boat has been stolen? It’s the emptiness of the moment when you know that someone has made off with your pride and joy. And it’s normally followed by feelings of impotence, rage and anger – and a little later the sense of loss that you no longer have the option of enjoying your time out on the water with family and friends. Here at Club Marine, we deal with hundreds of clients a year who endure this devastating experience, so we are intimately aware of how theft can affect boat owners.
So, with no sign of a significant reduction in boat theft in Australia, it is timely that one Australian company has come up with a product designed to make boat thieves’ lives a lot harder.
DataDot was formed after it discovered microdot technology, originally developed by the military for espionage purposes, could enhance the identification of high-value assets that appeal to thieves. By marking items with their own unique ‘DataDotDNA’, DataDot reasoned they could be directly traced back to their original maker or owner.
DataDotDNA can be applied on a wide range of assets. Almost invisible to the naked eye, DataDotDNA – consisting of thousands of tiny microdots (about the size of a grain of sand) – is laser etched with the boat’s Hull Identification Number (HIN) or personal DNA, such as a driver’s licence or passport number, which are easy for police to trace. The microdots are suspended in a clear-drying, UV-traceable adhesive and can be read using 30x magnification under a UV light. The dots are applied to covert or overt areas of the boat, thus providing a fail-safe means of proof of ownership. Removal of all the dots is virtually impossible, so that merely having the DataDotDNA applied to your boat or belongings is a potent deterrent for potential thieves. A ‘Protected by DataDotDNA’ decal displayed in a prominent area helps reinforce the message. Only one dot is needed for police to track the boat or item back to its original owner.
DataDot maintains a national register of all DNA data, such as HINs or personal identification information used on each individual customer’s dots, so that police and insurance companies can immediately access the data to confirm legal ownership.
DataDot offers various DataDotDNA Marine Kits that allow owners to protect boats, trailers, outboards and accessories, such as fishing gear. The DataDot Anti-Theft Marine Spray Kit is available through nominated marine dealers who are trained to apply the DataDots. It incorporates a patented spray process that applies up to 5000 dots throughout the boat, including component parts, accessories, motor and trailer. RRP is $325. The Anti-Theft Kit for Outboards is supplied direct to outboard manufacturers, including Bombardier (Evinrude outboards and Sea-Doo PWCs) and Tohatsu, who then distribute the kits to owners once they have purchased engines (and PWCs in the case of Bombardier). Owners then apply the Datadots themselves. DataDot says it is hopeful that more manufacturers will be joining its OE program in the near future.
A third option is the Club Marine Accessory DataDotDNA Kit, which is intended for use on boating accessories, such as fishing tackle, electronics etc. (See Club Marine bonus policy protection sidebar for full details).
DataDotDNA technology has already been quickly adopted by the automotive industry. Car manufacturers such as BMW, Mini, Holden Special Vehicles, Ford Performance Vehicles, Subaru, Porsche, Audi and Mitsubishi Ralliart now spray DataDots containing Vehicle Identification Numbers (VINs) on almost all major components of their new models, such as the engine and gearbox, which can then be traced to the current registered owner
DataDot’s Simon Jackson says the technology is now becoming standard within the automotive industry. And he has the stats to prove it. With support from the National Motor Vehicle Theft Reduction Council, the system was first introduced to the automotive industry in 2001. Since then the theft rates of all brands protected by DataDot have dropped significantly. For instance, Subaru saw its stolen, non-recovered theft rate drop by 92 per cent after only 17 months and after two-and-a-half years, HSV’s rate dropped by 78 per cent, while BMW’s fell by 67 per cent.
With car theft becoming increasingly difficult, thieves have turned their attention to relatively easier targets, such as boats. As a result, the rate of vessel theft and rebirthing has escalated. The extent of this alarming trend became apparent when, in 2002, the NSW Water Police uncovered a boat theft and rebirthing racket that had been operating successfully undetected for some time. ‘Operation Tindari’ uncovered more than $200,000 worth of stolen personal water craft and police laid more than 30 charges against the offenders.
The racket was revealed when police found that a PWC, which had undergone the DataDot process, did not display a current hull Boatcode number that was registered with NSW Waterways. After searching the PWC, police discovered that an attempt to remove all of the microdots had failed and one remaining microdot revealed the true identity of the craft.
Realising the rate of vessel theft and rebirthing was extensive, the Police Marine Area Command then launched ‘Operation Tingchow,’ targeting thefts of boats valued at more than $10,000 within the areas of Newcastle/Central Coast, Sydney and Wollongong. The operation quickly recovered more than $500,000 worth of stolen vessels.
The marine industry decided to address the growing cost of vessel theft to not only the industry, but also the government and community at the National Crime Forum. As a result, vital partnerships were established and the Vessel Theft Reduction Task Force was formed to identify key issues arising from the forum, such as the need to explore identification technologies utilised in related industries.
Having seen the successful application of DataDotDNA within the automotive industry, marine manufacturers and importers saw a way to provide customers with peace of mind. Southwind Marine Products was the first Australian boat builder to include HIN dots on all its models manufactured from August, 2002.
The following year saw many other industry players such as Seafarer, Haines Signature and Traveller, Yamaha, Mustang Pleasure Boats and Haines Hunter also adopt the technology and DataDot was awarded the AMIF New and Innovative Product of the Year.
The NSW Water Police was one of the first organisations to acknowledge DataDotDNA technology as a positive step towards property identification and even had the technology applied to its own fleet of vessels and valuable inventory. The organisation’s first encounter with DataDot technology came about when officers discovered DataDotDNA on the engine of a suspected stolen outboard. Police were then able to confirm the engine’s true identity and returned it intact to its owner. Since then, microdot technology has become a potent tool for police in their efforts to identify and recover boats and parts and return them to their owners.
Commander of the NSW Property Crime Squad in the State Crime Command, Detective Superintendent Ken McKay says the use of products like DataDot has had a major effect on recovery and conviction rates for stolen boats.
“Microdot technology, or whole-of-vessel marking as we refer to it, enhances our capabilities to not only identify stolen boats and parts, but also makes it easier for us to get convictions and lock up the crooks,” he said.
“When a vessel is stolen, it is so easy to rebirth or re-identify it. But microdot technology means that we can at least identify a stolen boat quickly. It means we don’t have to invest too much time or resources on investigations. Also, if a vessel has a sticker on it confirming that it has undergone whole-of-vessel marking, it’s a very potent deterrent.
“If I had my way, people wouldn’t be able to register boats unless they had first undergone whole-of-vessel marking. I fully endorse whole-of-vessel marking.”