There are plenty of victims of boat theft. The first and most obvious is the aggrieved owner. They have typically worked long and hard for their boat and have poured plenty of time, effort and money into accessorising and maintaining it. When they discover it’s gone, their loss is the greatest and hardest to deal with.
But then there are all the ‘collateral’ victims. There’s a good chance the stolen craft was bought for the family. Whether a fishing or cruising rig, there are partners and children who now miss out on valuable family time together out on the water. They can be left with a gaping hole in their recreational lives, with only memories to fill the gap.
Unless, of course, the boat is insured. Then, at least, there is compensation in the form of a financial payout or replacement to cover the loss.
Another often-overlooked victim is the innocent person who purchases the stolen craft. Authorities say many craft are stolen and on-sold to often legitimate, though unaware buyers. Sometimes they are marine dealers, other times they are buyers responding to classified ads. If the stolen boat is eventually identified, the law says it must be returned to its lawful owner, which can either be the original theft victim or the insurance company. In either case, the duped buyer has no recourse to recover their original purchase price. Another victim; another person hurt by the crime.
But there are even more victims. Hundreds of thousands of victims. You see, each and every stolen boat contributes to insurance premiums we pay each year to protect our investments. The more boats stolen – and the number of reported thefts is on the increase across Australia and New Zealand – the higher the premiums go.
And, ultimately, we are all victims. Every boat stolen wastes time and resources across a broad spectrum of industries and government authorities as people work to recover the boat and track down and prosecute those at fault.
The ‘Drop Anchor on Marine Crime’ conference, held earlier this year in Brisbane, highlighted what has become a major concern for the marine industry and authorities, with record incidents of boat theft being reported in most jurisdictions. Trailer craft, in particular, are targets – although anything from PWCs to large, luxury cruisers are being taken – and many boats are never recovered.
Conference delegates were told that as anti-theft measures in cars become more sophisticated and harder to neutralise, organised crime gangs are turning to boats as a comparatively cheap and easy alternative. And the critical issue is that boats are far easier to rebirth, and thus sell on.
All new cars have, for many years, been required to have a unique VIN (Vehicle Identification Number), which is applied by the manufacturer and recorded by authorities when they are first registered. This is not the case with boats.
However, I am pleased to report that moves are now afoot to tighten this loophole. Working with representatives from various industries, including other insurance companies, boat manufacturers and industry bodies, Club Marine is aiming to establish a national stolen boat register with a web portal. The aim is to allow police, insurers and theft victims to list, identify and ultimately recover stolen craft.
Discussions have already taken place about the mechanics of the database and how best to set it up and run it. One important aspect underpinning this initiative is how best to unify boat identification processes across states. Currently, each new craft carries a HIN (Hull Identification Number) – a marine equivalent of the VIN. This is a relatively recent innovation in Australia, with many older craft having no means of unique identification. But crucially, most registration authorities do not require this number when registering a new or rebirthed boat. This is one issue our new national working group hopes to resolve as we work towards making the thieves’ unholy work more difficult and less profitable.
"On a more pleasant note, spring is now upon us and the boating season will soon be in full swing. I look forward to catching up with some of you somewhere on the water over the coming months.
Meanwhile, safe boating.
CEO and Publisher,