Defense Mechanisms

Anti-Theft and Tracking Devices for Your Boat

February 2, 2013
boat security

boat security

Deter Thieves with electronic fences or tracking. Capt. Tim Simos /

Anglers can protect their vessels and gear from theft by taking precautions and adding locks. But those who want even more peace of mind might opt for an electronic system. Such systems can be as simple as an ignition block or as intricate as a virtual fence.

Several companies offer tracking options similar to the LoJack products for cars. Others have created various ingenious add-ons that include strobe lights and “cloaking” devices that emit a cloud of nontoxic fog into the wheelhouse or salon. These systems can also signal low battery voltage and detect smoke or water intrusion.

The Odds

| |Mercury Marine’s Theft Detterent System.|


As with home security, protecting a boat primarily means deterring criminals — showing thieves they’ll encounter trouble if they target your vessel. The system you pick depends on your budget and level of comfort, which can also depend on where you live.

A total of 6,070 watercraft were reported stolen in the United States in 2011, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau. That number reflects an 8 percent decline from 6,663 thefts in 2010 and a 19 percent drop since 2009 (7,485 thefts). But those are thefts reported to the National Crime Information Center. The numbers do not include unreported thefts, records that lacked a hull ­identification number, or theft of parts or gear.

The states with the highest theft rates? Florida, California and Texas. Florida’s theft rate climbed through this past decade to a peak of 1,913 in 2009 but has dropped in the past two years, according to the NICB reports. Worst Florida cities for boat crime? Miami (by a mile!), Fort Lauderdale, Marathon and Tampa.


First Defense

| |SPOT Hug system|

On the water, thieves can’t easily take your vessel if you disable the ignition system. Companies such as Yamaha and Mercury have designed key-fob-activated controls for many outboard models and some MerCruiser sterndrives. (Similar immobilizers are available for many inboards.) Boaters simply push a button or insert a special key to immobilize the engines.


Yamaha’s Y-COP links the wireless key fobs to an electronic control module that’s plugged into the engine’s instrument harness. The signal then passes to the engine-control module through the wiring. Yamaha says the system also recognizes tampering and locks the engine into a low rpm mode. Prices start at $750 for the system.
With Mercury’s Theft Deterrent System ($685), the boater inserts the blade of a fob into a docking station at the helm to power the vessel. If the fob is not used, the engines will start but operate only at slow speed. A red LED light blinks when the system is armed, similar to a vehicle anti-theft device.

Mercury has also introduced a premium upgrade for TDS with Connected Vessel, a satellite-based boat-tracking system that lets the owner know via e-mail or text message when the vessel moves out of a preset perimeter. The system also monitors battery strength and engine functions, and can relay that information to your dealer. The premium version costs $4,135 with a monthly data fee of $42.50.

Total Protection


| |GOST Cloak emits a thick vapor that reduces visibility to less than a foot in the protected area.|

Companies such as Global Ocean Security Technologies, Siren Marine and SPOT make specialized security products for any vessel. GOST’s products include immobilizers, cloaking devices, acoustic and strobe systems, surveillance cameras, tracking services, security and monitoring services, and all-in-one systems.
GOST’s cloaking device fills the protected area with a cloud of fog made from glycol, a food additive found in toothpaste. It reduces visibility to almost nothing and doesn’t damage or mar surfaces. GOST also offers an acoustic sound bar that hits four separate frequencies, targeting the inner ear, and making it impossible to remain aboard.

Primary systems include Phantom ($3,139), Nav-Tracker ($999) and NT Evolution 2.0 ($4,999) — a hybrid of the first two products. Phantom features wireless security (including door contacts, beam sensors and motion detectors), monitoring with voltage and high-water sensors and smoke detectors, and high-definition surveillance with onboard cameras. The system can call up to eight numbers to alert the owner.

Owners can even call their vessel in advance of a trip to turn on the AC or start the ice maker. Phantom packages can also include tracking and an Internet video recorder. Boaters need to buy a GSM SIM card from AT&T or T-Mobile to communicate with the Phantom security system.

Nav-Tracker offers several levels of tracking using Inmarsat satellite-based communications, and either Web-based controls or text/e-mail contacts. It costs $36 a month. However, tracking systems often reward boaters by reducing their insurance premiums from 10 percent to 15 percent, GOST says.

Sign Up

Siren Marine and SPOT offer security systems for tracking and monitoring that come with additional subscription-based support. Siren’s Pixie ($499) and Sprite ($599) monitor voltage, bilge-water levels, entry points and ambient temperature, and come with a tamper sensor. They also create a virtual geo-fence around the vessel. Subscriptions cost $180 a year or $17.97 a month, and a variety of accessories are available.

SPOT, which has popularized personal satellite messaging, also offers its Hug product, which monitors and tracks your vessel, and can alert a third-party professional for on-water assistance. SPOT’s service also notifies local authorities, and allows users to send OK and SOS messages.

The system costs $449.99. Monitoring costs $149.99 a year; add $49.99 a year for tracking.

Whether fishing takes you to remote locations or you just want protection from ordinary dangers or onboard breakdowns, an immobilizer or monitoring system might save you angst, time and money.

Security Contacts


Fort Lauderdale, Florida


Mercury Marine

Fond du Lac, Wisconsin



Des Plaines, Illinois


Siren Marine

Providence, Rhode Island



Covington, Louisiana


Yamaha Outboards

Kennesaw, Georgia



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