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Who's looking out for your boat when your not there?

Over 72 million Americans participated in recreational boating in 2003 on the estimated 17 million recreational boats in the United States. For many Americans, the investment in their vessel ranks along with their homes and automobiles. However, unlike homes and automobiles, most boat owners only spend a fraction of their time on their vessel which creates a few areas of serious concern; burglary and damage reporting.

Burglary and vandalism are crimes of opportunity. Criminals know that boats are frequently left unattended for long periods of time, making them an easy target for burglary and vandalism. Imagine showing up at your boat on a beautiful Saturday morning looking forward to a great day on the water only to find out that all the possession you stored on your vessel were stolen or that your boat has been seriously damaged, criminally or otherwise. That beautiful day just turned ugly very quickly. This is when you realize that, unlike your home or car, your boat is quite vulnerable without you there to protect it.

Crime prevention is a national crisis for boat owners all across the United States. What can boat owners do to alleviate this problem? A neighborhood watch style program would be a great start - fellow boat owners could then practice techniques for observing and reporting malicious activity. Unlike a neighborhood watch program though, concerned citizens can’t just knock on your boat door to inform you of theft or stolen property from your vessel. They can report it to local law enforcement, but there are some unique challenges with that:

Can local law enforcement get in contact with you?

If your vessel is registered, the local authorities will have access to your address, however, boat owners do not submit a phone number when registering their vessels. Herein lies the problem: law enforcement can only contact you in person or by mail and if you are not at your registered address or if that address is far away from you vessel, it could take days or weeks for you to be reached.

If a fellow boater noticed damage or suspicious activity on or around your vessel, would you find out?

Many boaters will make the good will gesture of reporting suspicious activity or criminal damage to local law enforcement; however, this leaves you back at square one when it comes to getting that information to you in a timely fashion. If a fellow boater notices damage or activity they do not perceive as criminal, there is virtually no chance that information will be passed on to you. People will call the police to report criminal activity but seldom report an incident otherwise.

What can be done about these issues?

There is an organization offering a service that addresses these issues for boat owners across America. Boat Watch USA has developed a National Boat Registry where boat owners provide (1) information about their vessel; (2) contact address and phone number, and (3) how and when to contact them. Boat Watch USA is a private, third-party intermediary for boat owners, and the personal information they keep for owner’s is not publicly accessible. When law agencies and concerned citizens want to report damage and criminal activity; they (1) call a toll-free hotline and, (2) report the incident using the unique vessel ID number. Both the hotline and vessel ID # are located on the Boat Watch USA decal the vessel owner affixes to their boat. Then, when an incident is reported, Boat Watch USA matches the vessel ID number to the contact person and reports the incident according to the owners preset directions.

Boat Watch USA has also developed neighborhood watch style program called "Boat Watch." This is a public awareness campaign to educate vessel owners on crime awareness and the Boat Watch USA reporting methods. Boat Watch USA is also working to certify "Boat Watch USA Authorized" marinas and storage facilities that comply with the "Boat Watch" program.

About the Author

Marc Eskew is a managing partner of Boat Watch USA, L.L.C. Boat Watch USA’s mission is to generate crime awareness campaigns and a timely reporting system for criminal activity and non-criminal damage to vessels for boaters throughout the United States. For more information, please visit www.BoatWatchUSA.com.

Marc Eskew