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Tips on keeping your dinghy and outboard safe

by Commuter Cruiser 30 Jan 12:17 UTC
Keeping your dinghy safe © Commuter Cruiser

Unfortunately dinghy theft is on the rise everywhere! Most cruising boats don't have the option to simply put the dinghy in the garage like you would the family car. And thieves are getting bolder and more innovative every season we cruise.

Thieves are usually not interested in an inflatable dinghy. They want the outboard motor. When we first started commuter cruising 10 years ago, most dinghy thefts were specifically for Yamaha 15 hp outboards, but lately it seems they have expanded to all but the very smallest outboards.

Keep in mind, the fishermen and others living on many islands that cruisers visit simply don't have the financial ability to buy a good outboard. Most fishermen and others you meet are honest, but there are always a few bad apples, just as in any society. Thievery is always more prevalent during holiday seasons — particularly Semana Santa (Easter) week and around Christmas. Depending on the country, Semana Santa is often a bigger holiday than Christmas.

With these facts in mind, here are our tips to keep your dinghy safe.

1. The number one time thieves take dinghies is overnight. Lately, there are reports of dinghies being stolen from davits and hanging from the hip. The thieves ghost up to your boat in the middle of the night, snip the davit or halyard lines and the next thing you year is a thump and then a vvvrrrooommm as the outboard panga speeds away with your dinghy!

They are not interested in your inflatable. Inflatables are often found slashed and sunk or half sunk not far from the theft site.

You can always buy an outboard. It is next to impossible to buy an inflatable dinghy in many cruising grounds. So if your dinghy and outboard are stolen, you can replace the outboard almost anywhere, but you can't always replace the inflatable. Not having an inflatable can be a terrible inconvenience while you're out cruising!

These facts lend credence to separating your inflatable from your outboard nightly. It takes us literally 5 minutes longer in the morning and in the evening to put our outboard on the rail and lock it securely than to hoist it on our normal hang it from the hip arrangement. Where we're concerned about dinghy theft, we do it every night.

We also lock both the outboard and the dinghy securely to the boat. If they do snip the halyard that the inflatable is hanging from on the hip of the boat, they'll also have to reach and cut the heavy duty cable. We like to think that amount of effort would at least make enough noise right outside our pullman berth to wake us.

To get to the outboard locked to the rail, a would be thief would almost need to get in the cockpit, which to our knowledge, no one has tried... yet.

2. If you want to keep it, lock it all the time, not just overnight. Make sure the lock and the chain or cable are not easily cut with hand tools. It makes little sense to lock a dinghy with a cable easily snippable with a pair of wire cutters. Lock it to the dock when you go ashore, lock it to the boat when you're just downstairs for a nap during the middle of the day, lock it anytime it will be out of your sight for a bit. This may seem extreme, but once you get used to it, it's not a big deal.

3. With gas prices soaring, lately gasoline has become a target as well as the outboard. Locking the gas tank into the dinghy helps prevent a would be thief from going down a line of dinghies at a dinghy dock and lifting several gas cans at once!

There are many different types of locks and cables/chain available. Probably a determined thief could cut every type, but the more difficult it is, the less they'll be inclined to try. We have some friends that as an additional safety measure wrap a 5/16 chain around and around the outboard locked to the rail – the chain may not be locking anything, but it sure looks imposing from the water!

A friend was anchored close to us in Roatan one night. They didn't believe in hoisting their dinghy and just had it tied to the back of their boat. Our friend got up in the early early morning hours and happened to be sitting in his cockpit in the early morning dark when some thieves untied his dinghy and began to drift off. He stood up, arms on hips and yelled in his gravely booming voice... "BRING THAT BACK HERE"! Surprisingly enough, they did, they apologized and he never had trouble with his dinghy again! Personally, I wouldn't rely on that tactic to keep my dinghy safe, but it worked for them!

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