Whitney Beach resident Robert Lyons has had a boat moored at the Whitney Beach Marina for more than a decade.
At least he did until his 2008 ivory Grady-White boat, valued at $251,000, was stolen from its Whitney Beach slip in late August.
The boat, according to a Longboat Key police report, was equipped with a $15,348.91 electronics package and included twin Yamaha 350-horsepower outboard motors.
“I walked down to the dock and it was gone,” Lyons said. “I never had to report any sort of theft at the marina until that morning … it’s very disappointing.”
Lyons was told there has been a rash of boat thefts lately between Naples and Tampa.
In fact, Longboat Key Police crime technician Richard Brey reports that through Sept. 13, five boats have been stolen from docks or lifts on the island, compared to one boat stolen in all of 2008.
“Boat thefts are definitely on the rise this year,” Brey said.
Boat larceny is on the rise, too, with motors and other accessories being swiped from boats docked at Longboat Key marinas.
Last year, Longboat Key police reported seven boat larcenies. Through Sept. 13 of this year, however, Brey reports six boat larcenies and other pending investigations.
David Miller, owner of Cannons Marina, reported that thieves stole the bottom half of an outboard motor on two of his boats last week. The crime cost Miller approximately $4,000 in inventory.
Miller said he is increasing security at the marina to counteract the theft. He has plans to install security cameras on-site later this year.
“The boat crime is worse this year because boats are being stolen and are never found again,” said Miller, who said in past years the stolen boats have been found nearby without their motors. “These guys swiping boats now are pretty smart and pretty bold.”
Although Longboat Key Police Chief Al Hogle reported last week that crime “is way down” on the island in most categories, he admits there is an issue with boat thefts this year.
“We are having a problem with expensive boats being stolen in the area,” said Hogle, who has only one part-time marine patrol officer for the entire island.
Hogle said his department is struggling with a way to counteract the boat-crime wave.
“We can’t use technology like Lojack to track the boats because we can’t pick up the radio-wave transmission once the boat takes off,” Hogle said.
Making matters worse, Hogle said, it’s extremely easy for thieves to grind out a boat’s hull identification number from the fiberglass hull and replace it with a new number.
The police department is encouraging all boat owners, especially those who leave their boats unattended for months at a time, to be mindful of how the boats are secured and keep docks and marinas well-lit.
Hogle suggests residents should have a switch that cuts the electricity to the lift from inside their homes.
But thieves are finding a way to take a boat off the lift regardless.
Country Club Shores resident Al Neumann was out of town in June when someone stole his 2007 30-foot Grady-White boat valued at $150,000, even though the lift’s electricity source was disabled.
The thieves, according to a police report filed June 16, cut the lock to a power box located on a dock piling and plugged in the lift controls to lower the boat into the water.
“These were professional thieves who knew what they were doing,” said Neumann, whose boat was lit well at night.
And, in the city of Sarasota, police reported a $400,000 boat theft six months ago, in which the thieves took bolt cutters to drop the rear end of the boat into the water, then used the boat’s powerful engine to power the boat off the lift.
Said Hogle: “It’s an issue that departments are dealing with along the coast.”
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