Jun. 15, 2009 – A positive from a negative report

By Jeff Hemmel
Contributing writer
The PWC season is ready to kick into full swing, and with it a surge in PWC theft, according to a recently released report by the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
The bureau is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to preventing, detecting and defeating insurance fraud and vehicle theft through information analysis, investigations, training, legislative advocacy and public awareness.
The report doesn’t hold a lot of good news for the PWC owner. PWC rank No. 1 in terms of type of watercraft stolen by a wide margin. And those that are stolen are recovered less than 50 percent of the time.
Naturally, this is good information for a dealer to share in order to help their customers protect their investment. It also, however, offers a potential new source of profit for dealers that help find a solution.

Just The Facts, Ma’am
The actual report looks at the broader “watercraft” market, including PWC, sailboats, speedboats, powerboats, even rowboats, kayaks and canoes. Data was presented over an approximately three-year time period, spanning from Jan. 1, 2006, through March 31. Watercraft theft and recovery stats were looked at for all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
At first glance, the numbers may seem frighteningly high. Over the time period, a total of 19,854 watercraft were reported stolen. A total of 6,358 were taken in 2006, 6,348 in 2007 and 6,201 in 2008. Through the first three months of 2009, the totals sit at a low 947. But as the report documents, watercraft theft is mostly a seasonal crime. Thefts historically spike in May, June, July and August. Data does reveal a slight decrease in recent years, but the bureau warns the 2.47-percent decrease from ’06-’08 should not be of reassurance.
Dealers should pay attention to the states that have the highest number of thefts. Florida holds the dubious distinction of being No. 1, with the highest total number of watercraft thefts for the period (a whopping 5,426 units). That number is more than twice the next closest state, California, which reported 2,181. The names in the top five are quite familiar, mimicking the states with higher sales. Texas follows Florida and California in the No. 3 spot, with Michigan and North Carolina rounding out the top five.
More disturbing for Floridians is that thefts are definitely on the rise, increasing nearly 32 percent over the period. Every other state in the top 10 experienced a decline, with the exception of North Carolina, which held even.

PWC: The No.1 Target
Perhaps most disturbing is less than half of the watercraft stolen over the time period studied were ever recovered. Though the trend seems to be leaning toward a greater chance of recovery of late, the statistics still reveal only a 45.6 percent rate of recovery on average. In other words, if your customer has his boat stolen, there’s less than a 50-50 chance he’ll ever get it back.
More words of caution? When the type of watercraft is considered, PWC are revealed to be by far the biggest target. Though the report cautions the data does not contain a field to designate watercraft type, researchers were able to positively identify 4,347 records in regards to type of craft. Of that number, 2,462 were determined to be PWC.
Need a little perspective? The next closest contender, kayaks, numbered below 400. The information is obviously incomplete, but as the bureau declares, “may provide a representation of the type of watercraft most likely to be stolen.”
Reasons given for a PWC’s much higher numbers should come as no surprise to dealers or consumers — the craft are relatively small in size, lightweight and easily maneuverable on land, as well as water.
The report singled out Sea-Doo’s D.E.S.S. digitally encoded lanyard system as one of the best deterrents. Older models were noted as particularly vulnerable due to the fact that a cheap, “all-purpose” lanyard could effectively be used to allow any model to start.

Dealer Responsibility
What can the dealer do to educate their customers about theft, and help those customers hang onto their watercraft?
Start by fully explaining the craft’s security system. Proper use will prevent the quick theft of a PWC on the water. Many craft, however, are stolen right with, or off, the trailer. While the lack of a lanyard, remote, key or code may frustrate a thief later, it won’t do anything to prevent the theft. Instead, dealers should sell multiple types of locks, and push their importance. Essentials are a hitch lock to prevent the trailer from easily being stolen off your car or out of your driveway, and cable locks that can thread through the trailer and a secure point on the craft. When parked off the vehicle, lock the trailer in a garage, to a tree or a screw eye in the driveway slab.
Customers also should be encouraged to block in their trailers with another vehicle, or take other steps to make the hitch harder to reach.
To increase chances of recovery, instruct customers to keep photos of the craft with a thorough written inventory of gear, engrave valuable gear with a driver’s license number and always lock their craft when not in use.

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