Treasure Coast law enforcement agencies are bracing for a season of thefts they said returns every year.
Thieves are targeting boats, boat motors and electronics.
Deputies in Martin County and St. Lucie County are stepping up efforts to catch and prevent the crimes and teach boat owners how to best protect their investment.
Friday morning, Port St. Lucie police said two boats were stolen, one from the Bass Pro Shops parking lot, and a second boat from a location nearby.
The boat stolen from Bass Pro Shops was recovered in Fort Pierce with missing engines.
The second boat was recovered about 10 miles away. Investigators found the boat while they said three people were working to remove engines from the boat. They ran off and investigators were unable to find them.
"We know every year around this time, this kicks off," Martin County Sheriff's Office Maj. John Budensiek said.
He said thieves try to cash in on the rising demand for boats and equipment during the spring and summer months.
In 2020, Budensiek said Martin County alone had 24 cases of stolen boats or equipment.
"And one case can mean four engines were stolen," Budensiek explained. "They can be repainted, rewrapped. They put fake hull numbers on them. Sometimes they end up in the Bahamas."
Deputies are increasing patrols around marinas, boatyards and HOA storage areas. They are also watching for thieves from the air and staying in touch with neighboring counties, like Palm Beach, St. Lucie and Indian River.
"We're not allowing these criminals to use county lines to defeat us anymore," Budensiek said. "We've broken down the county lines. We communicate well with one another."
The Martin County and St. Lucie County sheriff's offices are also sending out flyers in the mail to the owners of more than 12,000 registered boats in Martin County and more than 14,000 in St. Lucie County with safety tips.
"Letting them know that there's an issue, that this is the time of year to be more vigilant," Budensiek said.
Some of those tips include:
- Store your boat and trailer in a locked garage or storage warehouse with security cameras that have video recording capacity.
- Always use a tongue lock on your trailer hitch.
- If you park it in your driveway, turn the trailer so that the nose faces in rather than out or park a vehicle in front of the trailer so that it makes it harder for a thief to move it.
- Use a high-security chain and quality lock to secure the boat and trailer to a tree, post, or another fixed object.
- If you have an outboard motor, it is a good idea to lock it to the boat.
- If you store or dock your boat, make sure all electronics and fishing gear is either removed or locked up.
- Mark your boat electronics and any personal items using your hull number
- If you mark the trailer, do it on the underside or axle.
- Videotape or photograph all your equipment and keep an updated inventory list.
- Consider putting an alarm on the boat. Make sure the alarm you purchase is specifically designed for marine use.