Your #1 source for kayaking and canoeing information.               FREE Newsletter!
my Profile
Paddling Articles In the Same Boat

There be Pirates…

Foiling 21st-Century Thieves

By Tamia Nelson

September 23, 2003

There be land-rats and water-rats, land-thieves, and water-thieves, — I mean pirates, — and then there is the peril of waters, winds, and rocks.
    Shylock, in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice

If Shylock was a waterman, Shakespeare neglected to mention it. But, waterman or no, the Bard's hard-bargaining moneylender certainly understood the hazards of the waterman's world. Of course, we paddlers know the dangers of rock, wind, and water, too. We don't worry much about pirates, though, and that may be a mistake. Land-thieves and water-thieves are all around us. They slink silently along in the shadows of the night. They saunter by with a wave and a hearty "Hello!" during the day. They lurk around launch-ramps and take-out sites. They haunt suburban residential streets and rural back roads, and they stand next to us in rental outlets and retail stores. Some are calculating pros. Others are opportunistic amateurs. But all of them have one thing in common: they want our kayaks and canoes.

"Property is theft." That was Pierre-Joseph Proudhon's idea, anyway. It's a debatable point. Even Proudhon had second thoughts later in his life. But how about "Property invites theft"? Now there's a proposition that anarchists and capitalists can both embrace, even if they disagree about the remedy. Property attracts pirates. Just ask Shylock.

Canoeists and kayakers aren't immune. Paddling is a high-visibility sport. Good gear is costly. And there's always somebody who wants what you've got. So how do you avoid becoming the next victim? Let's take stock, beginning with the…


A woman's home might be her castle, but no fortress is impregnable. It's best to stack the odds in your favor. How? Well, there's nothing like a moat for keeping the bad guys at arm's length. Of course, you won't be able to build a real moat. (Though that's not such a bad idea for a paddler, is it?) But even a city apartment can boast a virtual moat. Just keep your fleet out of sight of casual passers-by. The temptation to display our toys can be overpowering, to be sure, but it doesn't always pay to advertise. Thieves can't steal what they don't know about, can they?

A privacy fence helps, if you can afford one and if it doesn't fall foul of the local zoning code. Indoor storage is even better, and it protects your boats from the sun's rays, as well. Garage, garden shed, or basement — they can all be pressed into service. Apartment dwellers will have to do a little lateral thinking. I've used a pack canoe as a coffee table, and hung kayaks from my bedroom ceiling. The XL Tripper, however, was a problem.

Under Lock and Key

If you can't hide it, lock it. Better yet, do both. Bicycle cable (or chain) and lock combos work for boats, too. No lock will keep a determined and knowledgeable thief from getting what he wants, obviously, but almost any lock will slow most thieves down. That's often enough, at least in well-traveled areas.

Boats aren't bikes, though. Bikes have steel or aluminum frames. Boats are mostly wood and plastic. (Owners of "Tin Tanks" are shaking their heads and grinning!) Just do the best you can. Canoeists should thread a chain or cable around several thwarts, and then loop it around the rack, or around a porch post or a tree. Kayakers have a harder time. If your kayak has a molded seat, you may be able to thread the cable around one of the seat hangers. If not, you can 'glass or glue an anchor point inside your boat, or fit a through-mounted security loop from a commercial kit. Many sit-on-tops (SOTs) have scuppers (drainage holes) which may allow you to pass a cable.

Want another alternative for a hard-shell kayak? Use a club — a Car Club, to be exact. Span your cockpit with the Club, and lock it in place. Then thread your cable or chain around the Club, and secure your kayak in just the same way that you'd lock a canoe. (CAUTION! The Club must fit very snugly. Even then a strong thief can probably twist it round and pull it free, if she doesn't mind tearing up your cockpit rim in the process. Still, it will slow her down, and that's the whole point.)

Join the Club!

On the Road

More and more paddlers are using trailers. They make a lot of sense, too. They're easy to load and you don't need to worry about getting too much weight too high. But they also create high-value targets of opportunity for canny thieves with trailer hitches. The moral of the story? Lock your boats to your trailer, but don't stop there. Lock the trailer to your vehicle, too. And when you get back home — or any time you leave your trailer at an unattended put-in or take-out — lock the trailer's coupler closed. If you don't, you may someday see your trailer rolling away behind a stranger's car.

But suppose you use a roof rack? While most folks remember to lock their racks, not every paddler locks his boats to his rack. The thieves are grateful. And what if you can't lock your rack to your vehicle? Simply store it inside your car and out of sight whenever it's not in use. Parking lots at put-ins are not crime-free zones. In fact…

Local Knowledge…

Is your most important defense against latter-day pirates. The Chamber of Commerce won't tell you which areas to avoid. Neither, often, will the police. But other paddlers will. Ask. Search the web. Then, when you pull in to the parking area, use your bump of perception. Look around before you leave your car. Do you see fire-rings and broken beer bottles everywhere? Are there bullet-holes in the road signs? Do the trash cans carry messages like "Garbage-Picking is Prohibited by Law"? Is yours the only car with out-of-state plates? If in doubt, doubt — and then park someplace else. Maybe a local outfitter will let you leave your car at his place for a fee. What price peace of mind, after all?

Of course, thieves aren't the only problem. Vandals will sometimes destroy whatever can't be stolen. Beautiful surroundings are no protection, and wilderness areas aren't exempt. Farwell lost a bicycle to vandals on the Battenkill, and friends of ours had a brand-new camper-van hammered into a good imitation of a Cubist metal sculpture at a Missinaibi River put-in. In any case, even if your inner voice is silent, park smart. Don't leave valuables in your vehicle. Don't leave food either. Not all thieves arrive on two legs. Lock your doors — are you sure? — and never leave a spare key in an obvious place. (Yes, bumpers and tires are obvious places!)

Don't leave your gear unattended if you can help it, either. Lots of folks stroll away from their boats, paddles, or PFDs for just a few minutes, only to discover that something is missing when they return. Solo paddlers planning to walk or bike back to their car have a problem. If this describes you, it's best to hide both boat and gear some distance from the take-out, and hope that no one sees you do it. Consider locking your boat to a tree, too, and bring your most valuable items of portable property with you on the trek back to the put-in.

Every Picture Tells a Story

No matter how careful you are, you'll lose something sooner or later, to simple carelessness if not to thieves. Anticipate the day. Write your name inside your PFD, on paddle blades, and on the underside of thwarts or decks. Record the description and Hull Identification Number of every boat you own. Keep copies of purchase receipts and (where required) registration papers. Take pictures or videos of all your gear, being sure to show any identifying marks or idiosyncratic features. Then, if the worst happens, you'll have what you need to report a theft, identify recovered property, or make an insurance claim. Don't assume that your homeowner's or renter's insurance covers your boat and gear, by the way. Read the fine print now, before the need arises, and purchase additional coverage if necessary.

Once the worst does happen, get the word out. Many outfitters will allow you to post a notice on their bulletin boards, and some paddling clubs maintain websites where descriptions of lost or stolen gear can be posted. (Limit the amount of personal information you post publicly, of course.) The odds are against you, but lightning has to strike somewhere, doesn't it? You may get lucky.

In the Bag?

If you live in a high-crime area, or if you don't like the idea of leaving your boat unattended while you shuttle, why not consider the ultimate "stealth" option — an inflatable or a folding boat? These are serious craft, designed for serious paddlers. Folders have been around for almost a century, and today's inflatables are a far cry from the "rubber duckies" of thirty years ago. Between them they can tackle almost any water. Some are even small enough and light enough to carry in a pack with the rest of your gear. There's probably no better solution to the problems of apartment dwellers and amphibious bicycle tourists.


"We go to the woods to smooth it. We get it rough enough at home." So said Nessmuk. (And his long-suffering wife would certainly have agreed.) No paddler likes thinking about the possibility that her boat or gear might be stolen. Still, you can't hide from something by closing your eyes, can you? Crime is a fact of life, and intelligent anticipation is the best defense. So don't make it easy for the pirates. You want to hang on to what you've got, don't you? I thought so!

Copyright 2003 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.

Sponsored Ad:
Follow us on:
Free Newsletter | About Us | Site Map | Advertising Info | Contact Us


©2015 Inc.