Secure at Sea: Theft-proofing a yacht in yard takes planning

Apr 28, 2019 by Corey D. Ranslem

Secure@Sea: by Corey Ranslem

Theft of materials from a yacht during a yard period actually happens more than most people think. When I started doing research for this column, I was surprised by the amount of theft that takes place during yard periods for boats across the entire marine industry.  

Theft of shipyard materials is fairly common in the industry, with most of those thefts taking place in larger shipyards where cargo ships and cruise liners are serviced. However, there are cases where high-dollar items have been stolen from large yachts during yard periods. Fortunately, those thefts aren’t as common, but when they do happen, they can be very costly to the owner, and sometimes set a refit project back depending on what was taken.

Most large yacht builders and shipyards have good security that includes security officers (both static and roving patrols), electronic monitoring and, in some areas, access control. Electronics are always a popular item for thieves, whether the boat is in the shipyard or docked within a marina.

I did a column a few months ago about vessel thefts. South Florida ranks as one of the top locations in the United States for vessel thefts, however, it is much harder to track the statistics for thefts of items from a vessel. There is not one clearing house for that type of data.  Law enforcement response to thefts of items from vessels is typically through local jurisdictions, and each jurisdiction tracks those thefts statistics differently.

So how do we protect our vessel while we are in short- and long-term yard periods? There are two major areas of consideration. First, the security protections and reputation of the shipyard should be considered. This is a big industry, but it is small when it comes to what happens within the industry. Messages don’t take long to travel through this proverbial industry “grape-vine” when there is a problem, especially with a shipyard. Second, it is a good idea to have a plan in place of how to protect the vessel.

Security within a shipyard varies by yard. Some have great security, and others are marginal at best. When looking at shipyards for repairs there are some security considerations that shouldn’t be overlooked. First, what type of security force does that yard employ? Are they in-house personnel or contract? Typically, in-house security personnel are better trained and know the yard better than contract or outside security.

With the physical security, consider what type of electronic protection systems are in place. Does the shipyard have adequate lighting?  Is there a CCTV system, and does this system cover the critical areas of the yard, including the docks and work areas? Does the yard have some type of physical or electronic access control system to protect entry points and locations within the shipyard where high value items are stored? Does the yard track contractors and ensure they have the proper insurance?

It is also a good idea to ask other captains about their experience with the security in the yard and any potential problems or areas to avoid. Even with the best security personnel and systems in place, there is no guarantee that thefts won’t occur.

Next it is a good idea to have a plan in place for the vessel. Depending on the type and extent or work, consider removing all valuable items and putting those items in a secure storage, whether it is inside or outside the yard.  

Most vessels have security cameras and an access control system in place. Try to keep these systems operational during the yard period if possible. If not, make sure there is a good physical access control system in place, and always know who is coming onboard and why. Unfortunately, most thefts occur from contractors coming onboard, especially when the level of security is perceived as low and any electronic systems are offline.

Corey Ranslem, CEO at International Maritime Security Associates (, has more than 24 years of combined Coast Guard and maritime industry experience. Comments are welcome below.