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HomeNL-2017-07 Gear Tip: Canoe Security

Gear Tip: Canoe Security
July 2017
by John Rich
I know at least one Houston Canoe Club member who has had his kayak stolen when he left it strapped to the top of his car overnight in his own driveway. Even president Teddy Roosevelt had a boat stolen. Canoe and kayak theft is such a big problem, that a Facebook Group has sprung up to address the issue.

If you don't want to have a kayak theft happen to you, there is a simple and inexpensive method to secure your canoe from opportunistic thieves. This can prevent a theft in your own driveway, in an overnight motel parking lot, or anywhere else your vehicle might be left unattended. 

  Steel cable
For my needs, I bought a steel cable designed as a bicycle lock. The cable is covered in a layer of clear vinyl so that it is soft and won't scratch surfaces, and has a loop at each end, with the tips secured by a metal swaged fitting. These can be purchased for as little as $10. My cable has a built-in memory coil to it, so that it curls up nice and neat all by itself. This can be annoying when you're actually trying to stretch it out straight, but overall, this feature does more good than bad, as it takes-up whatever slack is present so that it's not flopping around loose.

  Secured to vehicle
  Secured to canoe
I thread one end of the cable through the cleat on the roof of my truck, a very sturdy attachment point which holds the cross bars upon which I mount my canoe. The other end is looped around a thwart or seat inside my canoe. The two ends are brought together, and a padlock is placed through the two cable loops. The padlock is positioned so that it doesn't rattle against the roof of the truck as I drive. This secures the boat to the vehicle with the steel cable and padlock.

A casual thief, who just happens to drive by and thinks he has an easy target of opportunity, will find out otherwise. If you're lucky, he'll notice the lock and realize the job is not a quick and easy score, and just drive away, and you may never even know you almost lost your boat. If the thief doesn't notice the lock, he may untie the tie-down straps or cut them, but as soon as he tries to remove the boat from the roof he will quickly realize it's not going anywhere. And that will probably create a lot of noise which will send him fleeing immediately. Or, he'll need bolt cutters to cut the cable, or tools to disassemble your boat, if he is to continue his contemptible canoe caper.
Anything you can do to slow the pirates down, increases their chances of being detected, and thereby makes them more likely to abandon their plan. Time is their enemy.

While this certainly won't deter well-prepared and determined thieves who come armed with tools to cut steel, it will certainly deter casual thieves who just happen to think on the spur of the moment that they can make a quick score. And since replacing a canoe can cost you a thousand dollars or more, securing it for under $20 is a wise investment.

  Locked to log
I have even used this cable on a trip with just two people, to lock my boat to a log at the put-in location where it had to be left unattended for a short while, as we ran the shuttle to get a vehicle to the take-out location, and returned. That keeps someone from deciding to hop in and take it for a joy ride, or just throwing it into the river and watching it float away just for "fun". I have personally had that latter one happen to me - fortunately, I recovered my boat about 200 yards downstream where it got stuck in a log jam at the next bend in the creek.

  Combination lock
I recommend a combination lock instead of a key lock, and get the type of lock where you can set the combination code yourself to something you're sure to remember. This is so that you will never find yourself in the unenviable position of arriving at the put-in location with your boat, but being unable to unlock it and get it to the water, because you left the keys at home. That's a dumb mistake akin to forgetting to bring your paddles. If you do use a key, keep the spare hidden inside your vehicle where you can retrieve it if necessary. 

  Hull ID
And while I'm talking about numbers, every canoe and kayak is given a unique 12-digit Hull Identification Number (HIN) in the factory. The HIN is usually molded or etched somewhere on or near the stern. Copy your HIN and store this in your home records. If your boat does get stolen, this is how you can prove to the police that a recovered boat is yours. 

Lock your canoe to your car, and park your car/canoe in publicly visible locations with good night lighting. You also don't want to leave your accessories like PFD's and paddles in the open bed of a pickup truck, or you might have pilfered PFD's and paddles. Store them inside the cab overnight.

Happy trails!

The author, John Rich