How To Protect Your Outboard Motor From Thieves

English: A Mercury Marine outboard motor.
English: A Mercury Marine outboard motor. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Outboard motors are a popular target for thieves. Especially small outboard motors up to about 25 or 30 horsepower. That’s because they are readily available and usually light enough to be carried by one or two people.

Add to that the high cost of a new outboard motor and a ready market for used outboards, and you have a recipe for theft. It’s actually quite easy for one or two guys to remove your boat engine and carry it to a waiting vehicle or another boat.

How To Protect Your Outboard Motor From Theft

I’d begin by saying that if the bad guys want your outboard motor bad enough, they will likely get it. That’s the cold truth. Short of chaining it to your leg and sleeping with a shotgun, there is a limit to what you can do.

However, you can do something that will discourage thieves and that is make it hard for them. That is really the most you can hope for, to make stealing your outboard motor to difficult for them to be bothered trying to take it. Or give them the perception that they may get caught stealing, or attempting to steal your boat or motor. Thieves are generally quite cowardly and don’t like to take too many chances where they may be caught.

Here are some ideas about how to protect your outboard motor from theft.

Thieves Are Lazy

Remember, for all intents and purposes thieves are kind of lazy. That’s why they are thieves, they would rather steal what you have then work to buy their own. With that in mind, if you make the job of taking your outboard motor difficult they just might leave it alone and go look for easier pickings.

Keep in mind, there are thieves who have been known to use a chainsaw to cut the entire stern out of a boat in order to steal the outboard. There are some thieves that are difficult to stop no matter what you use for a lock.

Outboard Motor Lock

As I mentioned, I don’t think that there is any type of outboard motor lock that will completely end outboard motor thefts. However there are some good locking mechanisms that will stop all but the most hardened thieves.

The first is to lock the outboard to the boat with one of these Unified Marine Outboard Motor Locks These locks have a hardened steel tube that slides over the outboard mounting clamps.

The steel tube is locked in place with a padlock that fits inside the tube making it difficult to cut. Not infallible but certainly look like they would be difficult to remove without damaging the motor. I have one of these on all my outboards.

Chain The Boat To A Tree

For further security I lock my outboards to the boat with a short piece of case hardened chain and a good padlock. That serves double duty by attaching the outboard to the boat in the unhappy event that it pops off the stern while the boat is running (Happens more than you might think) and gives thieves another obstacle to overcome.

At night and when I am away from the camp, I always chain my boat to a big tree near the shoreline. Again, it won’t stop them all, but they will have to cut the chain or the lock or chop down the tree to get the boat free. That takes time and usually makes a noise, which increases the chances of someone seeing them and calling police. A chain is excellent, or you could use a steel cable like this Trimaflex Double Loop Cable with a couple padlocks. This could also be used to rig up a locking arrangement if you leave your boat moored.

If you leave your boat attached to a dock, you can lock it to the dock with a chain and padlock. Again, it won’t stop a determined thief, but it will slow them down and also cause them to make some noise trying to steal the boat.

I don’t use these, because my small outboards are not bolted to my boat, but if your engine is attached to the stern with bolts, you can increase the security by adding one of these McGard Marine Single Outboard Motor Lock Sets that locks the bolt that holds the outboard onto the transom of the boat.

Engraving Your Outboard Motor

All my outboard motors and some other valuables have been engraved with an identifying number, which won’t particularly stop thieves, but it may make recovery easier. Engraving will certainly go a long way to proving the stolen item is yours in the unlikely event it gets recovered by police or turns up for sale at a local flea market.


Day 9 - Marking metal to deter theft - West Mi...
Day 9 – Marking metal to deter theft – West Midlands Police (Photo credit: West Midlands Police)

can pick up an engraving tool at most hardware stores, or purchase this Dremel Engraver from Amazon for around $20. Most Dremel carving tools will engrave metal too with the right attachment.

If your outboard is engraved you can alert local outboard motor repair shops and boat dealers to ask them to be on the lookout for an outboard motor with your name or a number engraved on it.
Use your last name and phone number, or any number you wish. Even a symbol can be useful in proving it is your outboard.


If you want to disable your boat, particularly a bigger boat, you can add a lock to the transom the disables the steering. You can find out more about this device here: DockNLock

Although this will make it impossible for someone to drive your boat away, this wouldn’t stop someone from towing it away, so consider that possibility as well.

DockNLock make locks for smaller outboards too, similar to the one I mentioned above that locks the motor to the boat.

Propeller Locks

Replacement props can cost in the hundreds of dollars, and that can make them an attractive target for thieves. You can secure your prop with a propeller lock like this McGard Single Propeller Lock These are for motors 40HP and up.

Boat Trailer Locks

If you store your boat on a trailer, don’t forget to lock the trailer. You can use a simple padlock and chain to secure it to a nearby large tree, or use one of the other trailer security devices such as this Master Lock Trailer Coupler and Hitch Pin Lock Set, which disables the trailer hitch from being used. Or you can go all the way and attach a Heavy Duty Anti-Theft Tire Wheel Clamp Lock that will disable the trailer from being towed.

Leroy Wisner, from LeeRoy’s Ramblings, says, “Sometimes they(boat thieves) just throw a chain around the trailer tongue at night and pull the boat down the street far enough to then be able to securely hook it up if no one notices and/or follows them. If someone comes too close they just throw the chain & drive off.”

That gives you an idea of how quickly they can pull your boat and trailer out of the driveway and take off with it. It’s a good idea to have the trailer chained to a nearby tree. Also makes you realize a hitch lock alone may not be enough. LeeRoy also suggests not parking your boat trailer with the hitch pointing toward the street. It also makes investing in a wheel clamp lock a wise investment.

Motor Cowling Cover

It may be hard to believe, but thieves have been known to steal the cowling/motor cover from outboard motors. They are quite expensive to replace, if you can find one in the right size etc, for your particular year, make, model of outboard motor. If that is a concern, you could replace your outboard motor cowling with one of these OUTBOARD MOTOR HOOD COVER while the boat is not in use. That will discourage boat theft as well, because an outboard motor without the cowling would be more difficult to sell on the black market.

Video Surveillance

I have written about the value of a dummy security camera before in regards to protection of your camp. It would also be a good idea to have a Dummy Indoor/Outdoor Surveillance Camera pointed toward your boat as well. Just make sure it is somewhere easily seen by crooks, but not easily reached. Of course if you have lots of money, you could install a real working video surveilance system.


Photograph you boat and boat motor and trailer from several angles, try to include any identifying numbers or marks in the photo’s as well. These will help with identification if your outboard or boat are stolen and recovered.

Record Serial Numbers

Record the serial numbersand model numbers of your boats and outboard motors. Store the information somewhere you will remember. You will need that information in the event of an insurance claim.

Additional Points

A couple other points about preventing outboard motor theft, don’t leave the portable gas tank in the boat overnight. They are often coveted by thieves who have previously stolen an outboard but not the gas tank.

If you can, when you chain your boat to shore, run the chain under a seat or other secure part of the boat. Don’t chain them through something like a carrying handle that can be removed with a screwdriver.

Store or dock your boat in a well lit area, perhaps a spotlight on the wharf or shoreline near the wharf can also work as a theft deterrant. Thieves generally don’t like to work in the light where there is a chance of being seen. So put a light on it.

Alternatively, if you don’t want to lock your boat, chain a cranky, half hungry rotweiller dog to the outboard motor. Just make sure he likes you first…..

How about you? How do you protect your boat and outboard motor from thieves?

Allstate Insurance has some useful information regarding boat insurance that you might find useful. You can find it here: Does Insurance Cover A Stolen Boat

Buy Now From Amazon

Unified Marine Outboard Motor Locks
McGard Marine Single Outboard Motor Lock Sets
Dremel Engraver
Master Lock Trailer Coupler and Hitch Pin Lock Set,
McGard Single Propeller Lock
Heavy Duty Anti-Theft Tire Wheel Clamp Lock
Trimaflex Double Loop Cable
Dummy Indoor/Outdoor Surveillance Camera

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