How to Lock a Boat Trailer
Having a good security system for your boat is key for any boat owner who wants to prevent boat theft. There’s not a boater among us who wouldn’t hate to get to the dock and find our boat missing. But the boat isn’t the only part of the whole set up that you need to keep safe. Your boat trailer needs security as well. There are too many cases to count in which canoes, pontoon boats and jet skis have been stolen because the entire trailer was taken.
Locking up your boat trailer is of the utmost importance to the security of your boat. And the trailer itself, for that matter. Boat trailers aren’t cheap, you don’t want to lose either one. Not after you spent all that time on a solid paint job and all the amenities.
The key to ensuring the safety and security of your trailer and your boat can be as simple as knowing how to properly lock it up to deter thieves.
The Best Boat Trailer Security
So, right off the bat, you’d probably want to know what the best way to secure your boat trailer is. And there are more and less effective ways, make no mistake. But as you already know, there aren’t a lot of guarantees in life. As good as the methods we’re going to tell you about are, we can’t promise them to give you 100% security. No one can make a promise like that, after all.
Keep that in mind as you do what you need to do to keep your boat and trailer secure. You’ll definitely want to use all the methods you have at your disposal. A padlock and a chain is better than nothing, but it’s not the only thing you can rely on by far. Make sure you take the time to secure it well, and use more than one method. Sure it’ll take a little more time, but it’s worth it, right?
Trailer Wheel Lock
One of the most common and efficient lock types for your trailer is a wheel lock. These are very much the same as the boot that the city will put on your car tire if you get too many tickets or park illegally. It secures over the tire and makes it incredibly hard to move. These come in several different styles and some are quite affordable while others can be very expensive.
Whatever you choose to go with, make sure it covers the lugs on your wheel. After all, the boot is no good if a thief can just take the whole wheel off, boot and all. Top quality boots and wheel locks are designed to be almost impossible to saw through or even pry off with a crowbar. The lock should be extremely hard to pick as well.
If you want a top quality wheel lock, you’re going to have to pay for it. If you find ones for $30 or $40 there’s a good chance they’re lower quality. You could potentially use these and, if nothing else, they’re a strong visual sign that could deter thieves. Just be aware that cheaper models can potentially be destroyed by thieves.
Following along with this theme, you could also consider removing a wheel from your trailer. Put it up on a jacks or blocks and keep the wheel secure until you’re ready to move the trailer again. No one is likely to get far with a trailer that has a missing wheel. Just make sure there isn’t a spare on the back or else it’ll defeat the purpose. One locked wheel and one missing wheel would be a solid approach as well. It all depends on how much security you’re looking to have.
If you plan to have the trailer in the same place for a long time, removing the wheels is the best idea, anyway. If you leave the trailer on its wheels with a boat on it over the winter, for instance, you may end up ruining the wheels. Bets to take them off and get that trailer up on blocks.
Tongue and Hitch Locks
These kinds of locks are as simple as they are effective. They are basically two parts of a box that you connect over where the hitch attaches to the towing vehicle. Once in place, it’s like a solid steel box guarding the connection. If someone wants to remove the trailer from your towing vehicle, the lock needs to be removed somehow first. And the steel in this is often very thick, at least in good quality ones. Again, a determined thief will be able to remove this if they try, but it’s not going to be easy. Odds are if a thief sees this, they’re walking away.
One of the main reasons boats on trailers get stolen is because they’re left sitting unprotected. People mistakenly think a boat on a trailer can’t be taken away because it’s heavy and on land. The problem, of course, is that thieves are just as likely to have a vehicle that can tow a boat as you. Thieves with tow vehicles specifically check out areas near lakes and marina where trailers can be found.
These locks will sometimes be called a couple or coupler lock. Look for them under any name and you should find what you need. We recommend using this in conjunction with a wheel lock to ensure one of the most secure combinations of locks you can get to protect your boat.
This is arguably the best kind of lock you can get for a boat trailer. After all, if the trailer can’t be removed from the tow vehicle, it’s all but impossible to get the boat.
Old Fashioned Chain and Lock
This is likely your cheapest and easiest option when it comes to securing a boat trailer in place. Because of that, it’s also the riskiest of all of the options depending on how you go about things. For this to work you’ll want a sturdy chain and a strong padlock.
You should run the chain through the wheel of your trailer and then around the frame. Really make it secure and then padlock it with a high quality lock. Remember that if someone is committed to stealing boats, it’s very likely they’ll have things like hacksaws and bolt cutters with them. You want a strong and durable chain and padlock that can stand up to both for as long as possible. You’ll want a case hardened chain at the very least.
The longer it takes someone to steal your boat trailer, the less likely they are to keep at it. After all, the longer it takes to cut through that lock, the greater the risk of being caught.
Pull Cord Alarms
These little alarms can be very helpful when it comes to securing a boat trailer and they’re highly discreet. They’re usually reserved for medical situations which is why they’re effective in this case as well because few thieves would think to look for one.
The way a pull cord alarm works is that a very thin wire is pulled free from the alarm unit when it’s moved. The alarm is mounted on your trailer in this case, and the pull cord is affixed to something not meant to move such as a wall or a tree or even the topside of the tire such that if it starts moving the pin will pull free.
Once the pin is loose the alarm produces an impossible to ignore sound. It’s sure to draw attention and, if you have secured the alarm in a good spot, it will be very hard to locate.
Obviously this isn’t a method of locking your trailer up, but it is a solid secondary layer of security that can work with some of these other methods to keep your boat trailer safe.
This is a more serious method of keeping a boat trailer secure. A ground anchor is just what it sounds like, a device anchored to the ground. These can be as simple as a steel plate with an eye loop attached to it where the entire fixture is literally bolted to the ground. Some are designed with boxes, hooks or poles that can offer a way for your trailer to be secured in place.
One thing worth noting is that there are two kinds of ground anchors you can get so pay attention if you are ordering one online. There are temporary ground anchors that you can hammer into the soft ground to temporarily secure something like your canoe. These are cheap but they’re not meant for serious security. Mostly they just keep a boat in place for an afternoon.
A true ground anchor is going to have to be installed with serious tools. Bolting a metal plate to cement is not an everyday task, after all. But they provide some serious security to hold your trailer in place.
Many boat owners don’t consider this as an option but they should. Sometimes you can save yourself a lot of hassle just by putting your boat trailer in a difficult to access position. At first glance doing something like parking in your own driveway with a security light on nearby may seem like the best option, and honestly it often is. But if you’re not at home, you may need to take some extra steps. It’s not hard to do, either. Just find a place you can park that makes it harder for a thief to gain access to the boat and trailer. For instance, if you’re out by the lake and need to park in a lot somewhere, back your tow vehicle and trailer up to a tree or a wall. So long as your trailer is still secured to the tow vehicle it’s not all but theft-proof between the vehicle and where you parked it.
You can buy very well priced motion sensors online for just a little bit of money these days. They can be hardwired into a boat, battery operated, and even wired to tiny solar panels to keep them operating. These can be strategically placed around your boat trailer to add an extra layer of security. Combined with the methods of locking it up that we have covered, this can really make a thief move away from your boat trailer quickly.
A chief set of motion sensors can be used as portable security and placed around the trailer and boat whenever you park it to maximize their effectiveness based on where and how you’ve parked. You can get good quality motion sensors that are sensitive up to 12 feet or more for not a lot of money. The deterrence factor is definitely worth the money.
GPS Trackers for Boat Trailers
An extra layer of security you may want to use is a GPS tracker. These are ideal security measures for any boat in or out of the water. Putting one on a trailer couldn’t hurt, either. Amazon has a wide range of asset trackers available and they’re extremely affordable. You can get some for as little as $20 or so.
Using a GPS asset tracker is very easy. You simply affix a device to the asset you want to keep track of. In this case it’s your boat or your trailer. Place it someplace that is not easy to find, hidden away so a potential thief would never think to look there. Depending on the kind you buy these can be affixed with mounting brackets, velcro, double sided tape or other such methods.
You can pair the track to a device like your phone or tablet. There will be an app you’ll need to download as well. Once paired up you can track your boat almost anywhere.
Depending on the kind you buy, you can even get real time tracking. GPS signal updates can come in almost instantly so you can help law enforcement, harbor police or whoever else track down what you’ve lost.
It’s worth noting that these trackers can be very small. They can be affixed to not just your boat by any valuables as well, like electronics. And they can be multi-purpose. If people at home are worried about you out on the water, just make sure they have the app as well so you can be tracked in an emergency. This can be helpful if your vessel gets lost in a storm or if you let a friend or family member borrow it and they don’t come back on schedule.
The smartest thing you can do with a boat is to have it insured. All of the methods we’ve covered to help lock up your boat trailer are incredibly important. But there are still over 4,000 watercraft stolen every year and the vast majority of them are stolen from trailers. So it can happen even with the best intentions of preventing it. And if your boat and trailer do get stolen, insurance is your last line of defense.
A lot of basic boat insurance is just liability insurance. That won’t cover you in case of a theft. So you’ll need to check with the insurance company to make sure your specific policy is one that covers something like theft as well. The terms can vary greatly from plan to plan so make sure you read over the terms carefully. For instance, some plans will not cover a loss if it’s determined you left the keys where a thief could find them.
Make sure you know the breadth of the coverage you’re getting as well. Many plans cover the boat itself and all that it entails from cleats to sails and everything in between. That means your valuables on the boat are not covered.
Secure the Inside of Your Boat
In addition to securing your trailer, you want to secure the inside of your boat as well. You’d be surprised how many people fail to do things like that. Valuable things like electronics and other gear are often left mostly unprotected inside of a boat so it’s good to make sure you make it as hard as possible for anyone to take what’s yours. Insurance may not cover belongings inside a boat, so keep that in mind if you have expensive gear. Your VHF radio, EPIRB, fish finder and any number of other devices could be at risk.
Invest in some locks and lockboxes. Anything to add that extra layer of protection and prevent people from just walking off with your valuables. Keep in mind that thieves don’t always just want those big ticket items. Sunglasses, cell phones, prescription medications, all of these things are often left unsecured in boats. Make sure you keep things you don’t want to lose locked up and safe.
The best thing you can do is keep an inventory of all the times. Take pictures as well, especially if insurance is an option you’re considering for your belongings. Make sure you have your boat’s hull identification number and other important data recorded.
Get a Security System
Boat security systems are invaluable. Many of them can be expensive and you’ll need to base what works best for you on your own budget and what value you place on the boat itself. A $25,000 fishing boat will probably do better with a higher quality security system than a second hand canoe. A good security system doesn’t have to break the bank, though.
Things like alarms, motion lights, GPS tracking and security cameras can be included in the security system. It all depends on what you need and what you’re willing to invest in.
The Best Way to Lock Your Boat Trailer
So now we have covered all of the best methods for securing a boat and trailer. But there’s a lot to choose from and that can be overwhelming. Obviously we don’t know your situation so there truly is no hard and fast rule on locking up your boat trailer. That said, we highly recommend a set up like this;
- Start with some clever parking methods if possible. So maybe back the trailer up against a wall with your toe vehicle in front.
- Affix GPS trackers to the trailer and the boat. Put them up under the frame where they will be hard to spot. On the boat itself you can affix them under tables or shelves or any hard to find place where no one will think to look.
- Secure a trailer coupler in place. This will seal up that hitch to make it very difficult for anyone to get the trailer off of your tow vehicle.
- Attach a heavy chain and padlock through the wheels of the trailer and looped around the trailer frame. We’re choosing this as an option because it provides a powerful visual to deter an opportunistic thief. It’s a visual indicator that someone has secured the boat so right away it will make the least serious thieves walk away. It’s not as reliable as the boot, but it’s cheaper. If you have the tongue and hitch in place already, the two make a good combo.
What About a Jet Ski Trailer?
Many of the same security methods apply to securing a jet ski. You definitely want to make sure you’re putting the effort in because, as a smaller vessel, jet skis tend to be easier to both steal and sell after the fact.
One tip you may not have thought of is to cover that jet ski with a generic jet ski cover. One of those universal ones meant to cover any jet ski. The reason for this is two-fold. First, when a jet ski is covered it really is easier to overlook. As we keep saying, a determined thief would not be tricked by this. But say it’s just a crime of opportunity. Someone stealing on a whim is more likely to simply overlook a covered jet ski.
The second part of this is to ensure it’s a universal cover. That way it’s hard for a thief to tell what make and model you have covered. It makes it harder for them to determine if they even want your jet ski and every second you can make them wait is another second closer to them giving up or getting caught. As cool as a custom cover may look, it’s also a big flag telling thieves what you have.
Beyond the tarp trick, you’ll want to stick with a trailer hitch lock. They really are the best options for securing any trailer. You may also want to consider what advantage you get from having a smaller trailer to deal with. Since jet skis and their trailers are so small you may have more options regarding where you can park one. That means you may be able to secure it in a garage or in a fenced in yard more easily. Any extra layer of security is a good idea.
The Bottom Line
It is a deceptively simple question to ask how to lock a boat trailer. But with so many potential locks and methods to use, it can become quickly overwhelming. The last thing you need to do is get bogged down in all the potential things you could do and not settle on what the best choice is. Boat trailer theft can be prevented.
At the end of the day, you need to do what you can to make thieves want to pass your boat trailer by. Set yourself up for success and make it as hard as possible for anyone to get that trailer away from you. That will ensure you’re able to enjoy your boat for years to come without any hassles.
Always rely on more than one method to lock your boat trailer. You never know what a thief is going to have at their disposal from a bolt cutter to an angle grinder. The harder you make it for them, the more likely it is they’ll either walk away or give up quickly.