Keeping Your Dinghy Safe

Unfortunately dinghy theft is on the rise everywhere!  Most cruising boats don’t have the option to simply put the dinghy in the garage like you would the family car.    And thieves are getting bolder and more innovative every season we cruise.

Thieves are usually not interested in an inflatable dinghy.  They want the outboard motor.    When we first started commuter cruising 10 years ago, most dinghy thefts were specifically for Yamaha 15 hp outboards, but lately it seems they have expanded to all but the very smallest outboards.

Keep in mind, the fishermen and others living on many islands that cruisers visit simply don’t have the financial ability to buy a good outboard.   Most fishermen and others you meet are honest, but there are always a few bad apples, just as in any society.    Thievery is always more prevalent during holiday seasons — particularly Semana Santa (Easter) week and around Christmas.  Depending on the country, Semana Santa is often a bigger holiday than Christmas.

With these facts in mind, here are our tips to keep your dinghy safe.

1.  The number one time thieves take dinghies is overnight.  Lately, there are reports of dinghies being stolen from davits and hanging from the hip.  The thieves ghost up to your boat in the middle of the night, snip the davit or halyard lines and the next thing you year is a thump and then a vvvrrrooommm as the outboard panga speeds away with your dinghy!

They are not interested in your inflatable.  Inflatables are often found slashed and sunk or half sunk not far from the theft site.

Hang the Dinghy - Look Carefully, You Can See the Cable Locking it to the Boat

Hang the Dinghy - Look Carefully, You Can See the Cable Locking it to the Boat. This was Before We Started Separating the Outboard from the Inflatable.

You can always buy an outboard.  It is next to impossible to buy an inflatable dinghy in many cruising grounds.   So if your dinghy and outboard are stolen, you can replace the outboard almost anywhere, but you can’t always replace the inflatable.   Not having an inflatable can be a terrible inconvenience while you’re out cruising!

These facts lend credence to separating your inflatable from your outboard nightly.  It takes us literally 5 minutes longer in the morning and in the evening to put our outboard on the rail and lock it securely than to hoist it on our normal hang it from the hip arrangement.  Where we’re concerned about dinghy theft, we do it every night.

We also lock both the outboard and the dinghy securely to the boat.  If they do snip the halyard that the inflatable is hanging from on the hip of the boat, they’ll also have to reach and cut the heavy duty cable.  We like to think that amount of effort would at least make enough noise right outside our pullman berth to wake us.

To get to the outboard locked to the rail, a would be thief would almost need to get in the cockpit, which to our knowledge, no one has tried… yet.

2.  If you want to keep it, lock it all the time, not just overnight.    Make sure the lock and the chain or cable are not easily cut with hand tools.  It makes little sense to lock a dinghy with a cable easily snippable with a pair of wire cutters.    Lock it to the dock when you go ashore, lock it to the boat when you’re just downstairs for a nap during the middle of the day, lock it anytime it will be out of your sight for a bit.  This may seem extreme, but once you get used to it, it’s not a big deal.

Gas Can Locked in Dinghy, David's Bailing a Tropical Downpour

Gas Can Locked in Dinghy, David's Bailing a Tropical Downpour

3.  With gas prices soaring, lately gasoline has become a target as well as the outboard.  Locking the gas tank into the dinghy helps prevent a would be thief from going down a line of dinghies at a dinghy dock and lifting several gas cans at once!

There are many different types of locks and cables/chain available.  Probably a determined thief could cut every type, but the more difficult it is, the less they’ll be inclined to try.  We have some friends that as an additional safety measure wrap a 5/16 chain around and around the outboard locked to the rail – the chain may not be locking anything, but it sure looks imposing from the water!

A friend was anchored close to us in Roatan one night.  They didn’t believe in hoisting their dinghy and just had it tied to the back of their boat.  Our friend got up in the early early morning hours and happened to be sitting in his cockpit in the early morning dark when some thieves untied his dinghy and began to drift off.  He stood up, arms on hips and yelled in his gravely booming voice … “BRING THAT BACK HERE”!  Surprisingly enough, they did, they apologized and he never had trouble with his dinghy again!  Personally, I wouldn’t rely on that tactic to keep my dinghy safe, but it worked for them!   🙂


If you have any tips to help cruisers keep their dinghies or outboards, please post a comment!  THANKS!  Jan


  1. Charlotte Caldwell via Facebook says:

    Great advice as usual.

  2. Mark Hoenke says:

    One other extreme method is to install a heavy duty port in the bottom of the RIB. Take the port with you while ashore and remove it while the dinghy is on the davits.

    • Hi Mark — I’m confused – a heavy duty “port” in the bottom of a RIB — so if someone tried to steal it on the davits it would sink? And you just leave it in when you’re using the dinghy? Like a giant drainplug? Yep, that’s extreme! I don’t understand how it would be effective to sink your own outboard motor if someone tried to steal it while on the dinghy on the davits. You’d probably have some surprised thieves though!

  3. Best thing to do in my opinion is:Buy a (The new Torqeedo Travel 503/1003,it’s the smallest of them after the torqueedo ultralight)top of the range in electric motors.Everywhere i go i simply take it with me,with just 5kilos…too easy.
    German techology,check them out if u live in australia.
    Good luck guys!

    • Hi, I recommend for in areas with good cellular coverage, hiding a battery powered GPS tracker tracker in a hidden pocket on the boat, or for the outboard, moulded into the cowling cover.

      If you are often in areas without cellular coverage , as many places are, then our Sea Safe dive beacons are good, reused for tracking the boat instead. simply turn it one, battery lasts for 24 hours x 7 days and transmits about 5 Nm from boat to boat. From a searching plane at 5, 000 ft high, it can find the boat from 80 Nm away.

      Handy too for Man overboard practice.

      Another idea would to be use the new AIS beacons or handhelds to transmit the boat location and search for it on a AIS enabled Chart Plotter.


  4. We’re heading out soon with a AB rib powered by a 15hp Yamaha-a juicy target. I’m thinking of painting the engine cowling a bright pink. Any thoughts?

  5. There is a motorcycle cable called Kreptonite (like the stuff that stops superman) that is almost impossible to cut even with a bolt cutter. Get a couple of these and lock your boat stuff.

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