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Burglars boarding boats

"We've never had a problem here in over 30 years," said Greg Campbell, as he piloted his boat away from the security gates at Hayden Marina on Thursday. He and his family, from Portland, have been vacationing at Hayden Lake for more than 30 years. There have been at least six thefts from boats on Hayden Lake recently. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

The boats churning the waters of North Idaho’s lakes give public safety officials plenty to think about. Common offenses range from drunken boating, speeding, fights on the water and cruising too close to shorelines. But a rash of burglaries on Hayden Lake last weekend highlights a problem that has no easy solution: protecting private property on public waters.

A 17-year-old boy confessed to stealing wakeboards and other equipment from boats at six private Hayden Lake docks last weekend, said Kootenai County sheriff’s Lt. Kim Edmondson. The homeowners who awoke to find their belongings missing will get them back, she said.

“He had an overwhelming amount of guilt pour over him when he was sober,” Edmondson said.

But banking on a thief’s conscience isn’t the best way to guard against theft from boats, officials say. These thefts are crimes of opportunity by those well-equipped to take advantage of them: The boy who confessed said he and his accomplices accessed the private docks by kayak.

It’s that type of access that can make it difficult to deter theft, said Gary Remsing, one of the Hayden Lake homeowners whose property was stolen.

Remsing said he’d never had anything stolen from his boats or dock in the several years he’s lived on the lake. But he sees how easily it can – and did – happen. Fishing boats cruise near the docks frequently.

“It’s very easy for someone to basically scope out what’s on boats,” he said. “Most people who use the lake are nice people just enjoying themselves. Just like anything, it’s being unlucky more than anything.”

Remsing covers his boat, something Kootenai County Marine Sgt. Matt Street said is the best way to deter theft. Boat owners should also remove valuables before covering the boat, Street said, or lock up what must be left onboard.

The burglaries surprised Nels Erickson, manager of the Tobler Marina, where 143 boats are moored.

“It blows my mind,” he said. “Last year I only had one thing stolen out of the marina, and it was a tube.”

Even outside the gated marina, which has a security officer, thefts on the lake are rare, he said. “It just doesn’t happen.”

Even so, Erickson said he talks to every new boat owner or renter about the importance of using a secure cover.

His next piece of advice? “Pull things kids would want: wakeboards, speakers.”

And it’s wakeboards and electronic equipment that the 17-year-old and his friends made off with last week, Edmondson said.

While boat burglary reports are more common in summer, the number of reported thefts on Hayden Lake in the past week was “highly unusual,” Street said.

Theft reports on the water mostly stem from lost canoes or inner tubes that might have floated away with the wind, he said. Many reports come when a cabin owner returns for the summer and finds something missing.

“It happens on the land all the time,” he said. “But on the water, it’s not that common.”

Remsing got his missing property, including a depth finder and a ski vest, back Wednesday and hopes he won’t need to worry about theft again.

He was hesitant to even talk about boat security.

“I don’t want to encourage this,” he said. “I want to live at the lake and not have this type of problem.”


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