Port hopes to tighten security after yacht theft

Boaters ask for Wi-Fi to help watch over vessels remotely

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A "neighborhood crime watch" sign hangs on a pole by Parker's Landing Marina in Washougal. Port of Camas-Washougal leaders are considering ways to tighten security after the theft of a yacht in January.

Port of Camas-Washougal leaders want to improve security measures at Parker’s Landing Marina, but haven’t yet found solutions that are logistically and financially viable.

Port administrators and commissioners discussed marina security at their Jan. 22 and Feb. 5 meetings, several weeks after a Camas man was accused of breaking into the 350-slip marina and stealing a boat.

“We are looking for what potentially we could do that would be financially feasible that would give the tenants what they’re looking for,” Port of Camas-Washougal Commissioner Larry Keister, a former marina tenant, said after the Feb. 5 meeting. “We’re still looking. We’re talking to other marinas and to the Coast Guard (about) what we can do to make it more secure. But logistics are the biggest issue. How do we do it?”

That’s a question Port leaders are asking themselves after the Jan. 7 theft of a 36-foot cabin cruiser named “Jack Daniels” in which police said a suspect jumped the marina fence to steal the yacht.

Port chief executive officer David Ripp told the Post-Record in January the Port is “always looking” to improve its security measures.

“We have security measures, but if a thief really wants to get in, they’ll get in,” Ripp said. “We already had a meeting about adding brighter lights and motion sensors to each gate, so when somebody moves, the lights will kick on and they will be seen.”

“But this guy didn’t care; he was getting in no matter what,” Ripp said of the suspected Jack Daniels’ thief. “We want to try to keep honest people honest. We’re looking for ways to make changes to deter people from trying to do what he did.”

Several tenants have asked Port leaders to look into the possibility of installing Wi-Fi service at the marina. With access to a strong signal, they said, boaters could activate cameras that would allow them to monitor their boats at all times.

But at the Feb. 5 meeting, Ripp said the cost of installing and maintaining Wi-Fi would be “exorbitant,” and that based on research by Kyle Chinn, the Port’s information technology manager, Wi-Fi most likely wouldn’t provide boaters with what they’re looking for because of the presence of metal roofs and a dock that rises and descends.

“Just to install the fiber, it was $30,000. (Additional) installation was another $10,000,” Ripp said. “Then we would be renting the equipment from Frontier or Comcast because we don’t want to have to deal with replacing equipment. Just the internet service is $175 a month, and then the management of the Wi-Fi system and the equipment lease would be another $1,200 a month. We’re looking at roughly $40,000 of the capital expenses and roughly another $15,000 a year just in management.”

Two boats were stolen from the marina in 2019, according to Keister.

At the Jan. 22 meeting, Washougal resident Gary Simmons, a marina tenant for the past 37 years, told Port commissioners that hiring a security guard for the marina “probably won’t work” as security guards don’t tend to know the boaters.

“Our whole community has changed drastically. We used to know most of the people down here, and it was a community. That’s not the case anymore. I see many people walking around the marina, and no one challenges them. Nobody asks them where they’re supposed to be or what they’re supposed to be doing or whose boats they’re getting on,” said Simmons, who worked in law enforcement for 31 years.

Instead, Simmons advocated for the installation of Wi-Fi.

“I think it’s time to take a look at the expense on that so we can keep track of our own boats,” he said. “I don’t think this is something that we cannot look at. I don’t know if we can afford not to do something about the security of this facility. I think it’s something that needs to be considered somehow.”

Washougal resident Tony Bacon, a marina tenant for the past two years, said that while he’s “disappointed” Port leaders haven’t indicated that they’ll look for a cheaper way to provide Wi-Fi service, boaters should take ultimately assume responsibility for the security of their own vessels by locking their boats to the dock; activating a Wi-Fi “hotspot,” as he has done; or investing in services such as SimpliSafe.

“I’d like to see improvements like motion-sensor lights and signs at the gates — ‘Smile, you’re on camera.’ Those things would be low-cost, low effort. I’ll get a sense of how much (Port leaders) care about this issue by how soon we see that. I thought we would have seen it by now,” Bacon said. “I think they can get the equipment a lot cheaper than what they were saying, but they may be right about the signal quality. I think the security at the marina is about as good as you can expect. At the end of the day, if you want to make sure your boat is secure, you’re going to have to do it yourself. There’s no way for the marina to do it for you.”

Keister said that boaters can install a “kill switch” on their vessels to prevent thefts.

“We have cameras on the dock and around the facility. We do have staff (members watching) during the daytime. We’ve got locking gates. Our fences are all in good repair,” he said. “The requests (from tenants) are reasonable. Every request that we get, we’ll look into it to see if it will work at our location. We want the boats to be as secure as possible.”