Preventing Sled Theft Protects Your Riding Season…

Preventing sled theft means you can ride all winter like this.

Trail riding photos courtesy of ISMA.


Related: Snowmobile Insurance Buying Tips


 

Preventing sled theft should be on every owner’s radar. Now more than ever. Why? Because sleds (and trailers & tow vehicles) have become very high value commodities, and enterprising thieves are actively targeting our winter toys everywhere.

Already, their success at stealing them is well documented by the dramatic increase in “be on the lookout for” social media posts. These are from numerous victims who in hindsight probably wish they had paid more attention to preventing sled theft. Or tracking their sleds. Many dealers have also reported more units disappearing from their facilities. To my knowledge, the recovery rate through enforcement agencies is by no means certain. So keeping your sleds safe and secure is up to you.

Preventing Sled Theft More Important Than Ever

We’re facing an unprecedented rash of planned thieveries across the snowbelt. This will only get worse as snowmobilers start trailering around as usual, parking our tow rigs for the day in insecure locations. Or leaving them unattended for multi-days at staging hotels. And overnighting our sleds outside wherever we’re staying. Even having a sled-loaded trailer sitting at home ready for our next excursion is an all-too-tempting target. I’ve even seen a few posts lamenting sleds stolen from inside their owner’s garage!

Photo courtesy of Destination Ontario

Winter Toys Worth More

With such incredible excitement and anticipation building for the coming snowmobile season, it’s all too easy to overlook preventing sled theft. But part of our new reality is supply chain disruptions, back-ordered units and increasing demand. Combined with a sellers’ market, these factors have substantially increased the value of our snowmobiles, trailers and even tow vehicles. That means our winter toys are a more lucrative theft target than ever before.

Now consider this. Given the world-wide chip shortage, thieves now have a whole new focus for their skullduggery – the various, chip-enabled modules that make our machines (and tow vehicles) run. If any of these chips go missing from your sled, you’re left with a flowerpot.

So all of us have to up our game when it comes to our vigilance and security measures related to preventing sled theft. It’s going to take heightened awareness, risk reassessment, new approaches and a more take-charge attitude.

Consequences of Not Preventing Sled Theft

If you don’t succeed in preventing sled theft, what happens? First, there’s the shock of violation, of being victimized and anger at the perpetrators. Next, you have to go through all the rigmarole of filing a police report and insurance claim. And in doing so, explain what security measures you actually took in your preventing sled theft efforts.

Then wait to see what happens, how good your coverage really is, and how much and when your insurer will pay for the stolen items. But that’s the easy part, because there’s no coverage that pays for the theft of your snowmobile season (good luck finding replacement equipment any time soon). Essentially, anyone whose winter toys go missing will likely be S.O.L. for at least 2022.

Sure, unattended and poorly secured sleds, trailers and tow vehicles have disappeared before 2021. But compared to today’s rate, they are less frequent. So doing your best at preventing sled theft now is the way to go if you want to ride this season.

Underground snowmobile parking entrance at Fairmont Manoir Richelieu.

Preventing sled theft includes secure overnight parking away from home. Photo © by Craig Nicholson.

Rethink Protecting Your Winter Toys

Before I go any further, fair warning. Don’t expect this article to provide a recommended list of specific locks and other security devices. Although I have done so previously as regards tow vehicles. Instead, I intend this post to help raise awareness of the challenges involved and provide some risk reassessment advice about how to proceed with what works best for you. So let’s get started…

Reassess Your Home Base Parking & Storage

Your winter toys spend a lot of time sitting somewhere when you’re not using them. Often, that’s a location very familiar to you, and as they say: “Familiarity breeds contempt.” So my first advice for preventing sled theft is not to take where you always park them for granted, especially in today’s riskier environment.

Location

You need to take strong control of the home base location where you keep your toys most often. Invest some time to thoroughly re-assess their location, positioning and security with an impartial eye (read: through the eyes of a thief). If changing things around may not be as convenient for you, just remember – doing so may also make your toys less convenient to steal!

Ask yourself questions like this. Is your present location too visible? Too easy for strangers to access? Too near handy escape routes? Are the trailer or sleds blocked behind other items or is access to them unobstructed? Or is it so remote or private that someone could have all the time in the world to steal your toys?

Positioning

Even if the location checks out, what about the actual positioning of your units? Does the way they are parked or facing make it harder or easier for a quick getaway? If your sleds are kept in the trailer, you should secure them inside it. And also take robust measures to prevent someone simply hooking up and towing the whole rig away. These could include chaining the trailer axle to fixed objects like utility poles, ground anchors or bollards. Or even taking the wheels off while parked.

Security

What security measures are in place? Are people home most of the time? Do you have a dog that sounds off at any sign on intrusion? Are there working exterior security cameras that cover both access to and parking for your toys? Is there a fence and locked gate? Do you have watchful neighbours? Is there a loud alarm system on your trailer and sleds? What about motion sensitive security lights? All of which may strike you as being a giant pain in the butt (to say nothing of the expense), but maybe not compared to losing both your toys and your winter.

Strip Your Sled

Here’s another tip. Never leave anything on your sled when you’re not using it. Especially any of the sled’s (or your own) official documentation. It can be a royal pain having to take out ride necessities packed on board in fixed sled storage locations. Or to remove any easily detachable accessories like handle bar muffs, cargo bags or jerry cans. But not as painful as trying to replace them in current market conditions.

At the very least, keep a full inventory of all accessories both removable and installed (ice scratchers, higher windshield, different track or shocks, etc.), so you know what’s also gone missing if your sled is stolen and can claim for it. Taking photos of your fully accessorized sled (and trailer) is also a good idea.

Make It Tougher To Take

Short of securing your toys in a bank vault, determined and organized crime rings with opportunity, time, skill and the right tools can steal just about anything. Random crimes of opportunity by “amateurs” and joyriders are more easily deterred. So the primary goal in preventing sled theft is to make stealing your winter toys more trouble than its worth. You want to diminish the opportunity for theft as much as possible. Increase the risk to thieves being spotted by you, others or surveillance cameras. Force it to be more time-consuming to take your property by making it harder and more difficult to do (at least much harder than taking the next guy’s stuff).

Preventing sled theft protects your brand new snowmobile.

Photo courtesy of Bombardier Recreational Products Inc.

Plan Preventing Sled Theft On Snow

Obviously, preventing sled theft is a greater challenge when you’re away from home base. You’re not as familiar with the location. Don’t have as much control. And you may not have access to the same level of security. You can’t do as much to lower the risks involved. Or you may simply be accustomed to just taking your chances away from home base, relying primarily on Lady Luck.

Act Collectively

But given today’s greater prevalence of theft, it’s time to re-evaluate preventing sled theft on the snow. A good place to start is to make securing your winter toys top of mind during ride planning. This means taking about theft prevention strategies with your riding companions beforehand. What can you do as a group to reduce your collective risk? This approach may be more successful than each doing their own thing or leaving it to chance. For example, consider carrying both group security devices to secure multiple sleds together as well as individual sled deterrents. And don’t forget to secure those tow vehicles and empty trailers you’re leaving unattended as if they’re made of gold.

Book Secure Lodgings

Secure sled parking compound at Auberge le Cabanon. Photo © by Craig Nicholson

Next, plan overnight stops that provide some level of security measures for their sledding guests. These can include a locked sled garage, secure indoor parking, or some other kind of gated, night-lit compound. Some of these have to be reserved in advance, so do so when you book your rooms.

Look for establishments that provide onsite security floodlights, roving night watchman or security cameras monitored actively by 24-hr front desk personnel. Some hotels even provide electronic alarm sled hook ups. Others offer chains with padlocks. I know several that convert fenced tennis courts into winter sled parking.

Same goes for truck and trailer parking. Is it secure? Monitored? Locked? Set up to deter thieves with tow trucks or flatbeds? Does the front desk know your vehicle info and where you parked?

Parking trucks & trailers nose into snowbank increases theft difficulty. Photo © by Craig Nicholson.

Generally, the more remote and less road accessible the location of your lodging, the less susceptible it should be to marauders. On the other hand, road side motels with easy access to high traffic highways can provide thieves with easy escape routes, quick anonymity and close places to hide stolen goods. So choose carefully.

Take More Care With Overnight Parking

Also, plan multi-sled, anti-theft parking configurations for your group. Rather than each rider randomly parking wherever they want. Even if that means jockeying sleds around so they’re each less easy to get at. Take the time as a group to protect your toys, instead of everyone just parking willy-nilly and rushing off to their hotel rooms. Parking in front of your rooms may be best, but not always. So check and evaluate all options before putting them to bed for the night. Working collectively and making preventing sled theft a part of your regular group routine will go a long way to mitigating your overall risk.

Decent lighting, somewhat restricted access, but not may sleds locked! Photo by Martin Lortz for Destination Ontario.

Enhance Security During Your Ride

Don’t drop your guard during the ride. Never leave any sled unattended with its mechanical or digital ignition key in place. Doing so is not only a bad habit, but also an open invitation for joyriders to make off with your machine in the blink of an eye.

Develop a strong sense of both group and individual situational awareness when stopping for lunch, etc. Park your sled in the safest available place using an ant-theft configuration. For instance, park with other machines; in a highly visible area (especially from inside); in a place not easily accessible to being lifted into the back of a pick-up; well-lit if after dark. And remember, it only takes a minute to wrap a cable lock around a couple of sleds in your group for additional security during a lunch stop. Taking that time to up your security can make the difference between a great season and a sad one, riding the couch at home.

Preventing sled theft starts at the staging point.

Ready to ride? What are your security plans? Photo by Virgil Knapp for Destination Ontario.

You Get What You Pay For

I mentioned earlier that I wouldn’t be recommending specific security products. Certainly an argument can be made that any visible locking device can be a deterrent in and of itself. But determined and experienced thieves know what the easy pickings are.

So, I will say that in my experience, success at preventing sled theft increases in direct proportion to how much you are willing to spend. There are padlocks priced at $29.95 and at $300. Guess which is considerably more difficult to break open? You can buy an inexpensive bicycle cable for under 50 bucks or 20’ of heavy duty industrial strength chain for ten times that price. Guess which one will best withstand cutting or grinding, or being broken apart by pulling force?

But don’t cheap out. What’s the point of an expensive padlock, but a cheap chain? Or only throwing on one token lock when several different devices would provide better security?

Which Will Be A Better Deterrent?

If I was in the sled theft business, I’d do my homework with all the relatively inexpensive consumer padlocks, coupler locks, hitch locks and wheel locks commonly available at local stores. Learn how to pry, twist, cut, pull or evade each quickly and efficiently. I’d even be set up to hook on to a sled trailer, locked but not chained to a fixed object, and simply drag it away to my getaway garage to break any individual locks at my leisure. And who cares if the trailer is damaged a little in the process? Small price to pay for a quick and easy getaway.

What’s A Good Alternative?

But what if these same tricks of the trade didn’t work? Or they took way too much noisy time to steal because of security devices made for heavy industrial use and commercial security needs? Typically, this level of security can be ordered through an industrial supply shop, but some mid-range items can now be found on Amazon. Here’s a good example of a top notch lock, custom length security chain and ground anchor from several premier commercial security companies. Believe me, as soon as you feel their weight, you know these are serious anti-theft devices!

My Last Word on Preventing Sled Theft

One final note. This article is about preventing sled theft. So, I’m not spending much time talking about tracking devices that may help find your toys as or after they’re stolen. As worthy as they are, they don’t prevent theft, but can be an exceptional safety net to help with sled recovery.

That said, preventing sled theft all comes down to how far you are willing to go. How much can you afford to spend? How much minor inconvenience are you willing to settle for up front fiddling with security devices? What do you think the risk level is for your winter toys being stolen? From home? From cottage? And from any and every place you may stop overnight during the winter? What is protecting your winter toys and your snowmobiling season really worth to you? Whatever security measures you choose, take plenty of photos with them in place so, if worst comes to worst, you can prove the reasonable efforts you made at preventing sled theft.

Moral of this story? Lock ‘em or lose ‘em. Track ’em to recovery them.

 

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The tips and advice in this blog are the opinions of the author, may not work in every situation and are intended only for the convenience and interest of the reader, who has the personal responsibility to confirm the validity, accuracy and relevancy of this information prior to putting it to their own use.

 

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