In April 2018, South Florida attorney and boater Bruce Marx posted a message on his Facebook page. Thieves had stolen a brand-new Garmin chartplotter off his 31-foot Contender, adding him to the list of victims in what, less than a year earlier, had become a marina-based crime problem so bad that a national task force had been created to address it.
By late 2018, Marx had launched a Facebook group to try and get other boaters involved in a community watch type of effort. Today, that Facebook group has more than 5,300 members, and a helm electronics company has joined their fight to foil the thieves.
Furuno, following more than a year of lobbying by Marx and other boaters, has become the first manufacturer to initiate security measures that should help to eliminate the value of even the most valuable helm electronics, should thieves get their hands on them. The NavNet TZtouch3 will now have a pin code, just like a smartphone, so that even if the multifunction display gets stolen, thieves won’t be able to
turn it on and use it.
“This is the first time anybody has ever had a pin code on a GPS, as stupid as that sounds,” Marx says. “The PIN code has always been the low-hanging fruit. It’s the easiest to do. I’m glad that Furuno stepped up to start the process.”
By “start the process,” Marx means implementing the first in what he and others hope will be a series of technological advancements to thwart criminals to the point that they stop stealing helm electronics altogether. Two other features that Marx wants to see added to multifunction displays are GPS tracking (so boat owners can see where their equipment is going if it leaves the boat) and geofencing (so boat owners will receive a smartphone alert should a display leave the boat’s perimeter).
Those technologies are already available through boat-security companies such as GOST and Siren Marine, he says; major manufacturers should collaborate with such companies to add the features for following breadcrumbs not just of stolen boats, but also of stolen helm equipment.
“You can tap the app and show where the boat is going,” Marx says. “That technology can and should be installed in these MFDs. There’s no excuse that a multibillion-dollar industry can’t do the same thing that little companies like AtlasTrax and Siren Marine are doing.”
Furuno did not respond to requests for comment, but was expected to demo the new pin code feature during the Miami boat shows, which were happening as this issue went to press.
And on the Furuno website, the company is promoting the PIN code feature as one of the NavNet TZtouch3’s primary selling points, right alongside having a more powerful quad-core processor and a built-in dual-channel TruEcho chirp. “The new pin code lock feature requires a four-digit password to be entered upon startup, keeping your data safe against theft,” the Furuno site states.
It took so long to get here, Marx says, because there simply wasn’t any group of boaters demanding that electronics manufacturers take a technological approach to change. To his point, the National Marine Electronics Association issued a press release February 5 stating that anyone installing electronics displays should use security through-bolts and nuts, to make it harder for thieves to steal helm equipment in the first place. The NMEA also encouraged boaters to register their equipment serial numbers, to help the authorities after a theft occurs.
The NMEA press release, however, did acknowledge Furuno’s new pin code feature—and indicated that it is likely to be a market-leading advancement. “Adding a pin code is a major move for one specific MFD manufacturer, and I anticipate that other manufacturers will hopefully follow,” NMEA President Mark Reedenauer stated in the release.
Marx says that it took a cadre of fed-up boat owners to bring the issue to a head, and that he intends to keep the pressure on. “I think they’re dragging their feet because nobody’s pushed them before,” Marx says. “For the last year and a half, I’ve been advocating for it, and Furuno is the first company to come out and address one of the three things that we’re seeking to have done. It’s a good first step, but it’s not the final step. There really should be a modern-day race to the moon between these manufacturers to make these things better.”
This article originally appeared in the April 2020 issue.