Stone Crabbing in South Florida

Most recreational anglers in South Florida are quite familiar with our excellent lobster fishery however, there’s another tasty crustacean to target. I was first introduced to stone crabbing, by hand, about three years ago by some friends who had quickly perfected the technique and since then it has become a favorite, especially on rough days when going offshore is impossible. Recreational anglers have two ways to target stone crabs, by traps like those that commercial fishermen use and by hand.

Traps are the passive approach, harvesting instead of catching if you will, and while very effective, traps can easily be lost, damaged or stolen and require a bit of an investment up front. I personally prefer to make a day out of stone crabbing and opt to catch them by hand in a manner similar to lobstering. Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Commission provides a full summary of the applicable regulations for those of us targeting stone crabs. In short, a claw must be 2 and 3/4 inches to keep and we are allowed one gallon of claws per person or two gallons per vessel, whichever is less. If you plan on using traps you’re limited to a max of 5 per person and the trap must be labeled with your name and address as well.

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Stone crabbing by hand can be an exciting and rewarding activity for anglers looking to try something different in South Florida. To start with, I recommend a good pair of gloves to protect your hands as well as a net like you would use to lobster with. Additionally, a pair of dive booties with a hard sole is invaluable when wading across grass flats with the potential for pieces of coral and sea urchins. Now that you’re armored against most of the potential dangers you’ll face while searching for stone crabs, you’re ready to get started.

Stone crabs, as their name implies, can often be found in rocky areas like along jetties or sea walls. While you can have success targeting them there, such areas are often harder to access and have strong currents to deal with which can make catching them difficult. Make things easy for yourself and crew and target stone crabs on the ocean side of shallow grass flats in anywhere from 1 to 5 feet of water. Stone crabs burrow holes into seagrass flats and rest there when not out foraging for food. The bright white pile of sand that is the sand the stone crab dug out to create his lair is a dead giveaway of where they are. Slowly motoring over or near flats and looking for the white splotches created by a stone crab digging out its home are the best way to target them. Unlike lobster, stone crabs are almost always solitary but that’s ok, a single flat can often have a dozen or more holes with stone crabs.

Once you’ve spotted a stone crab hole, slowly enter the water from the boat, from the down current side if possible, and slowly wade toward it. It’s important not to do two things, stir up the water with your footsteps and make a lot of commotion and thus scare the crab deep into his hole. As you approach a stone crab hole you’ll be able to determine which direction the entrance is facing and which way the hole is going, fortunately the water on the shallow flats is almost always clear enough to see this from several feet away. Everything up until this point is done slowly, so as not to spook the stone crab but now that you’re in position, it’s time to move quickly. Quickly reach one arm into the hole trying to pin the stone crab to the bottom and then quickly grab him and toss him into your net in your opposite hand. While it sounds difficult, the stone crab will almost always be within the first foot or so of the hole and if you’re quick they won’t have time to retreat deeper into their cave. Once the stone crab is in your net your can grasp each claw with one of your hands, measure their claw length if necessary and separate the claw you intend to keep from the crab. Here is a quick video showing how to separate the claw from the crab to ensure the crab’s survival and allow it to regrow another claw.

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While not as popular as recreational lobstering, stone crabbing by hand is a lot of fun and there’s nothing like a great stone crab feast to cap off a great day on the water. When you’re trying it for the first couple times it can be intimidating to stick your hand into a stone crab’s hole but you’ll quickly figure out they’re rather slow and if you’re fast can get them into your net and under control. While regulations allow for recreational harvesters to take both class and claws as small as 2 and 3/4 inches, I think you will see that with the abundance of large claws on stone crabs that it makes sense to exercise conservation and target larger claws which have enough meat to make it worth your while. Have fun and try not to get pinched!

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The Cost of a Slip

For many boaters, keeping their boat docked at a marina or private slip is their largest monthly boating related expense. While budgeting for fuel, cleaning and maintenance is important and something all boaters are told to account for when making a new purchase, it is easy to overlook the cost of just finding a place to keep your boat. In addition to cost, many marinas in popular areas are full with waiting lists that can be years long. In fact I’m still on the waiting list for one local marina, 12 years after applying for a spot.

Before we dive into the cost of renting or owning a slip, let’s take a look at their advantages over the alternatives. For many boats, a slip or mooring is the only option since they are too large to be trailered routinely, this being particularly true for sailboats. A slip in an established marina offers a lot of options for boat owners. There is usually easy access to fresh water for washing down your boat after a day’s use and electricity for charging your batteries or running your boat’s AC unit while docked. Slips also offer the convenience of arriving at the marina, parking your car, stepping aboard your boat and sailing away. And, as I wrote about earlier in Layering Security – How to Prevent Boat Theft a marina will usually have a level of security in place for your vessel. With a slip there’s no trailering, there’s no waiting for the forklift operator to get to your boat on a busy Saturday at the dry stack facility, there’s no waiting for a launch or fiddling with your own dinghy to get out to your mooring. For boaters interested in boating easy, a slip really is a great option. However, it comes at a price.

Perhaps living in South Florida skews my perspective of the costs involved in keeping a boat slipped at a marina so I will try to include examples from elsewhere in the US as well. For the sake of our discussion and to keep things consistent for this example let’s imagine your new boat is 35 feet in length, a popular size that is just a little too big to regularly trailer while still manageable for a one or two person crew depending on skill level. I’ll start with South Florida first since it’s the area I’m most familiar with then look at other areas around the country.

On average slips at a marina in South Florida for a vessel in the 35 foot range will cost between $15 and $25 dollars per foot per month. While you can certainly find lower (or higher) priced options available in South Florida, I think this is a good range to consider when budgeting for a slip. At the low end of the range you’re looking at $525 per month or $6,300 per year. At the high end of our range $875 per month or $10,500 per year. As you can see the monthly payment on a slip for your boat can sometimes equal or even exceed your monthly payment on the boat itself.

Take solace in knowing that not everywhere is as expensive as South Florida, in fact South Florida is at the high end of the range due to our limited availability of marinas and how expensive waterfront real estate is here. For instance in the Tampa Bay Area marina rates are more reasonable ranging between roughly $8 and $12 for wet slips. For our 35′ boat that gives us a yearly cost ranging between $3,360 and $5,040 which is a bit more reasonable, at least in comparison to South Florida. Looking at the rates in San Diego, this chart provides a great comparison of the rates at various area marinas. screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-11-45-09-am

As you can see rates in San Diego for our 35 footer aren’t much different than they are here in South Florida. Looking at an in depth comparison of slip rates across the country isn’t the point I’m trying to make though. Slips are priced based on supply and demand and some areas, usually large metropolitan areas, are going to be more expensive than others. I’m just trying to make the point that a slip can be a significant fraction of your monthly/yearly expenses as a boat owner and should be something you think about when purchasing a new boat.

In addition to the direct monthly cost of keeping your boat in a slip, keeping your boat in the water adds an addition cost – bottom cleaning. Bottom cleaning is like mowing your yard, it has to be done regularly, and if you go too long without doing it, it becomes harder to do. Depending on where you live and how much performance you demand out of your vessel, you should plan on having your hull cleaned once or twice a month. As you can see from boat bottom cleaners who have offered their services on BoatEasy, bottom cleaning prices can range from $1 to $5 per foot depending on your location with many falling in the $2.50 per foot range. Our 35 foot boat would then cost $87.50 to have bottom cleaned, whether you opt for monthly or bi-monthly cleanings is up to you but plan on budgeting another $1,000 or so for this.

Unfortunately there isn’t a cheap route when it comes to keep your boat in a wet slip. A wet slip affords boat owners a great deal of convenience and takes out the hassle of trailering and waiting at boat ramps. In fact, I’ve always liked to think of boats kept in a wet slip like an apartment on the water, the monthly payment is often like a small apartment as well. One alternative that can save you some money is to look for private individuals with houses or condos with slips. Occasionally you’ll find private owners who have no need for the slip that came with their house and are interested in renting it out for a little extra monthly income. Often these slips will be priced lower than those at a larger marina and if you develop a good relationship with the homeowner it can be a win-win situation for all involved. We invite any homeowners who have a slip for rent to share it with our boaters on BoatEasy.

Our goal with BoatEasy has always been to make boating easy and I hope that any new boat owner considering a purchase takes into consideration the cost of a slip and the maintenance that comes with keep your boat in the water. If you enjoyed this post please share it with your friends and fellow boaters!

Targeting Yellowfin Tuna in “The Channel”

For anglers fishing out of South Florida, yellowfin tuna are a rare treat. For some reason that no ichthyologist can quite explain, yellowfin tuna have for the most part abandoned the western side of the Gulf Stream with only a handful of stray fishing making their way north on this side each year. However, within a relatively short distance for fishermen out of South Florida ports, there exists an excellent yellowfin tuna fishery. While yellowfins may have abandoned the western side of the Gulf Stream, the western portion of the Bahamas offers ample opportunities for anglers targeting yellowfins.

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Known as the Northwest Providence Channel or more commonly simply “The Channel” the area between Freeport, Bahamas and the northern edge of the Bahamas’ bank north of Bimini is a roughly 40 mile wide expanse of water that flows on the south side of Grand Bahama and the Abacos. While relatively close to the US as the crow flies, Bahamian customs regulation prevent anglers from directly transiting to it and fishing. Instead, boaters must clear Bahamian customs first at most commonly Bimini to the south or West End at the northwest tip of Grand Bahama before fishing in this region. Once you’re squared away and legally in the Bahamas, it’s time to start fishing.

Habits and Habitat

Yellowfin tuna are the consumate pelagic predator. Their speed and size make an adult yellowfin tuna virtually uncatchable by all but large marlins and mako sharks. On their own end, yellowfins need to eat a meaningful percentage of their body weight daily to sustain their rapid growth and constantly forage on a variety of smaller fish, squid and crustaceans. In our own experience yellowfins found in the The Channel are mainly feeding on smaller fish, some as small as an inch in length, and flying fish. Occasionally our analysis of their stomach content will show squid and crustaceans found in sargasso weed.

Whether it’s simply coincidence or yellowfins prefer the shelter it provides, some of the more active yellowfin feeding frenzies we have witnessed have occurred in areas of scattered weeds. Not on solid, well formed weed lines like you might encounter while fishing for dolphin (mahi-mahi) but in broad areas of broken up weed. Perhaps they’re feeding on the small baitfish that find shelter under small patches of weed or it’s just coincidental, either way I wouldn’t read too much into the presence or absence of sargasso weed when searching for yellowfins.

To keep pace with their insatiable appetite, yellowfins feed multiple times per day, rising to the surface to feed on baitfish aggregated under clumps of weed or other floating debris, and then returning to the cooler water below the thermocline a few hundred feet down. The yellowfin tuna fishery in the Bahamas is unique compared to fisheries elsewhere in the continental US in that yellowfins rising to the surface are contending with a very warm layer of surface water. It’s not uncommon for temperatures in The Channel to reach 85 degrees during the summer months. While temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico or in the Gulf Stream further north can be quite warm as well, yellowfin tuna in the Bahamas are well adapted to these warm temps. Part of that adaptation is a lower, almost non-existent fat content and correspondingly, a very high amount of muscle for their body weight, making them pound for pound one of the toughest fighting fish most anglers will encounter.

The other main adaptation to warm surface water temperatures in the Bahamas is behavioral. Yellowfin tuna spend a significant portion of their day at depth below or near the thermocline where the water is cooler. Additionally, their most active feeding time during summer months is likely to be in the early morning or in the evening. The dusk bite for yellowfin tuna the world over is legendary and The Channel is no exception. For those of us fishing this area, it is important to plan for the two to three hours around sundown to be the most productive time of the day. Fish will rise to the surface for longer periods of time allowing flocks of birds to find and follow them while they feed.

Finding the Fish

On the subject of birds, they can be pretty helpful when it comes to finding a feeding school of yellowfin tuna in the open ocean. As I see it, there are three general steps to positioning your boat amidst a school of yellowfin tuna. First you need to choose an area of The Channel that you want to fish, second you need to locate and observe a flock of birds that is potentially on fish, and finally you need to confirm fish are in the area and position yourself in a location where your baits can reach them without spooking the school of tuna.

The first step is perhaps the easiest. If you’ve caught yellowfins before in The Channel, you can always go there however, it’s probably worth looking at why you caught fish there. The Channel south of Freeport, Grand Bahama is home to a prominent underwater feature, an undersea canyon running from deeper water in the east into shallower water to the west. This canyon and its fingers are clearly evident on any bathymetric chart and I highly recommend anglers fishing the area purchase one in order to have a better understanding of what’s happening underneath them that is causing baitfish and in turn yellowfin tuna to congregate in the area. Generally speaking currents from the deeper waters of the channel to the east are crashing into the walls of the canyon as it narrows and eventually terminates south of Freeport. Current hitting the walls of the canyon is forcing cooler, nutrient rich water upwards which is what smaller marine organisms in the area are feeding on. With the smaller organisms come progressively larger fish until you get to our chosen target, yellowfin tuna, although there’s always a chance that yellowfins themselves are food for a large blue marlin or mako shark. Put simply, the majority of our success fishing for yellowfins in the area has occurred near or within the various “fingers” of the underwater canyon in The Channel. There’s nothing to fence yellowfins into those specific regions and they can certainly be anywhere from Great Isaac’s light to Bells Channel Lucaya but you can’t fish everywhere at once.

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The second aspect of successfully getting on fish involves actually locating a school of tuna. As I alluded to earlier, your best asset here is going to be the flocks of sea birds that feed in conjunction with a school of tuna. There’s something amazing about just sitting back and watching a yellowfin tuna feeding frenzy with birds of multiple species feeding alongside the tuna, using them to push the bait to the surface where it is within easy reach. I can just hear you thinking now, I didn’t spend a couple hundred dollars on gas and tackle to watch birds and tuna eat, I want to catch them. Ok, well as I said, we need to find the birds first.

The best tool by far for finding birds is a quality open array radar. It’s amazing how effective radar is under the right conditions at finding birds. Large flocks of a dozen or more birds are often visible on radar at over 4 miles while just a few birds can often be picked up two or more miles out. Good radar is indispensable for this application and is nice to have for running at night when you’re done fishing as well. In lieu of radar, a pair of stabilized binoculars can be a good option as well, as well as a pair of conventional binoculars. My goal with the previous section was to narrow down the body of water you’ll be fishing in to the areas with the highest probability of success. While radar allows you to find flocks of birds within a circle around your boat with an approximate area of 50 square miles, hopefully by narrowing down the area to fish to something smaller you won’t need to depend on radar’s magic. Even if you do have radar, sea state can play a big role in its effectiveness with rough, choppy conditions significantly reducing its effectiveness.

If you haven’t used your radar in “bird mode” before and want to learn how or want to get better at it, I recommend watching this video by Into the Blue’s Scott Walker. Essentially you want to turn off the preset filters that declutter the radar screen and max out the gain. I highly, highly, recommend practicing on birds somewhere closer to home so you have an idea of what to look for on your radar screen before trying it while fishing in The Channel.

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Once your radar or your eyes have led you to a likely flock of birds, you’re almost on the tuna. Observe what the birds are doing, if they’re low on the surface of the water and there are fish under them or if they are high and dispersed looking around. If there’s a large group of birds in the area, there is almost certainly a school of fish somewhere to be found, even if you’re not seeing them breaking on the surface in classic tuna boils. One thing we’ve had luck doing to pin point the tuna is setting our depth finder to cover the top 400 feet or so of the water column and while we’re idling around about a 100 feet off the main flock of birds just keep an eye on the depth finder. You’ll usually start to mark fish 150 to 250 feet down. It’s important at this stage of the game to avoid spooking the tuna and sending them down or away. Occasionally you’ll see boats troll at speed directly through the tuna or have a boat run up on you while you’re fishing – don’t do this. Keep your boat speed slow and slowly nudge closer to the school, you don’t need to be right on top of them, once you start putting out bait and chum they’ll come to you. If you’re not seeing fish on the surface and you’re not marking fish on your fish finder, keep slowly circling the school, occasionally we’ll put a tuna feather way, way back while doing this in the hopes of hooking up while finding them.

Catching Fish

While it may sound counterintuitive, if you’ve gotten this far and you’re on fish, catching them is the easy part. Yes there are still some challenges to overcome, but these tuna are hungry and they want to eat, so if you’re on a good looking school of tuna with fish either marking on your fish finder or you’re watching them boil around the boat, the odds are good that you’re going to put yellowfin tuna in the boat.

Everyone has their own approach to how they put fish in the boat once they’ve located them, this is ours but there are other good methods which I’ll try to cover briefly too. We like live bait, pilchards to be precise. A tuna trip for us doesn’t start without live wells loaded with at least a couple hundred pilchards, a thousand or so seems to be the magic number. In fact next season we’re going to make our live wells a more habitable place for large amounts of pilchards. There are a lot of tricks to stocking up on pilchards and keeping them alive, most of which would require posts of their own to cover in depth. To keep things brief, make sure your live wells have good flow and clean water coming in, if the water temperature gets too hot or there is a decrease in flow they will start to die off.

Back to a patch of water somewhere in the Northwest Providence Channel around sunset. So you’ve found the birds, you see the fish, what now? As we slowly nudge closer to the school of boiling tuna we’ll get to within 50 to 100 feet or so of the closest boil and shut down the engines. At the same time, toss out a couple netfuls of live pilchards as freebies to get things going. Try to toss them in the general direction of the school of fish, for this purpose we cut the top off a whiffle ball bat and can load it up with either live bait or chunks and can really get some distance on a toss. Getting them farther away from the boat keeps them from immediately going back under the boat and hiding and increases the chances that tuna will see them. If you’ve done this correctly, the results should be almost instantaneous with large explosions appearing where your pilchards used to be. If the tuna don’t immediately react to them, don’t worry, the pilchards will ball up under your boat and create a bait ball that will drive the tuna wild for hours to come.

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At the same time someone is tossing out freebie pilchards, someone else should be baiting rods and putting pilchards on them. For this application I recommend bent butt 50Ws topped with 60lb fluorocarbon leader. Keep the rods in the rod holder with just the clicker on or very light drag and peel off line giving the pilchard you tossed out some room to run, hooking them in the lower back half will usually make them swim away from the boat. One person can usually work two or three rods doing this, you might also consider rubber banding on a weight above the fluorocarbon leader to get your bait a little deeper. Give your baits time to get away from the boat and time for the tuna to notice them, they should get hit.

While powerful, yellowfin tuna in the western Bahamas don’t get all that big so 50Ws may seem like overkill. However, the biggest challenge isn’t the fish itself, it’s often getting the fish in before the sharks that follow a pelagic school of tuna get to your hooked fish. During a hot bite I recommend pushing the drag up past strike and reeling the fish in, if something breaks it breaks, re-rig and get back to fishing. If you baby these fish they’re going to dive down into the cooler, oxygen rich waters below the thermocline and stay there. Additionally, the entire time you have the fish on the line you’re ringing the dinner bell for sharks and since you’re forced to use relatively light fluorocarbon leader to elicit a bite, there’s a very real possibility it will chafe through after a prolonged fight. If after you catch one or two you want to scale back your tackle to make things more sporting, by all means but I recommend trying to hook the first fish or two on stout conventional setups and get them to the boat as quickly as possible with as much drag as you think the tackle can handle.

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Yellowfin tuna aren’t always as cooperative as I described. Sometimes you come upon them earlier in the day and the warm water temps have them hanging deep only briefly rising to hit bait on the surface. Or as we found late one night, they’re feeding on squid down 200 feet. While still quite happy to hit a bait, I’m not sure yellowfin tuna ever experience “lockjaw” like some other fish species, there’s the small problem of getting a bait to them. For deeper tuna there’s one thing that really seems to work – vertical jigs. A jig dropped to their depth when you’re marking them under the boat is usually a guaranteed hook up. There is however a catch, jigging setups usually aren’t your heaviest setups and these fish are a lot deeper than fish you’ll hook on live bait near the surface. Brace yourself for a fight if you want to try this approach, we’ve hooked yellowfins on vertical jigs only to fight them for two hours before seeing color. Another option is deploying a weighted live bait to their depth, a bait they’ll hopefully see and pickup. The jigging approach is a lot of fun and a nice change of pace from our typical live bait fishing and there’s nothing quite as rewarding as landing a nice yellowfin tuna on a spinning reel.

In the absence of live bait, a lot of anglers will use chunked frozen baits. We usually carry a flat or two of chunked sardines with us as well to augment our live chumming efforts. The best tip I can give here is chunk the sardines while they’re still frozen on land on a solid table – chunking mushy sardines on a rocking boat sucks and is a good way for someone to get cut. Pre-chunk several flats, I’d recommend at least 3 flats for a day of yellowfin fishing although if you’re exclusively using chunk bait you might consider more. Fishing with chunks is a lot like fishing with live bait, get close to the school and see or mark fish and sling out some chunks with your whiffle ball bat. Put a hook in a few chunks and peel off line so it sinks at a natural rate, the tuna should come and pick it up. You will miss the explosive top water scenes of large yellowfins devouring pilchards on the surface but it is an effective way to fish for them.

Some anglers forego bait entirely and will instead put out a complete trolling spread and slowly troll around a flock of tuna with a spread of feathers and cedar plugs far back behind the boat. This method isn’t as effective as chunks or live bait but can produce fish. Alternatively, something I’ve been tempted to do is just use jigs. We’ve actually had hookups on the jigs without even having a bait in the water, as we approached a flock and started marking fish on the depth finder, I’ve dropped a vertical jig down and hooked up instantly. There are a lot of ways to fish for them but live bait and chunks seem to work and if you’re running all the way to the Bahamas to target them then it makes sense to be prepared.

The Little Things

Not every flock of birds has yellowfin tuna. Sometimes you’ll come upon a flock that has a lot of surface activity but is moving very fast, this is likely skip jacks. Unless you’re marking larger fish below them or see yellowfins breaching the water as well you can consider moving on to fish a different flock. There have been days when we’ve fished in excess of a dozen flocks and other days when all it took was a single flock and we could have sunk the boat with tuna if we hadn’t started releasing them. Of course a big consideration in whether to move on or not is going to be how difficult finding a flock is. If you have radar sometimes you’re already marking another flock of birds but if you’re working without radar then it can be more appealing to stay and work one flock hard – some of our best days fishing The Channel came when we took this approach.

If you’re using live bait there’s an interesting phenomenon that I’ve observed happen a couple times if there is also scattered weed in the area. As most offshore anglers know, little patches of weed often hold an assortment of pelagic forage fish like small jacks and rainbow runners. These fish will occasionally see your bait ball of pilchards holding under the boat and decide to join them, greatly increasing the size of the bait school you’ve created and likewise increasing its appeal to the tuna circling below. If you notice this happening you can slow down your chumming, and occasionally turn on the motors and drive forward a hundred feet or so to wash out the baits. As the baits that were hiding under the boat lose their shelter, the tuna erupt on them in a spectacular feeding frenzy, it goes without saying to make sure you have at least one or two baits out in that area when you do this.

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I think it’s every fisherman’s goal to catch larger fish. The yellowfin tuna in the Bahamas are relatively small compared to their brethren elsewhere in the world with average size in the 40 to 80lb range. Bigger fish certainly do exist, we fought one for almost two hours once, glimpsing color and massive sickle fins once in the fight only to lose it later. It’s my belief that the larger fish tend to hold deeper in the water column and when they do rise to feed its only briefly. A goggle eye or blue runner sent to their depth can be the ticket although a large pilchard should do the trick too. Anglers have also reported the occasional catch of Big Eye tuna mixed in with yellowfin schools. There’s a lot we still don’t know about the habits and behavior of tuna in The Channel so perhaps Big Eye and larger yellowfins are more common, they’re just lost to sharks and tackle failure more often than the average size yellowfins.

At the other end of the size spectrum are the blackfins and skipjacks mixed into a school of yellowfin. While blackfin are always an exciting catch in our own South Florida water, by golly we didn’t run 120 miles just to catch 10lb blackfins. Larger baits sent deeper will usually get past the blackfins, as will baits further away from the boat as blackfins seem to have less fear of the boat and will hit baits right at the boat. If you’re catching blackfins and seeing/marking yellowfins just be patient you’ll hook one of the right ones eventually.

There’s nothing quite like a hot yellowfin tuna bite when it happening. It combines all the chaos of a school of dolphin with fish that are more than capable of pulling some serious drag. Be prepared and remember you’re a long way from home so try not to let the excitement get the best of you, lest you end up with a hook in your own lip. I hope this article is helpful to those of you that get a chance to target them, I simply ask that you please practice restraint and conservation when targeting them and if you’ve caught a few switch up your tackle to jigging or popping gear for more of a challenge. Be sure to join us at BoatEasy the Boater-to-Boater Marketplace for all your boating needs and to share this article with anyone else interested in fishing for yellowfin tuna in the Bahamas.

 

 

Layering Security – How to Prevent Boat Theft

I’m writing this as a victim of boat theft myself, having had my center console stolen in 2010. I hope some of the information I share will help other boat owners avoid the situation I went through. If you would like to continue the discussion or need a hand securing your vessel, join the community of boaters helping boaters at BoatEasy. Be sure to check back for more articles on theft prevention which will dive into more depth on specific aspects of what you can do to safeguard your vessel.

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Guarding against theft has become a part of life for boaters in South Florida. Experienced thieves have perfected their craft making what were once effective security measures for protecting your vessel inadequate. To give you an idea of how proficient local boat thieves are, my own boat was stolen around 11 AM on a Wednesday and Miami-Dade County police officers found and recovered the boat approximately 7 hours later at 6 PM. In that time, security devices on the trailer were defeated and the boat was stolen out of my locked yard. It was then taken to a warehouse, stripped of everything of value – engines, electronics and any gear left aboard, and abandoned  on the trailer in a remote area. Fortunately in my case the hull itself was undamaged and after working with my insurance company and mechanic we were able to re-power with new engines and get it back on the water. However, I’m one of the lucky ones, many boat owners never see their vessels again or they are permanently damaged from the actions of thieves who stole them.

Thieves usually have one of two goals in mind when stealing a vessel in South Florida or the Bahamas. In my case the items of value were taken off the boat and what was left – the hull, was dumped. The other goal is perhaps more nefarious. High powered center console style boats, usually longer than 30 feet, are stolen for their speed and storage capacity. Vessels stolen from Florida or the Bahamas are used once in smuggling drugs or trafficking humans. A typical route might find a vessel stolen in South Florida running to Cuba, taking on its cargo, and then either back to South Florida or to Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. Several hundred miles of open ocean running by thieves who have little care for the boat beyond their needs for the day is sure to take its toll on even the best constructed hulls and engines. Vessels used in this manner, even if they are recovered, are often a total loss for their owners and their insurance company.

At this point, you’re probably wondering what can you as a boat owner can do to keep your boat safe? The reality is that experienced thieves are quite adept at defeating any individual security device. However, when multiple systems are layered together  your vessel’s security increases exponentially. Reliance on any single measure is insufficient to deter experienced boat thieves. What I will try to do in this article and in follow-up articles in this series is help you formulate a plan that incorporates multiple security methods making your vessel difficult for even experienced thieves to steal. By increasing the degree of difficulty to steal your vessel, the time it takes thieves increases making it more likely that you or a neighbor will catch them in the act and be able to alert authorities.

I break the security involved into three layers. The first layer focuses on securing the location the vessel is kept, be it your driveway, yard, storage facility or slip. Following that comes the physical security involved in securing the vessel itself whether it’s in a slip or on a trailer. The final layer is onboard security thieves must overcome to actually steal your vessel. Think of each layer like the walls of a castle, a thief must scale each wall before they are able to steal your vessel. This article and others in the series will help you formulate a plan to construct the walls around your vessel as well as focus on specifics to making each individual wall stronger.

The first layer, the site where you keep your boat, is something many people neglect entirely. Often those who keep their vessel at home are lulled into a false sense of security, feeling safe in their home and yard. And for those who keep their vessel elsewhere like at a storage facility or marina, feel the site’s security rests with the operators of the facility. Regardless of where you keep your boat, there are a number of easy steps you can take to increase the security of the location and in some cases you may be able to work with other boat owners at the same location or the operators of the facility to provide robust security for all who store their boat there.

The first step is being security conscience when choosing a location for your boat. Whether it’s your own yard, a storage facility or a marina, security should be one of the factors you consider when you first select a location for your boat. If you are keeping your boat somewhere other than your own yard, be sure to ask the operators of the facility what their security plan is and what steps they’ve taken to secure the site. If they seem knowledgeable of the threat posed by boat thieves then perhaps they’ve already taken some steps to secure the facility. On the other hand if they seem unaware of the risks involved or are unreceptive to suggestions then perhaps a new location is in order.

Whether at a marina, storage facility or in your own yard, one of the most important things to think about when securing the location where you keep your boat is access. Who has access to the location and how is access controlled. In your own yard this is easy, you and your family have access and can control access to your vessel to those you know through a fence or wall. At a larger storage facility or marina this is more difficult, hundreds if not thousands of people may have access to the specific location where your vessel is kept. Some marinas and storage facilities will limit access through gates that only members have access to combined with security guards that patrol the facility limiting access to only those who should be there and providing an extra set of eyes on all vessels stored at the facility.

In addition to controlling access to the location where your boat is kept, there are a number of things you can do to make the location less appealing to boat thieves. Lighting, whether it’s lighting around the vessel in your yard or a well lit facility, can make your boat less of a target for thieves. While adequate lighting is a good start, adding surveillance cameras, motion sensors and motion activated lights and alarms can all help discourage thieves. Like I discussed earlier, considering adding several of these systems if your budget allows to make the area where your vessel is kept as secure as possible. If you are installing them yourself and need recommendations or advice, visit BoatEasy where our community of boaters will be happy to share their services and expertise with you. Another excellent option for advice is talking to other boaters near you or management at the facility where you keep your vessel, defeating boat thieves is a combined effort by the entire boating community.

The second layer of security involves security at the vessel itself. What can you do to make it more difficult to steal? I will address this in more detail in its own follow-up article but there are a few basic things that should be covered here. If your boat is kept on a trailer then locks, both on the tongue and the wheels, are an additional hurdle thieves must overcome. Furthermore, try to park the trailer in a location that is difficult for thieves to connect to. I often park a car in front of the trailer’s tongue but if that isn’t possible then just positioning the tongue of the trailer away from the road can limit access to thieves. If at all possible try to hide your boat so it is not easily visible from the road.

Boats kept on a lift or at a slip require a somewhat different approach to security. Since you don’t have the option of securing the trailer, you need to make your vessel as secure as possible on its lift or at its slips. Lifts controls can be locked and have power cut to them. It’s important to understand that individually, none of these will stop an experienced thief. Locks and chains can be defeated or cut, lift cables can be cut or an auxiliary generator hooked to the lift to provide power. However, when combined together with a secure site and onboard security systems, they present a deterrence to thieves.

The final layer of security is security aboard the vessel. Tracking systems like the SPOT HUG and those provided by GOST Global can give you peace of mind that if your boat is stolen, you will be notified quickly. While notifying authorities and starting the recovery process quickly is important, tracking apps start working once an unauthorized movement has occurred meaning, your boat has already been stolen. In my own instance thieves severely damaged my boat’s trailer and T-Top by pulling it too close to a tree in my yard. Even if it had been recovered immediately I would have had several thousand dollars in damage to contend with, and while far better than the total bill, still not something you want to have to deal with. Some onboard solutions include hidden circuit breakers which restrict power to the engines, motion sensors with lights and alarms that activate when someone boards the vessel. If your vessel has a cabin you may also want to consider strengthening the cabin door and lock to limit access to it.

Providing adequate security for your vessel may seem like a daunting task. As I’ve said before, no single solution is adequate, rather you need to focus on layering security systems together to create a strong deterrence against theft. I hope I have encouraged you to start formulating a plan to secure your own vessel. In this series of articles I will dive into more details and offer more tips for boat owners looking to increase their vessel’s security and prevent boat theft. Feel free to contact me or leave a reply below if you have any questions and be sure to check back soon for more articles in this series.

 

 

 

A Place for Charter Captains

BoatEasy is a community of boaters helping boaters. Our members all share one thing in common, they love being on the water. BoatEasy makes finding and connecting with boaters near you easy. One advantage of having such a diverse community of boaters, boat maintenance, boat repair, boat cleaning, boat help and experienced crew is the ability to find charter captains willing to take you out for the day.

At BoatEasy it’s easy to connect with the captains you already know through the community of boaters helping boaters and find a charter fishing trip. Or if fishing isn’t your thing find charter captains that will take you on a sailing charter, or just a day cruise. A charter fishing trip or charter sailing trip can be an excellent way to spend the day and relax. Or, if you’re new to the area, hiring an experienced charter captain through BoatEasy, whether it’s on your boat or theirs, is a great way to gain local knowledge. Book your day on the water today at BoatEasy.

Captain’s and guides local to your area an excellent resource. BoatEasy’s community of boaters brings boaters of all types together providing an excellent knowledge base for boaters in the area. Captains are often on the water several times a week and know local waters like the back their hand. Join the community of boaters helping boaters at BoatEasy.

 

BoatEasy – A Nautical Marketplace

At BoatEasy we initially wanted to build a community of boaters helping boaters. Our platform was designed to allow boaters to connect with other boaters and marine service professionals. Whenever a member needed help with things like boat cleaning, boat maintenance, boat repair, outboard repair, inboard repair, marine electronics, marine wiring, marine upholstery, fiberglass repair, bottom cleaning, hull cleaning, boat detailing, boat waxing or anything else they could visit BoatEasy and find someone to help them.

We quickly realized however that we had this great platform and shouldn’t limit ourselves to just connecting boaters with service providers. We soon discovered our members were interested in selling their own products through the platform. While not exactly what we had in mind when building BoatEasy we thought it was great. From fishing rods and reels to boating equipment and even boats for sale. BoatEasy’s platform allows boaters to connect with other boaters and showcase their boating related products to a community of boaters who want them.

We invite all boaters to join the BoatEasy community and share your nautical products with other boaters. Or if you have a skill or service you’re interested in sharing with other boaters, check us out.

A Community of Boaters

BoatEasy is the peer to peer marketplace for boaters and as it grows we’re quickly discovering there’s more to boating services than meets the idea. Sure, it’s important to be able to find help with cleaningmaintenancecrew and a host of other things at BoatEasy. However, boaters are a tribe of their own. They want people they can trust, people who are reliable and able to provide quality service at an affordable price. BoatEasy is becoming more than just boating services, it’s becoming a community of boaters helping other boaters.

At BoatEasy members can give reviews and provide advice of marine professionals. Whether they’re a skilled detailer who did an excellent job making their boat look like it just came off the showroom floor or a knowledgeable marine mechanic who fixed that pesky gremlin that had been plaguing their engine for months, BoatEasy offers access to hundreds of boaters and marine professionals that can help.

As we grow, we hope BoatEasy will become a thriving marketplace of not just marine professionals connecting with boaters who need a hand but also boaters, connecting with other boaters to share their skills, ideas and their passion for being on the water. It will be a place where you can charter anywhere in the world while also finding someone to give you a hand aboard your own boat back home. BoatEasy and stay safe my friends!

The Boater-to-Boater Marketplace

BoatEasy (www.BoatEasy.net) is designed as a peer-to-peer marketplace for boaters. Peer-to-peer marketplaces come in a variety of shapes and sizes these days. Sites like AirBnB let you rent out your extra bedroom to guests who need lodging, Uber and Lyft are disrupting the established taxi cab model and allowing their users to both earn extra cash and find transportation. We modeled BoatEasy in this way in an effort to bring some of the benefits peer-to-peer marketplaces have brought to other industry to boaters.

BoatEasy offers its users the opportunity to both make money and find other users who can help them. In general I like to think of these two choices as the supply side and the demand side. On the supply side we have marine service providers offering services like boat cleaning, waxing, detailing, maintenance, outboard repair, inboard repair, hull cleaning, electronics installation and troubleshooting and a host of other services that all boats require every now and then. The demand side is boaters, people who own boats or maybe they just enjoy spending time on their friends’ boats. We’ve all heard the expression, B-O-A-T is an acronym for “break out another thousand”. Boat ownership is expensive, things break, saltwater gets places it shouldn’t and causes corrosion, little marine critters cling to your hull and decide it looks like a nice place to build their own private coral reef, stuff happens, we know.

Just because boats can be a headache sometimes, doesn’t mean finding help should be. BoatEasy is a free platform that allows users to find the right person for the job in their area. Since we are a marketplace and user’s offerings and reviews are public for everyone to see, you can find the right person at the right price who comes recommended from the BoatEasy community. That’s the key, recommended from our community of other boaters.

Finding someone to clean or maintain your boat can be difficult but it can also be time consuming. You want to use your boat now, or at least in the next few days, finding a service provider who can give you a hand today is either impossible or expensive. BoatEasy allows you to post a request visible to the entire community if you can’t find what you’re looking for in our available offerings http://www.BoatEasy.net. Post your specific request and members in your area will be able to see it and contact you immediately. Sign-up here and start connecting with boaters and marine service providers in your area today!

Why BoatEasy – www.BoatEasy.net

As a boat owner I was always amazed at how difficult it could be to find reliable and affordable marine service providers. Sure they existed, everyone at the marina could give you a name of someone they had used in the past or knew who could do the work. The problem was, they were booked until next month or they charged $200 an hour or they didn’t do that service anymore, the list was endless. I just wanted a place where I could go, find someone who could give me a hand with my boat within a reasonable amount of time, and wouldn’t charge so much that I had to choose between fixing my boat or using it.

I thought, why not bring the peer-to-peer marketplace model to the boating world. Peer-to-peer marketplaces have revolutionized the way many of us hail a cab, book lodging or any number of services available today. I decided a marketplace aimed at connecting boaters to other boaters who could help them out, or at least point them in the right direction, was exactly what the marine service industry needed. BoatEasy http://www.BoatEasy.net grew from this idea, why not connect more aspects than just service providers.

There is a whole world of knowledge among boaters, from fisherman and sailors who have been fine tuning their craft for decades, to captains who know local waters like the back of their hands. BoatEasy was built not just to connect boaters to professionals who can help them keep their boat afloat but also to other boaters. Boaters who would hopefully share their knowledge and expertise in person.

As BoatEasy grows I hope it will be a place where all boaters can go to quickly and easily find affordable and reliable boat cleaners and detailers, boat maintenance, licensed captains, mates, guides, repairs for engines, trailers and everything else that is always breaking aboard. BoatEasy’s slogan is “Boating Made Easy” I hope that by venturing into the peer-to-peer or should I say boater-to-boater marketplace model, we can help take the hassle out of boat ownership.