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Thieves on Oakland Estuary Steal Boats With Impunity, Face Few Consequences

Over the past few weeks, several boats have been stolen from Alameda marinas on almost a daily basis, often in broad daylight, and often with the perpetrators caught on camera while in stolen property. Liveaboards in Alameda are stunned by the audacity of the thieves, who can often be seen returning to flotillas of anchored-out boats, with their spoils visible, on the Oakland side of the Estuary.

“It’s gotten kind of scary, the brazenness of it all,” said one resident. “It’s bad. It’s really bad. I mean, these guys come by nightly,” one liveaboard told us on Friday. “They’re coming in here, whereas they usually don’t,” said another liveaboard. “The theft is absolutely increasing at an increasing rate,” said a longtime sailor who works on the Estuary.

The Oakland Estuary is a confluence of multiple city, state and federal jurisdictions, as well as a focal point of any number of entrenched issues facing all major cities. Jack London Square in Oakland actually has more public dock space than any other location on the Bay, but the Estuary also has swaths of marinas opposite of tucked-away no-man’s land, where people on both sides of the law fall through the cracks. Several cities’ police marine units appear underfunded and understaffed, and anecdotes suggest that some departments aren’t entirely sure how to deal with stolen boats.

Residents of marinas (which, in Alameda, might eventually be considered housing units) have been told that they’re basically on their own, inspiring talk of a marina neighborhood watch. We’ve left out the names of residents we interviewed due to fear of harassment and retaliation.

Thefts New and Old

Last week at the Alameda Community Sailing Center, five of their eight RIBS were stolen from Ballena Isle Marina. Three washed up around various parts of town, but were “trashed and inoperable.”

Pictures from Alameda Community Sailing Center’s Instagram shows a few of their recovered but vandalized dinghies. “This is pernicious; they’re knifing them,” a liveaboard said. “I can only presume they’re trying to get them to sink. There’s no reason to do that — just take the motor and go.”
© 2023 Alameda Community Sailing Center

In June, $20,000 worth of coach boats were stolen from an Alameda yacht club. One boat was stripped of its motor, pulled onshore, and knifed with holes so that it sank just beneath the water.

This weekend, a coach boat was reportedly stolen from the same Alameda club. “I’ll be damned if I didn’t go past where the thieves live and see one of these coach boats tied up,” a longtime Alameda liveaboard told us. “We know exactly where they go: two sailboats and a powerboat moored off Union Point Marina.”

The same liveaboard also told us that on Saturday, a woman had jumped the gate at Marina Village and walked onto his boat. The liveaboard’s son woke up and chased the would-be intruder, “who was probably trying to steal the [dinghy].”

Each of the people we spoke with told us that more than a week ago, police arrested someone off the aforementioned flotilla. One witness said that the Alameda County sheriff was there, as well as several Coast Guard boats on the scene. It’s presumed that the apparent arrest is related to the thefts.

Who Has Jurisdiction Over the Estuary? It’s Not Clear

If someone steals something in Alameda, then crosses the Estuary to Oakland, who’s responsible for enforcing the law, or for taking a report? It’s kind of a moot point, anyway — there is no such thing as a full-time marine patrol on the Estuary. The Alameda Police Department’s boat is not in the water, though it may be soon, according to what residents say APD has told them. After reportedly being on the hard for several months, the Oakland Police Department’s marine patrol unit might be back in the water, though we can’t confirm that. One witness said that Oakland police officers have tagged a few derelict vessels from land, presumably under Oakland’s new Nuisance Vessel Ordinance.

(We called OPD and the Alameda County sheriff for comment before publication. We hope to speak with them in the future.)

“What about the Coast Guard?” is a common refrain when people hear about piracy on the Estuary. The anchored-out flotilla — and alleged home base for rampant theft — is immediately off one end of Coast Guard Island. The Coast Guard has told Latitude that they don’t have “the authority or the jurisdiction” to remove anchor-outs. With that said, several residents told us that a lesser-known division of the USCG has been gathering evidence and potentially building a case.

Two vessels docked at the Grand Street Launching Facility a few weeks ago, telling Alameda police officers that they were having engine trouble and would leave when they could. “There was a guy there doffing his cap and unloading his [stolen] spoils 100 feet from the Alameda County sheriff’s boat,” a witness said.
© 2023 Anonymous
An Alameda police officer told one liveaboard that there wasn’t anything they could do about the thefts. “She was being very sympathetic,” the liveaboard said. To be fair, people on shore complain about brazen theft of cars, break-ins, etc., and about police who are overwhelmed and often slow to respond.

Sometimes, both police and the community have difficulty identifying stolen vessels.

Last year, as someone was stealing a Grand Banks 42 from Jack London Square Marina, a neighbor, not knowing a theft was in progress, gave a “cordial wave goodbye” to the thief, according to a source. The thief took the boat to a brokerage dock in Alameda, and employees there called the police — who they say arrived immediately — about a trespasser. (One of the employees said they were suspicious because the man was driving the Grand Banks so poorly.)

The police originally asked if the boat could stay overnight at the dock; the employees said no — they had a boat returning soon. As the Grand Banks departed, it scraped a new boat at the dock. The thief took the boat back to its slip and left; he was arrested later for stealing electronics from other vessels in the Estuary.

There appear to be bureaucratic problems with policing, as well.

When another boat was stolen recently in the Estuary, a captain, acting with power of attorney from his client, called the OPD marine patrol officer, who apologized profusely but said he couldn’t do anything, “because I can’t get dispatch; there is no crime in progress, it’s not in the system because the owner hasn’t reported it stolen.” The officer advised the captain to go to the police station to file a report. There, the clerk could not enter the boat’s CF numbers because it wasn’t a VIN (Vehicle Identification Number), and they were thus unable to enter the boat into the system.

The vessel was recovered later.

If You See Something, Say Something

“This is getting so out of hand,” a liveaboard, who had an intruder on their boat on Saturday, told us. “So many of us are seeing people go through our marina. We need a marina neighborhood watch program. We need to do something. All up and down the Estuary, we are now exchanging our names and phone numbers. We are worrying about our self-defense in ways that we haven’t before.”

A captain said that he’d be willing to do a volunteer patrol one night a month. “If the mantra is ‘see something, say something,’ what comes of it? Do we get lights; do we pay for security? I don’t know.

“Maybe law enforcement can help us help ourselves.”

Cover Photo: An anchor-out flotilla between Union Point Marina and Coast Guard Island in November 2021. 


  1. Ross Angel 9 months ago

    Solution: a very big very gnarly dog is my take on how to solve a problem like this. If they are vandals, deadbeats looking for money to buy their drugs and get their fix for the day, they will stay away.
    No One wants to tangle with a big snarling dog. Armed with anything but a loaded pistol, they will lose that fight and never come back.

  2. CHUCK CUNNINGHAM 9 months ago

    Great article. We listened to the hearing today. As a boat owner in Marina Village YC we are very aware of the situation. Our berth neighbors have security cameras and live aboard. that helps. A neighborhood watch would be helpful. So many boats are left alone 80% of the time(including ours). The Marina Village YH ownership and management is on top of the problem. We appreciate their constant attention.

  3. Joseph DiMatteo 9 months ago

    The irony of that area almost matches its criminality. We stopped at Union Point Park where your photo was taken on our way to Quinn’s Lighthouse after an A’s game on July 19. The pack of derelict boats, and possibly their criminal owners, was a stone’s throw from one of the big USCG cutters. Possibly this area rivals the dysfunction of Richardson Bay? What a shame and it is unlikely to be cleaned up anytime soon.

  4. Fred Read 9 months ago

    I hate to say it, but as we become more of a third world country due to wealth inequality, we are going to see more and more of this. When I had this problem in the Caribbean, I just moved to a different island. Not so ease here. And Yes, self policing makes sense. But with no authority, they may just keep doing what they are doing. Knowing that they can. Maybe move to Mexico where your boat is safer. Wow, thought I’d never say that.

  5. jose kanusee 9 months ago

    nah… nothing to be friendly about on this topic. Vigilante
    ism is headed to a dock near you! And it will be ugly.

  6. Dennis Hager 9 months ago

    The Oakland/SF area has turned into a lawless community. Considering the wealth and high taxes I just can’t understand why this is being allowed to happen. It has come to the point where vigilantism may be the only option.

  7. Dean Koutzoukis 9 months ago

    Had my car stolen on a trip to San Francisco. Recovered and thief arrested a week later. DA at the time, who now holds much higher office refused to prosecute. Ypu reap what you sow Bay Area and you’ve been sowing catch and release for far too long

    • C. Lewis 9 months ago

      Agreed! Has nothing to do with wealth inequalities. Does being poor equal immorality. Does being poor equate to the right to steal. Lack of enforcement has shown, if a person with no morals isn’t stopped, they will continue to elevate their crimes.

  8. Steve Bondelid 9 months ago

    Keeping it friendly means that I am totally friendly with Jose and Dennis !

  9. Russell Duncanson 9 months ago

    The CC could definitely board all those derelict vessels and write them up on a variety of offenses . This is typical and lke other comments it’s time accountability in all behavior comes back on n vogue

  10. Scott Bennett 9 months ago

    There are other marinas on the Bay. Vote with your keel.

  11. Horace 9 months ago

    You get what you vote for your bourgeoisie booties. Crime may never come to your little gated enclaves but it is still killing the bay. Reap what you Sow.

  12. Tracy Reigelman 9 months ago

    The Oakland/Alameda Estuary has been, and continues to be, ignored. While theft of boats and marine equipment is a large piece of the pie – there is also crime on the shoreside. People have been physically assaulted, cars stolen, harassment and trespassing are a regular occurrence along, and with businesses surrounding, the Bay Trail. The Bay Trail and public shoreline in the area is so hazardous and has been destroyed to the point that docks sit on dry ground at low tides. It is apparent the cities of Alameda and Oakland and the County of Alameda have a very difficult time coordinating between themselves, and ignore other agencies.

    Some boaters can “vote with their keel”, many of us can’t. Problems that are occurring aren’t limited to boater thefts. The general public is impacted, and ironically, some of the most fragile members of our population are placed into dilapidated facilities, unsuited for the services they provide, due to loopholes and stealth programs. In addition to boaters, both segments of the population are at significant risk to their safety and security.

    Pleas for help and assistance are ignored, while officials look for projects that are easier to solve and that they can slap their names on. The Alameda Police Department publicly announced they are down in staffing, and Oakland isn’t any better. Police departments around the country are told they are no longer the first line of contact, but third – only after care teams and counselors have had a chance to straighten things out. Even after culprits are caught “red handed”, Police have difficulty prosecuting and criminals are set free. The public is not educated or trained to deal with situations like this.

    Unfortunately, it will likely result in escalation, injury or worse. The people that live, work and play along the Oakland/Alameda Estuary deserve better, the Estuary needs attention.

  13. Michael W. 9 months ago

    At least one Oakland Police Department Marine unit was having lunch at Sam’s in Tiburon this afternoon.

  14. Bob Hinden 9 months ago

    Since all boat owners who keep their boats in Oakland and Alameda pay Alameda Country property taxes on their boats, maybe we stop paying the taxes until we get better service from the local police?

  15. Mike 9 months ago

    Politically driven poverty is root of the problem but it’s insane there’s no prosecution. If a boating “criminal” was otherwise law abiding and flushed their toilet, or overflowed fuel into the bay AND had the money for a fine the CG, PD, BCDC, EPA, CIA, etc. Not that pollution is acceptable but the middle class, which makes up clear majority of the boat owners are fodder for the wealth war unfolding in front of us

  16. Geli Burgin 9 months ago

    I spent the wknd at South Beach Harbor and came eyeball to eyeball with one of the thieves we have seen pictured on various social media sites. He was wiring up a center console skiff and 5 minutes later took off in it with his female partner. It was reported, but the question is…. Why is he still free to continue stealing after being seen stealing in the Oakland and Alameda marinas? This occurred at 0830 today, as people walked up and down the docks right by him. Until there are consequences, this will not stop.

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