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Troubled waters: Becker County sees spike in stolen, vandalized boats

Boats docked at J & K aren't the only ones getting hit in a recent uptick in boat thefts and break-ins. The problem is all throughout Becker County, though a high number of them have occurred on Big and Little Detroit Lakes. Kaysey Price / Tribune

Boats in Becker County seem to be a big target for thieves and vandals lately. In the past couple of weeks, two watercrafts have been stolen, one from Fish Lake and another from J & K Marina on Big Detroit Lake, and at least three others in the area have been burglarized or vandalized.

Cheryl Blauert discovered her pontoon had been stolen from J & K Marina when a friend texted her on the morning of Tuesday, Aug 29, asking if she was out for an early-morning boat ride.

Since she was at work and most definitely not in her pontoon, she called J & K only to discover her boat was in fact gone from its slip.

The next day, another boat docked at the marina was reportedly rifled through.

But the incidents are farther spread than just J & K. A few weeks ago a couple of boats docked at Long Bridge Bar & Grill were vandalized and a boat cover was reportedly stolen from the same dock as recently as Saturday.

Part of the issue seems to be that people have grown comfortable leaving enticing items in their boats, including keys.

Blauert admits after eight years of docking at J & K without an incident, she had begun leaving her keys in her boat, like many others.

“If my keys weren’t in the boat, they probably wouldn’t have taken it,” she said, adding that her pontoon was also on a boat slip on an outer edge of the dock, making it even easier to nab.

Though, she says, it’s disappointing to not be able to just trust people.

“It’s just too bad,” she added. “You think you can leave your stuff, and you just can’t.”

J & K General Manager Kevin Tinjum says despite the fact that many people leave their keys and other valuables in their boats, an incident like this hasn’t happened in quite some time. They’ve had reports of boats rummaged through, tackle boxes and such stolen, but for the most part, he says they’re “kind of spoiled” safety-wise.

He says theft has been a bigger issue at their store rather than at their marina, and they solved the store’s issue by installing surveillance cameras, so they plan to do the same at the marina. Luckily, Blauert’s pontoon was found Sept. 2. It was spotted docked on Muskrat Lake, though it wasn’t without some dents and dings from the incident.

“They ransacked it,” she said. “Either they threw all my stuff out of there or they kept some of it...My boat cover was found by the Pelican River on the channel.”

The boat also had a bent back light and other minor damage.

“The person (who took it) knew how to drive a boat,” said Blauert, adding that she’s surprised the boat wasn’t more damaged because getting from Big Detroit Lake to Muskrat Lake via the Pelican River can be a tricky maneuver.

As for preventing further instances, Tinjum says he is encouraging people to not leave valuables in their watercrafts—no matter where they dock.

“Take out your keys,” he says. “We lock our dock gate, but...that really just keeps the honest people honest because people can obviously go in the water to get out there.”