Dealing with theft accusations

Nothing destroys crew trust like thinking there is a thief onboard. Especially when crew is in shared berthings. My ships have quite a few young inexperienced crew onboard and about once a month someone says they’ve had something stolen (different crews and ships each time). Half the time the person finds what they thought was stolen a few days later but how do you suggest dealing with these kinds of things? What are appropriate steps to take?



I think the first rule to living in shared quarters is to not bring things of value onboard with you. Alternatively, you can buy luggage that locks or luggage locks to throw on your bags and things you don’t want pilfered can be kept in those. Obviously things like lighters… cigarettes or cash laying about are easy to walk away and hard to prove ownership. But basically, keep valuables on you if at all possible if you can’t leave them at home. Otherwise, a locked bag might deter the most honest thief. Ones that are intent on larceny will find a way…so you are back to the first point… don’t bring valuables onboard.

I guess I should clarify that I’m talking about dealing with this from a management standpoint. Not from the viewpoint of someone that has had something stolen but someone who has to keep a crew together and deal with accusations and defense.

If it’s an on-going problem then it has to be made clear to the crew that they are individually responsible for their possessions. Like the sign says, “Management is not responsible for lost or stolen items”.

The other option is make the captain responsible for the crew’s things and he can launch a Capt Queeg style search each time a crew member reports something missing.

As captain if the crew reports something lost I am not going to use my time or authority to help them look for it.


Are there means available (lockers, foot locker, etc.) to secure crew members valuables?

I agree with @Kennebec_Captain. If a crew member comes to me with a gripe that something was stolen, my first question is whether they locked their room. It doesn’t excuse the thievery but is the best first step is to make it hard to steal valuables in the first place. Next is to make it clear to the crew that they will be fired if it is discovered they are stealing.

Unfortunately this typically causes the thief to jettison the stolen goods and everyone loses. It’s a messed up thing to steal from shipmates.

Years ago when I was sailing 1st the ship I was on was about to be laid up. The Captain paid off just about everyone the night before we got in. Someone broke into a couple unlicensed rooms and money that hadn’t gotten locked up went missing. I had a fair idea who did it but there was no proof.

Crew quarters have unlockable drawers and there are at least 10 girls in women’s quarters. I’d very much prefer it if the company would let me spring for some proper lockers.
That’s kind of the tack I’ve been taking with making it clear and actually firing people found to be stealing if I have solid evidence.

I think that education and and advising them to not bring valuables on board is really the best you can do. If the company can’t provide proper lockers…informing the crew that they need to bring their own locking luggage… or a lock to keep a duffel closed etc… is really the best you can do. You can also advise them to put their names on things as well so that identical items can be identified… it is easy to mix up the same brand of boots etc… Unfortunately, anyone who has lived in group situations… whether it be on a boat, in the military or in a college dorm knows that things can easily go walking… also that things can be lost by the owner themselves. Ultimately it is the responsibility of the owner of the item to keep tabs on things that are of value to them. If that means leaving the wedding ring at home… or not carrying large amts of cash… so be it. I suppose that security cameras in common areas might also be employed but if your boss doesn’t want to spring for locking areas for crew belongings… doubt the will go for that.

Thanks for your ideas. Like most things it does usually seem to come down to training.

We do have the odd camera here and there and once an ipad was taken and a review of the tapes turned up that it had been one of the officers that had nicked it from an unlicensed crew. The officer said he was doing it “to show what can happen” when confronted.

That is rich!

I hope your retort was that he was about to find how fast gravity could take him down the gangway.


And to the waiting arms of the gendarmes and face USCG charges to revoke their credentials.


Seems like not providing a place for the crew to keep valuables is just asking for trouble.

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I’ve always offered access to my safe for personal valuables. I’ve even had a crew member show up with over 50 grand in cash after hitting Harras in New Orleans on the way to work…lucky bastard.


Reading this, I’m reminded of an incident while I was in the 1970’s navy. I was in the Acey-Ducey club, relating a story to a submariner about how my camera was stolen while aboard my reserve-duty Destroyer in Long Beach the year before. He said there had been a problem on his boat recently with wrist-watches disappearing.

One day, a crew member notice several watches stowed in the locker of another-and apparently recognized as the missing watches. On some following day, as the owner of the locker with the watches was passing down through the deck hatch of the sub, as he gripped the knife-edge of the hatch with his fingers, someone on deck released the latch holding the very heavy deck hatch open. The resulting amputation of eight fingertips solved all theft.

Instant Karma.


The idea that a shared berthing space can be made into a safe space where crew can leave out valuables without having them taken strikes me as contrary to common sense. Try talking Greyhound into taking the lockers out of big city bus stations to increase trust in society, it’s an absurd idea.

My first bunk at sea was in a 30 man berthing space. Anyone complaining about losing the cash in their wallet after coming back after a night of drinking would just get laughed at. Should have left it as a tip.

Sure sounds like a sea story. Submarine hatches don’t use “knife edge” surfaces and have very strong springs to balance the weight of the hatch. No way could one slam down and amputate fingers. It’s been a long time since opening one but I don’t recall any deck hatches having a latch to prevent it closing either.

Probably was. I never went aboard the boats. But I’m wondering if it made a difference between the real old diesel boats of the era versus nukes. . .

mostly military but I have lived in a environment where if you left a valuable in plain sight it WOULD NOT ever come up missing. Living/working in such a environment of course relieves a lot of stress about “living conditions”.
Of course, when/if something came up missing it was almost always found and the culprit never did it again with the attendant appropriate ‘training’.
Aboard ship with a crew of little rotation or change in personel, any such individual is soon weeded out. While a good beating will invariably fix this, nowadays he’ll just have to be rotated out. Meanwhile, we all have to watch our stuff… bad all around!

You can usually tell if a vessel has a problem with stuff growing legs when the first thing you notice is padlocks on everything!

I’ve been on several tugs that had a problem but we usually caught them by setting them up by leaving something out that they just could not pass up.

One time on in Shipyard, I caught the SY Superintendent in my Stateroom. He was just closing my relief’s locker. He said that my Relief said he could get something out of there. About a month after we left the yard, I went looking for my custom Benchmade Knife with a Ceramic Blade. It was gone and I was out a couple hundred bucks! I never did catch up with that P.O.S. Oh, I almost forgot that my Relief said he never gave him permission to go into our room never mind his locker!