SAN FRANCISCO — Yamaha’s WaveRunner was the most sought-after watercraft among U.S. thieves in 2012 as Florida had the highest number of stolen boats, an insurance-industry group said.

A total of 538 WaveRunners were stolen last year, the National Insurance Crime Bureau said Monday in a report. Personal watercraft were the No. 1 boat stolen at 1,373 thefts, followed by runabouts at 937, utility boats at 360, cruisers at 251 and sailboats at 42.

“It’s a lot easier to rip jet skis off and hide them someplace,” Frank Scafidi, a spokesman for the Des Plaines, Ill.,-based NICB, said in a telephone interview before the release. “If you have a large sailboat, there are only so many places you can put that.”

Florida reported 1,408 thefts in the period, about 24 percent of the U.S. total of 5,870, the NICB said, citing data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. California was No. 2 with about 10 percent, followed by Texas with about 7 percent.

The top four cities based on the total number of thefts were in Florida: Miami was first, followed by Tampa, Hialeah and Fort Lauderdale. Marathon, Florida, had the highest theft rate, with about 64 incidents per 10,000 people, followed by Martinez, California, with about 11.

“We’re a boating community,” said Becky Herrin, a spokeswoman at the Sheriff’s Office of Monroe County, which includes Marathon. “The sheer number of boats that are in our county would most likely be a big reason for us ranking highly. Boats are often out in the open and relatively easy to steal if people don’t take appropriate steps.”

Boats are sometimes stolen for the motor, which can be worth more than the craft itself, Herrin said. Owners leaving keys or valuable equipment on their boats can encourage thieves, she said.

The second-most stolen boat was BRP’s Sea-Doo personal watercraft, followed by Kawasaki’s Jet Ski, the NICB said.

“Sea-Doo is the sales leader in North America,” Tim McKercher, an outside spokesman for BRP at Look Marketing, said in a telephone interview. “Anything that’s popular would be popular to the wrong people. They’re very modern, very attractive and they look cool. It’s like a MacBook Pro if you’re an Apple person.”

Bob Gonsalves, a Yamaha spokesman at ICBM Media, declined to comment.

The number of boat thefts last year fell by about 3 percent from 2011, the study found. Watercraft thefts plummeted 74 percent from 2009 to 2011. More thefts occurred during July than any other month of 2012, the NICB said. Friday is the day of the week with the most theft, while the fewest were reported on Thursdays, according to the statement.

The recovery rate of all boats reported stolen in the period was about 39 percent, the study found. The watercraft with the highest recovery rate among the top five most-stolen boats was the Sea-Doo at about 42 percent.

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