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Don’t lay off your boat insurance this winter

As winter draws in, make sure you take the right steps to ensure you have adequate boat insurance cover in place. Claims statistics show that 40% of claims occurred during the off-peak season when boats are out of the water or being used less regularly*.

While most boat insurance policies have 12 months in commission use, some will restrict the cover in the winter months for vessels left on a mooring, usually from 1st November to 31st March, so it is worth checking your individual policy for details.  While in a marina or dry sailed, there might not be anything to do but if you are on a mooring there could be limits to your cover that you need to be aware of.

This doesn’t mean you can’t use your boat, but you might not be able to leave it unattended on its mooring if you want cover to be in effect.

Always plan ahead

Autumn is a busy period for yards and marinas and it can be difficult to get a lift out as planned. If you are heading over your deadline, speak to your insurers and tell them before your cover is compromised. They will almost certainly extend cover for a short period of time, but they might have to impose additional terms e.g. increased excess for the extra period afloat.

There are plenty of things you can do to reduce the chances of a claim, so here are some handy tips to help you keep your boat in tip-top condition and get straight back on the water again when spring comes. 

Sailing dinghies

If your dinghy is to be left in a dinghy park throughout the winter:

  • Make sure it is properly tied down and secure and its cover is in good condition and fit for purpose.
  • Do not leave sails and other removable items on the boat.
  • Remove and winterise outboard motors.
  • Make sure your trailer is locked.

Yachts and motorboats

There are other risks to consider during the winter months if you own a yacht or motorboat:

Sails and canvasses

Remove all sails, dodgers and canopies. This will not only reduce windage (one of the main causes when boats are blown over) but will help to extend their life. Winter gales make short work of any fabric left out on deck, especially furled head sails. UV exposure, for example, accelerates the build up of mould and mildew causing further damage. All sails benefit from being laundered and serviced. This not only extends their life but helps avoid claims on an insurance policy where you may have to bear a large proportion of the loss.

Frost damage

Cold snaps cause considerable damage to engines. It is therefore considered good practice that engines are winterised in accordance with manufacturers' recommendations to ensure adequate protection against frost damage. 

 Outboard motor theft

Although outboard motor theft has reduced this year, it is still a problem for the marine insurance industry with over £2m in value being stolen in the last 3 years**.  

If an engine can be removed easily then it's an open target for thieves. All claims on marine policies for outboard motors are paid on an indemnity basis; there is no entitlement to a "new for old" settlement. It is therefore essential to ensure that outboard motors are secured against theft and if possible taken home and locked away. You may have read in the press that metal theft is also on the increase and many owners may be at more risk this winter. Easily accessible brass or bronze propellers make an attractive target for thieves. So if they can be removed, store them securely away from the boat. 

Personal effects

We recommend that you remove all personal effects from your boat and store them in a warm safe environment. By doing so you will also make your boat less attractive for thieves to break into. There can also be a requirement under certain policies for personal effects to be removed from the craft during the policy’s winter lay-up period.

Cradles and trailers

We deal with many claims for boats that have either fallen over in their cradle or are damaged by un-roadworthy road trailers. Most policies will insist that cradles and trailers are fit for purpose and it's recommended that you undertake a thorough examination before they are put back into use after being left dormant for long periods. 

In general

Particular care should also be taken if leaving battery chargers or dehumidifiers running over the winter period. There have been a number of devastating fires on boats resulting from electrical faults on shore powered devices.

Keeping your boat dry during the winter is good advice but you should ensure that any dehumidifier you use is secured and has clean filters and adequate draining facilities. If you plan to have a heater running for long periods you should ensure that you are not overloading circuits and that you have the right type of heater as this could significantly increase the risk of fire.

Periodic inspections during the winter months are part of boat ownership and will help you extend the life of your boat and its equipment as well as reducing instances of insurance claims.

While your insurer can help with the financial settlement of a claim, the better you look after your boat, the less chance there will be of a claim in the first place. Come the spring relaunch, you don’t want to be stuck with repairs to do while everyone else is off sailing!

*Bishop Skinner claims statistics, period 1st January to 31st March and 1st October to 31st December 2014.**Source: www.stolenboats.org.uk - outboard motor theft crime statistics.