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Top Five Boat Insurance Claims

Insurance claims statistics reveal almost a third of all claims in 2015, 32%, were related to collisions, by far the costliest and most frequent claim type. Unsurprisingly, 80% of these collision claims took place in the spring-summer season. The majority of these collisions, 65%, were between yachts, typically the more expensive craft.

Paul Birch, Managing Director of Bishop Skinner Marine looks at the top five boat insurance claims received last year.

1. Collisions

Collisions are the number 1 cause for claims. Waterways are busier in the summer, so it pays to keep a good look out when sailing or driving a motor boat, and to plan your manoeuvres in good time (don’t get caught out near marks because you are having to adjust course for other vessels). If you are on the water when a race is taking place, expect participants to tack more frequently and plan accordingly.

Paul says: “Collisions with third parties are common, so whether you’re racing or not you should pay particular attention to Colregs – the rules of the sea. Although you might have the right of way for example, everyone is responsible for avoiding a collision.  Enjoy events like Round the Island, but expect to be surrounded by lots of racers, even if you are in a cruising class, especially at the start line.”

Colregs are published by the International Maritime Organisation, and set out the ‘rules of the sea’ or navigation rules, to be followed by ships and other vessels at sea, to prevent collisions. Colregs can also refer to the specific political lines that divide inland waterways, which are subject to their own navigation rules, and coastal waterways subject to international navigation rules. They are derived from a multilateral treaty called the Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea.

2.  Weather damage

The weather can pose a number of dangers for boats if left out in the open. Paul says: “If you keep your boat at a marina, it’s generally less vulnerable and sheltered from the worst conditions. It’s certainly prudent to store sails rather than leaving them furled as well as checking your lines in the event of a weather warning.”

In severe storms, lightning strikes have the potential to disable or short-circuit on board electrics. This can lead to fire in extreme cases, so it’s always worth considering fire safety and ensuring your fire extinguishers are well maintained. There’s little you can do if you’re unlucky enough to encounter this kind of weather, but that’s why you have boat insurance.

If you keep a dinghy at a dinghy park, they are susceptible to being blown about and flipped over in high winds. Check your covers are in good condition and secure. If there is a risk of high winds, you might want to consider removing masts and lashing them alongside, and using additional lines and pegs to secure the dinghy/trailer to the ground.

3.  Striking underwater objects

There is nothing more disheartening than catching a propeller on an underwater hazard. Installing a GPS unit, reviewing paper charts and talking to local fishermen or other boat users when sailing through unfamiliar waterways, can help avoid hull and propeller damage. Where a boat already has GPS ensure the most recent updates are installed. Monitoring the current in front of the boat also helps as a sharp change in the current’s direction may indicate that something lies just beneath the surface. Sandbars are often the culprits in this case.

Paul commented: “With greater use and busier waterways, familiarity breeds complacency (plenty of accidents occur in waters that are regularly used), so plan each passage rather than assume this weekend’s trip will be the same as last weekend’s.”

4.   Capsize

Many of the capsize claims reported were for dinghies which are, thankfully, more easily rightable and pose less risk of injury to the sailors themselves.  Capsizing is potentially life threatening and there are a number of rules to follow to help avoid it. If it is your boat you are responsible for the safety of it and any passengers on board. Remember:

  • Everyone aboard, not just children, should be wearing a lifejacket, there are no excuses.
  • Match the boat’s capabilities to the conditions. If in doubt, stay inshore. It is better to be at the dock wishing you were offshore than offshore wishing you were at the dock.
  • Be vigilant and alert to any changes in weather. Storms usually give plenty of warning before they strike. Even the cheapest VHF radio has a weather button.
  • All boat owners should have a VHF radio handy, not just a mobile. While you can write down the Coast Guard's number, will you know the number of the boat only half a mile away?
  • File a float plan with a trustworthy friend.

Paul says: “Remember, the best time to head back to shore is when the thought first occurs to you. Be sure to take the necessary precautions and follow your instincts if you have any reservations about the weather.”

5.  Rig/mast damage

Paul says: “The more you use a boat, the more likelihood there is of damage.  Ten year rig checks are a myth in insurance terms, but wear and tear clauses aren’t – make sure that everything is in good order.  If a boat is raced hard every year for several years, a rig check will be necessary more frequently than a cruising boat that does summer weekends only each year. And insurance can only pick up the financial tab; it can’t cover the loss of time on the water while the boat is awaiting delivery of a mast from the factory.”