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Top 5 motorboat insurance claims - and how to avoid them

Bishop Skinner Marine’s insurance claims statistics reveal that 32%* were related to collisions, by far the costliest and most frequent claim type. The vast majority of claims reported, however, involved sailing craft which goes to show how motorboats and powerboats are far less likely to be involved in collisions. While motorboaters reported less claims on the whole (10% of all claims received), there are still specific risks to be aware of and steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of making a claim.

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

1. Weather damage

The weather can pose a number of dangers for boats on the water and when 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.”

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.   

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.

2. 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.”

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.   

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.

3. Theft

a) 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. 

b) Theft of 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.

4. Collisions

Collision is the main type of claim we deal with at Bishop Skinner Marine, usually involving sailing craft. 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. 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 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.

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.

5. 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.

*Bishop Skinner claims statistics, period 1st January to 31st December 2015.**Source: www.stolenboats.org.uk - outboard motor theft crime statistics.