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How to avoid making an insurance claim when getting your boat back on the water

“The more care you take of your boat, the lower your chance is of an insurance claim being invalidated. Claims can be invalidated under The Marine Act 1906 if a boat isn’t seaworthy. In addition, claims can also fail if a boat hasn’t been serviced to mitigate against normal wear and tear”, says Paul Birch, Managing Director of Bishop Skinner Marine, RYA Member Reward Partners and specialist marine insurance brokers for over 40 years.

Boating disasters

An owner purchased a vessel after commissioning a pre-purchase survey. He then had the craft moved by road to his home berth, where it was launched by the boat yard, but sank on launch. A surveyor found that the engine raw water hose had not been connected to the engine’s cooling system. His pre-purchase survey clearly stated the raw water hose had to be connected prior to launch. A condition of the insurance contract was that the hose had to be connected, and the claim was rejected under a breach of the policy’s conditions.

In another incident, the boat yard had carried out maintenance work, but the vessel sank soon after re-launching. A surveyor found that the speed log impeller had not been replaced. On that occasion the insurance claim was successful and the owner was able to recover damages from the boat yard due to their negligence.

“Although most launch claims are relatively low value, sinking a boat can lead to undue stress and expense for the owner. Often it can ruin your entire season as the repairs can take until the autumn to complete. Launching a boat entails numerous risks and claims are usually a result of a simple oversight, for example ensuring the sea cocks are shut, so that water can enter parts of the boat for cooling purposes, but also drain out so the boat doesn’t fill up and sink. Similarly log transducers have to be fitted properly”, comments Paul.

“The main culprits for water ingress on re-launch are stern gland packing and seals, engine raw water inlet hoses and seacocks, missing impeller logs, and cracked or dried bellows. As Spring approaches, follow these tips for a safer boating season.”

More haste less speed

It is always better for the boat’s owner to be present when the boat is launched. Alternatively clear instructions should be given to the boat yard for a pre-launch check. This is particularly important after winter, where skin fittings, pipes, engines and water-cooling systems, may have suffered damage that cannot always be detected. Carry out all the necessary work before the boat is in the water, as much of it can only be done on dry land.

Sailing boats

Inspect fittings, wire halyards and running backstays for cracks and rust. Get help when lifting masts to avoid injury. Chain plates should be caulked as leaks can cause problems. Clean and wax decks repairing scratches and abrasions, painting with anti-fouling and check the hull for the latter.

Stoves and remote tanks should be examined for leaks. Rusted propane canisters and cans should be discarded safely. Replace fire extinguishers and inspect bilge pump, switches and flares. Check lighting and electrical connections.

Ideally the owner, or the boat yard, should inspect the boat internally after launching to make sure it is water tight and there are no leaks. Bishop Skinner Marine handle frequent claims to do with sinking following a launch, often because the speed log or hull fitting is not secured.

Motor boats

Check for frost damage by running water through the engine and checking coolant levels. Inspect and lubricate all water carrying pipes and seacocks and replace hoses and hose clamps. Replace deteriorated zincs and check lighting and other electrical problems as chafed wires and battery cables can cause a fire.

Inspect propellers for pitting and distortion that can create excessive vibration and loosen screws. Inspect the hull for blisters, distortion, and stress cracks. Large blisters may require professional attention and cracks should be fixed by a boat engineer.

Engines should ideally be serviced by a professional. Check the engine shaft and rudder stuffing boxes for leaks. If leaking can’t be stopped by tightening the nut, repack the gland. Over-tightening the nut will burn out the packing material. Inspect fuel lines, fill and vent hoses, for rot, leaks, or cracking, replace and support with clips. Inspect all fuel tanks, fuel pumps and filters for leaks. Clean fuel filters and inspect and remove exhaust manifolds every few years as rust could hinder water flow. Clean and tighten electrical connections, especially battery cables. Clean and repair scratches and paint with anti-fouling.

As motor boats can cause bigger problems, look out for Bishop Skinner Marine’s next article in RYA Up to Speed which will advise on preparing inboard and outboard engines for launch, with anecdotes of unfortunate incidents to learn from.

Don’t forget to check that your trailer is in good condition too. Sand and paint rusted areas, inspect bearings and repack as necessary. Test tail and back-up lights, replace burned-out bulbs, chafed wires and clean corroded terminals. Test the winch to ensure it is working properly. Inspect tyre treads and check the brakes. Check that your vehicle policy covers your trailer.