How Do I Obtain Coverage for My Boat? Can I Ever Be Turned Down?
Boat insurance, like auto insurance, is offered in a competitive market. You can shop around for coverage through an independent insurance producer or directly from companies available in your area. Please note that an insurance company can decide to turn down your application for coverage.
In order to obtain an insurance policy for your boat, you must fill out an application to help the insurance company learn about you, your boat, and the risks the insurance company will be responsible for if it insures you under an insurance policy, this includes any prior losses.
After reviewing the information, the insurance company will use its own standards, known as underwriting guidelines, to decide whether to issue you a policy, and the rate it would charge for any coverage it provides.
If an insurer agrees to consider your application, the producer or company may issue you an "insurance binder", a legally binding statement indicating that you have immediate protection for a specified period of time during which the company will decide whether to issue you a policy. If the company formally accepts your application, it will issue a policy, usually for a one-year period. If your application is rejected, you will need to apply to another insurer.
The surplus lines market is also available as an alternative market to provide coverage for boats that traditional carriers refuse to accept. Although surplus lines companies are permitted to issue policies to Massachusetts residents, they are not licensed by the Division of Insurance, are not regulated by state law and are not members of the state guaranty fund.
Basic Coverages Available
There are differing combinations of coverage that may be offered to protect your boat. Most boat insurance policies are designed for boats up to 26 feet in length. Boats that are greater than 26 feet in length are considered yachts and covered under special yacht insurance.
It is important to know which risks a policy covers and which risks are excluded. Each policy protects against a specific number of perils (events that cause damage to the boat). Examples of these perils include collision, fire, windstorm, theft, lightning or vandalism. Policies specifically exclude coverage for certain events, including, for example, acts of war or damages related to a poorly maintained vessel.
In addition to knowing the risks or perils covered, it is important to consider the expenses that are covered in the event of a covered peril. Each policy usually contains coverage for the following:
- Property damage to your boat
- Typically, a boat insurance policy includes coverage for damage to watercraft and can include outboard motor boats, inboard boats, stern drives, jet drives, sailboats, houseboats, jet skis and boat equipment used to transport the above. The coverage also can include equipment that is permanently attached to the boat, such as, anchors, fuel tanks, motors, masts, depth finders, horns, lights, mooring cleats and lines, oars, two-way radios, and spars. Boat policies do not usually include coverage for personal property, such as clothing, food, jewelry, parasails, stereos and portable television, scuba and other diving gear, water skiing equipment (although some of these can be added by endorsement). Policies also usually do not cover sails, masts or spars while the boat is operating in an official race or speed contest.
- Personal liability lawsuits arising out of the use and ownership of the boat
- Most boat insurance policies include personal liability coverage to protect you against a claim or lawsuit resulting from bodily injury or property damage to others caused by your ownership, maintenance or use of the boat. Personal liability coverage limits may differ among companies and a policy may contain company-specific exclusions. You should check to determine what limit is appropriate for you.
- Limited medical payments for certain accidents occurring on your boat
- Medical payments coverage pays for any medical expenses incurred by persons other than family members and those living with you who are accidentally injured while in, upon, boarding or leaving your boat. Basic medical payments coverage limits are usually set at a low dollar amount to cover minor injuries. You may wish to check with your producer or insurance company to determine if the amount of medical payments coverage on your policy is sufficient, or whether a higher limit would be more appropriate for you.
- Uninsured Boat Owner Coverage
- If purchased, this provides coverage for your injuries resulting from an accident that is the fault of an uninsured boat owner or "hit and run" operator.
- Personal Effects Coverage
- If purchased, this may provide coverage for your clothing, portable radios, fishing equipment, water skis or other personal item
What May Affect the Cost of Insurance for My Boat?
- Amount of Coverage: The amount of coverage you buy will affect the price you pay.
- Deductible Amount: This is the amount of loss that the covered person is required to pay before the insurance company will pay any losses. The higher the deductible, the lower the price for the insured. An insured should keep in mind, however, that deductibles apply separately to each loss that may occur throughout the year.
- Age and Condition of Boat: New or remodeled boats may have certain safety features to reduce risk while older boats may be subject to more damage in case of an accidental event.
- History of Accidents: If you have a history of boating accidents, this may be used as a factor in setting your rates, based on the likelihood of your having future accidents.
- Navigation Area and Length of Navigation Period: Where you operate your boat and the length of time you use the boat in any particular year can affect your premium.
- Discounts: Most insurance companies offer a variety of discounts, including some of the following based upon projected reduced risks for certain features:
- Multi-policy discounts for covering boat insurance and other insurance with the same carrier;
- Safety equipment, including fire extinguishers, burglar alarms and ship-to-shore radios; and
- Taking safety courses offered by the Coast Guard, American Red Cross, U.S. Power Squadron or National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASLAB).
How Can I Reduce the Insurance Premium for My Boat?
- Shop Around: Prices can vary greatly. However, don't consider price alone since service is also important. Quality service may cost more, but it also may be worth it. Be sure to talk to your friends.
- Raise Your Deductible: Deductibles are the amounts you may pay out of your own pocket for a loss before the insurance company pays. Although choosing a high deductible may decrease the annual premium cost, you should consider your finances before increasing the deductible beyond what you can live with.
- Shop for Discounts: Some companies may offer a discount on your premium if you have two or more policies with them.
- Include Insurance Costs in Your Budget: Before you buy a boat, think about how much it will cost to insure. Some insurers may offer discounts on new or remodeled boats because they are likely to be in better condition.
- Improve Your Security: Some companies offer discounts for fire extinguishers, burglar alarms, ship-to-shore radios or other security features.
Can an Insurer Ever Cancel or Nonrenew My Coverage?
Yes, an insurer can cancel or non-renew your coverage. You should read your policy carefully to determine the conditions for cancellation and non-renewal. Companies can cancel coverage, but only according to the conditions that are spelled out within the policy.
Do I need boat insurance if I own a personal watercraft or human-powered craft?
Personal watercraft owners can face similar personal and financial risks as with a larger pleasure boat while on the water, including incidents that result in bodily injury to you or another person, bodily injury legal costs if you are sued due to an accident, or property damage to another boat or dock.
Personal watercraft or PWCs (known by brand names like Jet Ski) or human-powered craft (canoe, kayak) may be covered under your homeowners insurance. When deciding whether a stand-alone policy or coverage under an existing policy will cover these types of devices it is best to consult with an agent or your insurance company.