The Ins and Outs of Marine insurance

With the advent of plain-English policies, the vagaries of marine insurance have been de-mystified in recent years. The obligations of all parties are now clearly spelled out in simple terms.

While some boaties choose to ‘self-insure’ depending on the value of their vessel, most prefer the peace of mind insurance cover offers.

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There are several things boat owners can do to minimise their premiums.

Generally, a higher excess will mean a lower premium. That is where the boatie shares some of the risk. Other factors will help decide the premiums and these include boating experience. Practical on water qualifications are a good indicator for an insurer when it comes to setting premiums.

Taking care to secure things like auxiliary motors and not leaving valuable items on board, as well as having secure storage, all helps. Choosing to put your boat in storage for a set period each year and not using them is another option.

Mariner Insurance’s Aaron Mortimer says one of the best ways to avoid making an insurance claim is to pay attention and to not be over-confident – know your and the vessel’s capabilities.

“Simple things like not reading a chart or plotter accurately, allowing yourself to be distracted while at the wheel, and not securing the vessel correctly either at anchor or even on the marina berth, is likely to result in vessel damage,” Aaron says.

Other common issues are not tying off dinghy tow lines and painters correctly or having these foul the propellor or shaft.

The case of the moving rock

“For on-water incidents, the biggest percent of claims result from hitting rocks and other objects. It is safe to say that 95% of the time, these rocks are charted, and it comes back to skipper inattention, or an unwillingness to move out further around them,” Aaron explains.

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Not knowing the rules of the road is another common cause, especially among novice skippers.

“For many jetski owners as an example, this is their first vessel, so their inexperience can result in an accident or collision, especially given how powerful many of today’s personal watercraft are.”

On land or at the marina or mooring, theft ex-vessel is another major reason for claims.

“Quite often it is relatively small value items that are stolen, but the claim is dramatically increased by the damage done by the thieves breaking in.

“They will wreck covers, hatches and doors, just to steal $500 worth of gear.”

Weather damage is another big one. High winds can cause havoc, even for vessels on a marina berth.

“If you know there is a weather event on its way, either get yourself or someone else down to the boat to secure and add warps and extra fenders. It would probably pay to have a quick check of the vessels on neighbouring berths to check they have been well secured.

“Wheel clamps, securing chains and hitch locks all help deter criminals from steeling a boat. When they see these, they are likely to look for another less difficult vessel to steal.”

Not securing a vessel on the trailer adequately is another common cause of damage to trailerboats.

“These should not only be held firmly at the bow with both the winch cable and a safety chain, but the stern needs to be well secured with appropriate tie-downs.”

Broken winch ropes is a regular cause of boats sliding off trailers at the ramp during the launching or retrieval process.

“This is not only embarrassing, but can cause quite some damage, especially to fibreglass hulls.”

Making the claim

Most discussions with clients making a claim is usually around the value of the lost or damaged item.

“If we get a claim and we don’t think it’s a claim, we will often talk it through with the client. This may mean discussing a claim for a 10-year-old outboard that is valued under the excess of the policy.

“Unfortunately, there is no policy that will give you a new outboard for a ten-year-old one. In this case, we will invite the client to withdraw his claim, rather than us decline it, so that he/she doesn’t have to declare a declined claim in any other application for insurance they apply for.”

Another problematic area is mechanical breakdown claims, stern legs in particular.

“Mechanical breakdown is a typical exclusion under pleasure craft policies (as it is under car policies). If you have just bought a boat with a 25-year-old leg, and the previous owner (or owners) didn’t maintain it, then you could be in for a shock.

“Often we will get a claim form that says, ‘I must have hit something because my stern leg is knackered.’ Closer investigation and metallurgical analysis will often show that there has been no sudden impact and the failure can be identified as something else (usually old/worn gear sets that have just given up).”

When an incident has occurred, there are steps you can take to make the claims process much easier. Aaron suggests you do what you can to prevent any further damage or loss.

“Mariner, for example, will reimburse expenses reasonably incurred; however, don’t incur any expenses settling loss or damage before you speak to the insurer.

“Report any burglary or malicious act to the police immediately and pass on any communication you receive about the incident to your insurer. Definitely DO NOT agree to pay, settle or decline any claim, nor should you admit liability or responsibility.”

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