Insurance Circa 2021

Ed Note: Another detailed post about insurance procurement in the marine world. If you're not planning on buying a boat any time soon, you can probably skip this one.

Hurricane Dorian 2019

Like a list on a bad dating site, there was Sandy and Andrew and Katrina and Michael and Harvey and Irma and Dorian...and whether or not you believe in climate change, hurricanes are increasing in frequency and strength.

And insurers are taking note.

When we bought our first boat, it was on an inland lake. We were able to get insurance through BoatUS for $857 per year even though we had no prior experience and only a handful of ASA classes. When we bought Kintala that amount went up to $1100. When we announced our intention to move the boat to the coast and begin full-time cruising, they said no, thank you. We looked around and ended up with Markel, who served us the whole first year just fine, although with the annoyance of having to report to them every time we changed states. At renewal time, we were referred to Jerry at Novamar Insurance in Sarasota, FL who was able to get us a good policy with GEICO. It started out at around $2300 but reduced each year with the lack of claims, and by the time we sold Kintala it was down to around $1700 for an agreed hull value of $95,000. The only claim we ever filed was for a hurricane haulout for Irma and they paid quickly.

Fast forward to our trawler purchasing period, now two years after selling Kintala. I contacted GEICO and even though their policy is to not insure any boats over 30 years old, they did quote us because we have our car with them. It was even a reasonable quote for hull value of $74,900 and $10,000 personal property and $500,000 liability with a policy premium of around $1700. It did not include the Bahamas, but we really didn't intend to go there this first year anyway. It went to the underwriters as soon as we agreed to it, and a few days later, after sending them the required copy of the survey, they came back with the statement that we had to comply with all survey recommendations, both the safety items on the A list and the recommended items on the B list, before we could close on the boat. Ummmm.... we told them we could not work on a boat we didn't own and we couldn't close on the boat without insurance. They said too bad, so sad, and the conversation was over. It was quite a surprise, because when we bought Kintala, the insurance company gave us a rider with 30 days' allowance to complete the survey recommendations, and we only had to address the A list safety items, but GEICO was not budging.

Back to the drawing board. Our broker, Lars Bergstrom from Curtis Stokes, suggested that we take a look at their website where they have compiled a very nice list of resources for those buying boats, including insurers. I sat down early the next morning with my notebook and began to call every single one on the list. Unfortunately, I didn't realize that each of the people on the list were brokers who would all be calling the same underwriters for the policy, so I had duplicated a lot of effort for some of the brokers (sorry, guys) and ended up with a bit of confusion. In the end, we contacted a fellow sailor, Laura of Legacy Underwriters, Inc. (who I knew from the Women Who Sail Facebook group) who was able to hook us up with a policy from Concept Special Risks, Ltd. It was massively confusing because even through her we had to fill out multiple applications—one for her company as the broker and one for Concept directly. In the end we were supplied with a policy for the hull value of $72,900 with a $10,935 deductible for normal damage (if there is such a thing) and a whopping $21,870 deductible for named storms. In case you're not doing the math, that's almost a 30% deductible. (The named storm deductible on our last policy for Kintala was 5%.) Liability at $500K, uninsured boaters at $100K, and personal property at $10K. Yikes. And this is even with the fact that both Tj and I are USCG licensed captains. Still, they insured us for the whole US and the Bahamas, and they're OK with liveaboards. Acquiring insurance was one of the longest parts of the purchase. It took a full 15 days from our first phone call to an insurance company until we had a binder so we could close, and another full week before I had the policy in hand. They gave us 45 days to complete the A-list on the survey, something we are in the middle of now.

So here's what I heard from the companies I contacted.

  • GEICO—they don't insure liveaboards. Period. They don't insure anything over 30 years old or 40 feet. 
  • Anchor Marine—the rep did contact us back but I had already secured a policy by that time. We were really in a time crunch for the closing after screwing around with GEICO for so long.
  • W.R. Hodgens Marine Insurance—he also did respond but we already had our binder in place by that time.
  • Blue Water Yacht Insurance—"I can't help you."
  • Jackline—they do not insure anything under $100K. They primarily only insure circumnavigators
  • Markel—never got a response
  • Novamar—"I seriously have nothing for you."
  • I repeatedly heard "we don't insure liveaboards" and "we don't insure boats over 30 years old" and "we don't insure travel to and in the Bahamas" 

So my advice is this:
  • Do your own research. Don't assume because someone else got insured by so-and-so that you will also.
  • Get your insurance tied down solid before you sign the closing papers and transfer funds.
  • Be completely upfront with the underwriters if you plan to live aboard. I know a lot of people are just getting insured and not telling them, but if you go to file a claim it could quite easily be denied
  • Be sure to get the survey compliance requirements in writing and secure a reasonable time frame to get that work done.
  • GET EVERYTHING IN WRITING - deductibles (both regular and named storm), navigation limits, liability, uninsured boater, medical payments, personal effects, time to complete the survey items, exactly what survey items have to be completed, what hurricane plan is required.
  • Be prepared to pay at least 25% down on the policy, if not in full.
  • If you're new to boating, get every training class done that you can. It will help immensely. ASA101, 103 104, 105 and your state's boating safety courses all add up on the application. Also, keep a logbook of any charters you do. I seriously doubt we would have been able to get insurance at all in this environment were we just starting out like we did in 2008
  • Be prepared to do this Every.Single.Year. Keep your notes—just because they insured you this year does not mean that they will insure you next year. Boat owners are getting dropped all the time by companies they have dealt with for years
  • If you elect to self-insure, be sure that you understand the risks of doing that. Believe me, it crossed our minds, but we would still be required to have liability insurance in order to stay in many marinas, and the difference between just liability and hull insurance was not great enough to persuade us. If you elect to go this way, you may want to secure the advice of a maritime lawyer first.
And my final statement on the topic is...Good Luck!

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