What Owners Need to Know About Boat Insurance: Interviewing GEICO’s Michael Pellerin

Michael Pellerin is Managing Director of Marine Insurance Sales, Service & Underwriting for GEICO, one of the US’s largest boat insurers. Michael essentially head up GEICO’s marine division and has enjoyed a long, distinguished career in the marine industry, having joined BoatUS in 1992. Michael has been involved in several key projects, including the launch and integration of third party partnership marine insurance programs into the new GEICO Marine Insurance product. That has been highly successful in terms of growth, customizable policy features, and customer service enhancements to make buying a policy or filing a claim an easy task. Boat Trader also partners with Geico on our own Boat Insurance service page where buyers can learn about what kind of insurance is right for their vessel and learn how to quickly get a boat insurance quote online.

Boat Insurance - What Buyers Need To Know

Above: Boat Insurance can be complex, our staff interviewed Geico for some tips and advice that boat buyers should know before they purchase a new yacht for the family.

Geico And BoatUS

Boat Owners Association of The United States (BoatUS) also is the largest recreational boating advocacy, services and safety group in the United States, with a membership of more than 700,000 dues-paying members. As well as the GEICO Marine insurance program, BoatUS offers its members a range of other essential marine services, such as on-water towing provided by TowBoatUS; roadside assistance for trailerable boats; boat lettering, a marina discount program and more. BoatUS ensures the boaters’ voice is heard and is the only recreational boat owning group with a full-time lobbying staff. The association’s sister organization, the 501(c)(3) non-profit BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water, is central to the group’s mission of encouraging safe, clean, responsible boating practices including offering the only free online boating safety course nationwide.

We caught up with Michael to learn more about that organization and Geico’s partnership insurance programs, as well as to hear his insights on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the boating insurance industry. Michael also provides some top tips for newbies who may have taken up boating as a recreational activity during the pandemic.

How Has The Pandemic Affected The World Of Boat Insurance?

Unfortunately, from late March to early April, many boaters had to stay at home due to the pandemic. Once the initial wave eased, it was all hands on deck! The industry flourished as new boat sales increased by over 30%. In the absence of air travel to take vacations, recreational boating has become incredibly popular. I think it’s allowed people to get away from their home environments, to spend time with their families and to reconnect with nature without necessarily having to travel long distances. It’s been great to see so many new boaters discovering the boating lifestyle.

Are There Any Changes Happening in The World Of Boat Insurance Right Now?

Boat insurance offerings are gradually becoming more digitalized, and consequently more user-friendly. While the insurance world may have been one of the last to respond to digitalization, it’s been a win-win situation for both insurers and customers. Customers are demanding more flexibility and customization from their insurers, while digitalization gives insurers access to real-time information, which allows us to react swiftly to incidents. Data-driven insights are allowing us to tailor services to fit our customer base. Here at GEICO Marine Insurance, we have the BoatUS app, which enables members to manage their insurance policy while on the go.

Have There Been Any Boating-Specific Negatives During The Pandemic?

The downside of lots of new boaters being out on the water is that it leads to more accidents! This is why boating education is so crucial, and why our BoatUS Foundation offers a free online beginner’s boating safety course – we want to help support new boat owners, and to allow them to enjoy their new boat as safely as possible.

Editor’s Note: Boat Trader also offers a slew of great resources for boater’s education including boating safety, basic boat handling tips and advice, boat terminology and boat maintenance tips – as well as great boating destination guides, thousands of boat reviews and boat lifestyle editorial pieces from marine journalists across the country.

What Is The Most Dangerous Insurance Claim That You Have Heard Of?

Claims involving misfueling, such as placing a fuel pump fill nozzle into a fishing rod holder and mistakenly pumping 70 gallons of gas directly into the bilge, have the most concern for us any claims which involve injury. Boats can be replaced. People cannot. For us, the post-hurricane salvage and recovery process can provide safety challenges for our Catastrophe Team members. Anyone who has gone through a hurricane knows how dicey things can be once the sky clears and the real clean-up begins.

Most of our policy-holders are relatively low-risk – they tend to own small boats, and cruise within small ranges in coastal areas. If you own a larger vessel, it’s slightly different; you will have more extensive cruising areas, which means you’re dealing with higher levels of risk. Those risk levels are only increased if you venture into areas prone to hurricane seasons, like the Bahamas or Mexico. If you want to pursue long-distance cruising in high-risk areas, you’ll need to ensure that your boat has had a recent survey, and that its condition is of a very high standard.

Michael’s Advice For New Boaters

We asked Micheal if he had any words of wisdom for all of the new boaters who have started sailing during the pandemic:

Get Familiar With Boating

This is where education is so important. Making an effort to learn the fundamentals of boat safety and etiquette before heading out on the water can save you hassle in the long run. Joining a boat club can provide learning experiences, as well as a new social circle.

Editor’s Note: Review all the resources on Boat Trader to get a good grasp of basic boating skills, rules of the road and all the different boat types and classes on the market.

Pick The Right Boat For You

If you’re new to boating, boat rental services can allow you to familiarize yourself with different kinds of vessels, with no commitment necessary. Check out BoatSetter, or other peer-to-peer boat rental programs in your local area.

Editor’s Note: Review our complete Boat Buying Guide, so you know which type of boat is right for you before you begin the modern boat buying process and start shopping for boats online.

Stay Informed

When you’re heading out on a vessel for the first time, arm yourself with as much information as possible: research the route as thoroughly as you can, and make sure you’ve checked the weather forecast to ensure you haven’t accidentally headed out into a storm.

Start With Small Boats

While it’s tempting to rush out and buy your dream boat right away, it’s more important to think carefully about what kind of vessel best fits your needs. Smaller boats are less expensive to purchase and easier to maintain and store. Most importantly, they are easier to learn how to handle the water. If you’re planning on using your boat for chill cruises, you may not need that superyacht you’ve had your eye on.

Editor’s Note: Consider the pros and cons of buying a new boat versus buying a used boat, and whether or not an insurance company will even offer insurance for the type of used boat you have in mind. If you’re looking to buy a vintage boat, this may be a big factor in your decision, so be sure to read our vintage boat buying guide as well.

Read Your Insurance Policy

When you choose an insurance policy, take the time to read through and properly understand it. Really consider the coverage your policy offers you – for example, in the unfortunate event of your boat becoming damaged, does your policy cover salvage? Some owners have suffered the trauma of seeing their boat damaged, only to find that they have to cover its removal costs. Similarly, some policies won’t cover corrosion due to saltwater damage – if you’re sailing in coastal waters, you should make sure you’re covered for this kind of damage.

The potential painful implications for your insurance policy are just another reason why it is so important to be clear on how you’re going to use your boat before you buy. Our handy guides on boat insurance for beginners will guide you through some questions to consider as you choose your policy while learning boat maintenance basics will help you avoid claims by keeping your boat ship-shape.

Editor’s Note: For further reading on the pitfalls and many nuances of Boat Insurance read our full Beginner’s Guide To Boat Insurance article.

Written by: Emma Coady

Emma Coady is a freelance writer and marine journalist who creates content for many household names in the boating industry, including YachtWorld, Boat Trader and boats.com. She also writes for several boat builders as well as charter and rental companies and regularly contributes to Greenline Hybrid yachts, TJB Super Yachts and Superyachts Monaco. Emma is the founder of Cloud Copy and enjoys traveling around Europe, spending as much of her spare time as possible in or on the water.