Five Ways to Hold Down Boat Insurance Costs and Maximize Enjoyment of Your Boat

The best way to keep boat insurance rates low is to minimize the chance of making a claim. And the more trouble-free your boating experience, the more fun will be had by all involved.


This article originally appeared on boats.com. Reprinted by permission.


You buy insurance for your boat for good reason: sometimes trouble comes your way and you can’t avoid it. When it happens often enough, or at the wrong time, though, the rates you pay are likely to rise and sometimes you’ll need to find to another insurer. All of that’s a hassle that takes you away from your number-one mission, which is to cast off your dock lines and maximize time spent enjoying your boat.

 

Extreme winds left this boat high and not quite dry. Photo by Jocelyn Augustino/courtesy FEMA.
Extreme winds left this boat high and not quite dry. Photo by Jocelyn Augustino/courtesy FEMA.

In our research for this article, we asked the folks at NBOA Marine Insurance for input. Here are five fundamentals to keep you on a steady course toward that goal.

AVOID WHAT YOU CAN AND CAN’T SEE


Seamanship 101: don’t run aground. Don’t smack into stuff. The most-common insurance claim in the United States occurs after a captain has done this to his or her boat.
It’s true that you can’t see everything below the waterline, but if you maintain an awareness of what you might hit given the weather, time of day, where you are and any unusual local conditions, you’re much less likely to have an accident. What’s the secret?

  1. Navigate: Being proactive about learning the waters and where the skinny spots are is fundamental. Consult available charts, and consult with locals who are in the know. Plan where you are going and know the times of low tides or if the reservoir or lake is below normal levels.
  1. Keep watch: Don’t run into or over buoys, crab pots, or other floats that can damage your boat and wrap their lines around the propshaft. By maintaining a good lookout, you’re also more likely to see debris of all sorts in the water. Disturbances in the surface of the water will also provide you with clues as to what’s beneath.
  1. Proceed with caution: As simple as it sounds, don’t forget to slow down and take your time unless you’re confident you’re in open waters. This applies especially when you’re transiting a lake that you know is lower than usual due to drought conditions or a river in spring that you know may be carrying logs, deadheads and other debris. Talk with friends who have been on the water recently, or marina personnel who are often first to learn about what people are seeing, or running into, when they’re cruising in nearby waters.
  1. Drive sober. Besides being illegal, driving a boat while under the influence of alcohol and other drugs reduces your ability to manage the three points above and increases the chances that bad stuff will happen to you, your passengers, and your boat.

MAINTAIN YOUR BOAT TO AVOID A TOW


People often need a tow—and end up with an insurance claim—because they didn’t handle the basics. Boat Maintenance 101 starts with making sure you have a full tank of good fuel and have checked or replaced essentials like oil and filters on a regular basis. Batteries should be in good condition and kept charged. If you take care of the basics, and keep a good set of tools onboard, you’ll be able to maximize your enjoyment of your boat and avoid the majority of problems that require calling for a tow. Keep in mind that sometimes your claim may be denied if the company determines that normal wear and tear had taken place and you hadn’t properly maintained your boat or engine. While most insurance policies cover towing, double check that it’s in your policy.

Given timely maintenance, your boat will be ready for your next adventure.
Given timely maintenance, your boat will be ready for your next adventure.

 

DON’T COLLIDE WITH BOATS OR DOCKS


Most collisions take place in the harbor, and when your fiberglass hull hits the dock, a piling, or another fiberglass hull, an insurance claim can easily follow. We talked with Michelle Ainslie, customer service chief at NBOA Marine Insurance, who said that many collisions take place when you’re boat is tied in its slip or moored safely, and another boat operator loses control and runs into your boat. Although you may be able to re-locate your boat to a slip with less nearby traffic or put out fenders in sensitive locations, there’s only so much you can do to protect your boat when you’re not aboard. However, you can certainly take steps to make sure your boat doesn’t inadvertently deliver the blow.

Our advice is that you practice maneuvering your boat in open water until you fully understand its abilities and limitations, how it will operate in forward and reverse, and how it responds to gusts of wind or a strong current. Once you’ve mastered the basics, try this near a small buoy, circling it, maneuvering closer or farther away, or holding position in the wind. Remember to keep your propellers well clear of the buoy’s anchor line (For more on this, read “How to Dock a Boat: Our 10 Top Tips”).

 

BE PREPARED FOR HIGH WINDS AND STORMS


No plan is foolproof where Mother Nature is involved, but you should have a well-thought-out plan for high winds and approaching storms. At the dock, on the mooring, even on the trailer, you should have extra lines and chafing gear ready, and perhaps a secondary place you can store your boat if a real storm is brewing. On a trailer, this might mean getting a forecast of the expected wind directions and placing your boat in the lee of a building, out of the wind and flying debris. If your boat is in the water, can you move it to a more protected place, or haul it out? Know your options and make your plans before a storm approaches, so you can move or pull your boat without a big scramble. (For more on high-winds planning, read our story on hurricane preparation).

High winds, storm surge, and hurricanes can be unforgiving of boats in moorings, on anchor or at the dock. Fletcher6 photo
High winds, storm surge, and hurricanes can be unforgiving of boats in moorings, on anchor or at the dock. Fletcher6 photo.

READ YOUR INSURANCE POLICY: FAQ

 

Are you insured to go there? Many claims result from owners taking their boats outside the region in which they’re insured to operate. According to NBOA’s customer service lead, Michelle Ainslie, who works with several insurers, there are typically regional coverage breaks at 27 and 32 feet. Going outside your coverage area is not a good idea if you want your insurance available!


Did you take advantage of a discount by agreeing to a “lay-up period”? If you live where boating is seasonal, you can often get a discount on your rates by agreeing that you won’t use your boat during certain months of the year. If that’s the case, don’t forget to revisit your policy if you decide to extend your season; otherwise, an early- or late-season claim might go unpaid.

Losing your boat to fire, theft, or sinking is a relatively rare occurrence. Photo courtesy Coast Guard News.
Losing your boat to fire, theft, or sinking is a relatively rare occurrence. Photo courtesy Coast Guard News.

Are you insured for cash value or agreed value? This is a fundamental distinction in insurance that becomes significant in the relatively rare instance of theft, fire, sinking or other circumstance when your boat becomes a total loss. Agreed value means you have a policy that will pay you a pre-determined amount that you’ve decided would be enough to replace the boat. If instead you are insured for the cash value of the boat, you may not end up with enough to buy the replacement and get back onto the water.

If I had a claim and my company will no longer insure me, what should I do? Says Michelle Ainslie, “If a customer has a couple of claims, we may have to move them to an insurer who will take the higher risk.” Like many agencies, she said, they’re also happy to review your policy and answer any other questions without requiring a quote request.

FAQ provided by NBOA Marine Insurance, which is the largest agency for boat insurance in the U.S. and specializes in boats 28 to 65 feet owned by U.S. residents.

New to Boating? 10 Tips for Making the Right Buying Decision

The challenge of buying a boat, either new or used, can be one of the most daunting and exciting tasks that you’ll ever face, especially if you’re a newcomer. You may have been on boats with friends, or looked out on the water and admired boats from afar — even a particular make or style of boat. Now you’re thinking of getting into the game yourself. Good! But before you take the plunge, here are some basic questions that will help guide you in your decision-making.

Buying a Boat
Buying a Boat

1. Location – How big is the lake — or is it an ocean? Make sure your new boat suits the local conditions. A pontoon boat that does great on a placid lake might not be suited for rougher coastal conditions.

2. Power or Sail? – What kind of activities on the water interest you?  Cruising? Racing? Fishing? Waterskiing? Wakeboarding? Wine and cheese? Some boats are purpose-built and some are better suited to multiple activities. Study boats that will best fit your on-water lifestyle.

3. Skills Required – Do you want a boat that requires a crew or one you can handle and dock on your own?

4. Mooring or Storage – Where it will be kept?  Will it fit the water depth, and how much will it cost to dock the boat?

5. Maintenance – Do you like to varnish or will you hose-and-go? Are you a do-it-yourselfer or will you rely on services to assist you?

6. Budget – Think beyond paying for the boat. What sort of taxes, interest rates on a boat loan, storage, insurance, and annual maintenance costs might be involved?  Should you consider shared ownership or partnering with a friend who has more boating experience? Plan your boat budget carefully.

7. Boat Valuation – What do other similar boats sell for? How can you determine the value of a used boat? If you’re thinking about a new boat, consider the depreciation. Depreciation on used boats that are kept in good condition should level out with maintenance and equipment improvements.

8. Sea Trial and Survey – Would you buy a car without a test drive? Get to know the boat, and enlist a marine surveyor to inspect its integrity and systems.

9. Boat Reviews – Boating websites and magazines offer a wealth of information and reviews on boats to help you find the right boat.

10. Right blend of style, speed and safety.  Start your search for your ideal boat for sale.

An earlier version of this post was published in 2010.


 

Boat Trader has plenty of  Buying and Selling advice, but also check out the hundreds of articles in the Boating section, with tips on everything from seamanship to maintenance, how-to, where to find replacement parts, and much more.

 

Video: Sunstream Float Lift in Action

Sunstream has been building innovative boat lifts for sixteen years, and we’re here at the Fort Lauderdale Boat Show today to demonstrate their brand new V-Lift.

This is a fast lift that can bring your boat out of the water in two minutes, and launch it in one minute.

It’s engineered so a boat owner can put it together, in an hour, with no tools. It has solar panels to keep the battery charged up, and to provide power to four air pumps that are rapidly lifting it out of the water.

You can control it with a remote.

We like this innovation. Anything that makes a boat owner’s life easier and makes access to the water a little quicker has got to be good for boating.

For more info, visit the Sunstream V-Lift web page.