Boats & Watercraft: Insurance and Safety

Summertime fun often means enjoying some time out on the water, but there are some special considerations to remember when it comes to staying safe and protecting your watercraft.

Boat Insurance

Many factors contribute to the necessary amount, type, and cost of boat insurance and it is important to ensure that your boat is properly covered. Smaller boats may be covered under your standard homeowners or renter’s policy as property, but this coverage does not typically automatically include liability coverage. Larger or faster boats and personal watercraft, such as jet skis, require a separate insurance policy.

Boat insurance policies are available in two main types: actual cash value or agreed amount value. Actual cash value policies pay for replacement costs less depreciation and agreed amount value policies pay based on the valuation of your vessel that you and your insurer have agreed upon without factoring in depreciation. Both will usually provide coverage for damage to the boat itself and can sometimes include coverage for property damage, medical payments, theft, liability protection and/or coverage for trailers and accessories, though these coverages may need to be added on separately. Within a given policy coverages may have individual deductibles and limits so it is important to ensure you fully review policy information.

There are additional optional coverages that you may add to your boat policy. Some of the most common optional coverages are:

  • Liability
  • Guest passenger liability
  • Bodily injury
  • Theft
  • Loss or theft of belongings
  • Physical loss/damage to the boat (wear and tear; damage from mold, insects, animals; or defective or damaged machinery)
  • Property damage
  • Medical payments
  • Trailer/boat accessories
  • Towing

Boat Safety

According to the National Safety Council, “in 2017, the U.S. Coast Guard reported 4,291 boating incidents that resulted in 658 deaths, 2,629 injuries and about $46 million in property damage.” There are many factors that contribute to boating incidents including reckless or careless driving, weather conditions, intoxication, inexperience and failure to follow rules and regulations.

Staying safe on the water involves knowledge, preparation, and good judgement. Ensure that you are educated on water traffic laws and follow these rules. Learn boating signals so that you can communicate with others on the water.

The Insurance Information Institute recommends that before you set out on the water, you should ensure that you equip your vessel with navigation lights and a whistle, horn or bell and that you bring life jackets, emergency paddles/oars, a first-aid kit, a tool kit, a flashlight, flares, a radio, and fire extinguishers.

When it comes to life jackets, make sure you have enough for everyone on the boat and that they wear them while on the water. The National Safety Council offers tips on how to make sure they fit appropriately:

  • Make sure the jacket is a proper fit for your size and weight
  • Make sure the jacket is properly fastened
  • Hold your arms straight up over your head, ask a friend to grasp the tops of the arm openings and gently pull up; make sure there is no excess room above the openings and that the jacket does not ride up over your chin or face

In addition to setting up your boat with the proper supplies, make sure that you check the weather forecast and all the boats systems including fuel, electrical and steering.

While on the water, use good judgement. Don’t let passengers ride on the bow, seatbacks or gunwales, do not use alcohol or drugs, and watch for other vessels, swimmers, or any other obstacles in the water.

If you are participating in other activities in the water, such as skiing, tubing, wakeboarding, or jet skiing, ensure you are alert and following basic safety rules:

  • Know how to get out of the water and safely use the tow rope
  • Ensure the towline is not caught in the propeller or wrapped around you prior to beginning
  • Always have a spotter in the boat
  • Review basic hand signals
  • Wait for the propeller to stop before getting back on the boat
  • Enjoy these activities during daylight hours only
  • Keep appropriate distance from other watercraft, swimmers, divers, water skiers and fishermen
  • Don’t jump the wake of a passing boat
  • Stay alert!