Five Tips to Prevent Boating Claims

No one likes surprises, especially when it comes to their insurance and most prized possessions. Just ask a boat owner who had a claim denied. Unpleasant surprises happen all too often when people don’t understand their boat insurance or fail to perform simple preventative maintenance.

1. Simple maintenance can save big. Remind your customers that a little maintenance can save a lot of money in the end. The raw water pump impeller is a good example. This rubber, star-shaped part provides cooling water that keeps an engine from overheating. It is inexpensive, but needs to be replaced every year or two.

Unfortunately, when an engine overheats, owners rarely think to inspect and service the cooling system. Instead, they assume the cooling system is blocked or obstructed by a plastic bag or other debris. But claims adjusters inspecting an overheated engine can tell when parts are damaged due to wear and tear or mechanical failure.

Educate your customers. Insurance is not a replacement for routine maintenance. They’ll be happier paying a few dollars a year for maintenance now then thousands to replace an engine later.

2. Pay attention to proper storage. Encourage your customers to take extra care when storing a boat for the winter: Always remove the drain plug from the hull and leave the boat at a slight “bow up” elevation to allow water to drain. Why? Storms can tear covers or blow them off the boat completely. Plus, older or unsupported covers allow water to pool, which can damage engines and machinery.

The message for a boat owner is simple: Cover your boat, pull the drain plug and take steps to protect your property.

3. Make sure policies are updated. When you write boat coverage, remind your customers that they should update their policy when they make major improvements, such as a repower or refit.

Explain that a boat policy is different than an auto policy, which pays for total damages. Boat coverage has a limit of liability and pays only up to the market value or the agreed value of the boat (with endorsement). So when a new engine is installed or upgrades made, these items should be added to the value of the boat.

A California woman recently learned this lesson the hard way. She installed $26,000 in new stereo equipment on her ski boat, but did not update her policy. The boat was vandalized and the equipment was stolen. The boat had coverage of $34,000, which was the value of the boat—but did not include the $26,000 stereo system that was just added.

The rule also applies to vinyl hull wraps that are often installed on boats for advertising in tournament fishing. Technically, these wraps are considered an improvement and can add $3,000 to $5,000 to the value of the hull. If the wrap is not added to the policy and the hull is damaged, it may not be covered.

4. Save receipts for personal property. It’s also important for your customers to keep receipts for any personal property stored on the vessel. Without receipts, the personal property will be valued at the same age as the boat—even if the boat is 10 years older than the items lost.

For example, a storage facility burned down in the Southwest and an older boat was completely destroyed. The owner filed a claim for $5,000 in personal property but did not have any receipts. Since the age of the items could not be verified, he received a check for $1,800.

This is especially important for fisherman, who often carry thousands of dollars in fishing rods and reels, tackle boxes and lures, as well as GPS units, depth/fish finders and other electronics. Encourage your clients to keep a full list of items on the boat. This can help expedite the claim process and save them from hunting for old credit card receipts or bank statements.

5. When in doubt, call. Encourage your customers to report claims promptly. Make sure they call you or the insurer’s claims hotline as soon as they know that the boat is damaged—no matter how minor the damage appears.

Consider one of my customers that ran his boat into a pylon. The damage seemed minor and he thought it would not meet his deductible, so he didn’t call us. He then received a $4,500 repair bill. Unfortunately the boat was already fixed and there was no way to verify the damage.

As an extra precaution, your customers should take photos at the scene of the accident so if the boat or other evidence is moved before the adjuster arrives, there is visual proof of damage. When working with boat customers, remember that people often do not read their policies. They rely on their insurance agent to understand it. The lesson? When you write a policy, don’t just tell them what is covered but also what is not covered. An uncovered loss is a claims surprise that no one wants.