Every year, boatowners weigh the risk against the reward of insuring their boats for the summer season. When considering “do I need boat insurance?” some try to weigh the chances of an incident vs. the cost of protection, while others simply accept that coverage provides the peace of mind they need to enjoy their time on the water.
If you’re trying to decide whether to invest in boat insurance, start by comparing this coverage to another common type of summer protection: sunscreen.
Though some people feel their chances of getting a sunburn aren’t enough to warrant the use of sunscreen while outdoors, others have done their research and understand the risks of spending time in the sun unprotected.
The same holds true with boat insurance. Not every person who invests in this coverage will need it—much like wearing sunscreen can’t 100% guarantee someone won’t get skin cancer—but the odds are a lot better with coverage if something happens.
In this article, we will explore the potential risks associated with boating, review the general benefits of consistent coverage, and uncover some of the factors that contribute to the price of a boat insurance policy.
The Risks of Boating
Though we don’t like to think about accidents occurring during such a peaceful recreational activity, roughly 5,000 boating accidents occur annually in America.
Most commonly, these boating accidents included collisions with other recreational vessels, flooding, collision with a fixed object, grounding, and falling overboard.
While accidents on the water may come in various forms, the results are often the same. Boating accidents in 2022 resulted in more than $62.5 million in property damage, and a high number of injuries and deaths among passengers, swimmers, and other boaters alike.
Most deaths from boating accidents occur when an individual is thrown from the boat into the water and makes contact with the boat’s propeller. In many cases, the individual isn’t wearing a lifejacket, which is more likely to result in the individual drowning when injured.
Did You Know: Usage statistics indicate only 11.6% of adults and 65.8% of children wear lifejackets when boating.
Always wear a lifejacket when operating a boat to reduce the risk of injury and death from an unexpected accident.
What causes most boating accidents?
Many factors might contribute to boating-related fatalities, including operator inexperience, inattention, and excessive speeding. The most common factor by far, however, is alcohol.
Alcohol is the leading cause of at least 19% of boating-related deaths in 2022. Much like driving a car, drinking alcohol can affect a boater’s ability to operate their vessel safely. It impairs judgment and impacts a driver’s vision, balance, and coordination.
However, alcohol consumed while on the water poses an additional risk not experienced by those who drink only on land. The consistent exposure to stressors on the water, such as noise, vibrations, sun, glare, wind, and the motion of the water produces fatigue known as “boater’s hypnosis.” According to Boat U.S., “boater’s hypnosis” can “slow reaction time almost as much as if you were legally drunk.”
What’s more, consuming alcohol on top of this natural reaction to being on the water intensifies the effects of this sensation. As a result, each drink multiplies your accident risk.
The Additional Risk of New Boaters
The COVID-19 pandemic inspired new interest in outdoor recreation, driving a 40% surge in new boat sales in 2020. Today, millions of Americans are boatowners, with first-time boat buyers representing over a third of that population.
As a result of the large number of new drivers, there has been a consistent uptick in accidents, injuries, and deaths on the water. During the COVID pandemic alone, propeller-related accidents increased by 44%, with boating fatalities rising by 25%.
What Does Boatowner’s Insurance Cover?
Now that you understand the potential risks associated with boating, it’s time to explore the protection that comes with a boat insurance policy.
Although coverage will vary depending on the specific policy, coverage typically provides protection for your boat, motor, trailer, and accessories. Additionally, a boat insurance policy will also provide liability coverage for covered losses to others that arise from operating your boat.
Typical coverage includes losses caused by:
- Fire, lightning, and windstorms
- Explosions, sinking, or stranding
- Theft and vandalism
- Collision and damage while loading, unloading, or launching
- Highway collision or upset
Liability Coverage for Boaters
“You have a variety of exposures when you own a boat, including liability,” says Judy Dammeyer, senior personal lines product development specialist at Central Insurance with four decades of personal boating experience. This is why investing in a policy that provides liability coverage is crucial.
Liability coverage protects you against legal liability resulting from covered claims for bodily injury or property damage that occurs when operating your vehicle. Medical payments coverage applies to passengers aboard your boat, including skiers who suffer a bodily injury resulting from a covered loss.
Factors That Impact Boat Insurance Rates
Determining appropriate boat coverage is based on several factors. Some of the most common include:
- Boat specifications: This includes the value, size, speed, and condition of the vessel itself, as well as the specific type of watercraft and motor it uses.
- A clean driving record: Depending on your state, an insurance company might check your DMV record when determining your premium. They may consider prior DUIs (or BWIs), reckless driving convictions, etc.
- Prior losses: If you’ve filed claims for boating accidents (or other types of damage) in the past, it might be considered.
- Add-on coverage: If you decide to insure personal effects like water skis, tubes, life jackets, etc., that can be taken into consideration as well.
How to Reduce Boating Risks
“It’s important to remember there are rules for boating,” Dammeyer says. “People often look at the water like a big, open road where they can do whatever they want, but that’s not the case.”
She recommends a few simple rules to stay safe while on the water.
- Always wear a personal flotation device when boating, and insist your passengers do the same.
- Never consume alcohol while operating a boat.
- Enroll in a boat safety course.
- Make sure your boat has working horns and lights.
- Stay aware when you’re out on the water.
“You can’t control everyone and everything when you’re around other boaters, so it’s important to know what to look out for and embrace safe personal boating practices at every opportunity,” she says.
Do I need boat insurance?
The short answer is: yes.
“There are often common misperceptions that a boat is covered under a homeowners policy or that you only need to carry coverage during boating season. Both of these assumptions are inaccurate,” Dammeyer says, clarifying that boat insurance is an additional, year-round policy all boatowners must consider.
What’s more, Dammeyer explains that certain circumstances might require this form of coverage. “If you have a loan on your boat, the bank will require coverage just like they would with a car,” she says. “ Or if you hit another boat or cause an injury while boating, you’ll have medical payments just like you would with an auto accident.” Boat owners may also be required to carry boat insurance when docking at a marina facility.
Keep in Mind: Requirements for boat insurance vary by state and circumstance. If you own or operate a boat, it’s important to understand the liability insurance laws specific to your state.
Boatowners Insurance with Central
Central’s boatowners and boat dock coverage policies are uniquely designed to ensure our customers’ peace of mind in any situation. Whether you experience damage to your vessel or dock, or are found responsible for an injury that occurs when on the water, you can rest easy knowing Central is there to protect you.
Not already covered by Central? Find an independent Central agent today to get a quote.
Please Note: The information above is of a general nature and your policy and coverages provided may differ from the examples provided. Please read your policy in its entirety to determine your actual coverage available.