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Whatever Floats Your Boat

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Many fair-weather boaters, such as myself, still have their boats sitting in the garage or driveway covered with winter’s dust. Others, principally those erstwhile K&K participants, have already spent hours out on the lake after getting their boats completely "summerized." Of course “summer” is a grossly inaccurate term for this time of year, yet it is time to check over your boat, clean it up, make sure the mechanical systems are safe and seaworthy and – you knew I was getting to this – review your boat insurance.
    The primary coverage is Liability. Many owners of small boats are not concerned about damage or theft of gear, so this may be their only interest. Some operators of small fishing boats probably feel like it is of no concern since they have been boating safely for years and feel their small boat couldn’t damage anything anyway. However, as with most insurance coverage, it is the unexpected event that sometimes catches us unprepared.
    Several years ago I was trolling along the Monarchs on a clear, sunny summer morning. While my grandson waited anxiously for the next Kokanee to fling itself upon his lure, I piloted the boat and tried to keep him from getting bored. There were probably a dozen boats in the area and the calm waters made it easy to maneuver as we continually turned and passed each other back and forth in front of the mountains. Suddenly I noticed a 15-foot aluminum boat making a wide but definite turn right toward our boat. The sole occupant – an older fellow – had his head tilted downward; he looked to be asleep. I yelled and scrambled forward trying to reach the boat horn, managing to step in my tackle box at the same time. Before I could get two more steps, however, he crashed into the side of my boat. His head jerked upright and, as he comprehended his situation, muttered “Oh, sorry ‘bout that.” Then, as I surveyed the gouge in the fiberglass of my boat, he had the audacity to continue, “Been getting any bites?” I never did figure out if the old duffer was really that clueless, or if the thermos that was now rolling around in the bottom of his boat contained a more potent mixture than just coffee and sugar. Even though I decided not to pursue the issue, this was definitely a person who needed Liability insurance! And, fortunately, he was not in an area frequented by children and swimmers.
    Most Homeowner or Tenant policies provide limited Liability coverage for the operation of boats. There is a wide variance in the type of coverage, however, so you need to ask your agent what is automatically provided. Most limit the size of the boat to less than 26 feet and many limit the size of the engine to 50 horsepower. If you exceed the limits that your Homeowner policy specifies, then you must purchase the coverage either with a separate policy or by endorsing the Homeowner policy.
    Remember that Liability is what covers the "other guy." So if you cause property damage (like running into someone else’s boat!) or bodily injury, you are protected. But what if someone is stepping into your boat from the dock, slips and loses his or her balance, and falls into the boat, breaking an arm in the process? Unless you were negligent in causing the fall, your Liability coverage won’t help you here. Now you need Medical Payments coverage - the typical limit is from $1,000 to $10,000. And, if you plan to pull water skiers, better check to see if that Liability and/or Medical Payments coverage will extend to that activity. Many boat policies require an extra endorsement for water skiing.     Another area of concern with regard to injuries is the uninsured boater. What if, for instance, you or your passengers are injured in a collision with a boater who is negligent but carries no insurance? Many boat policies now offer the option of including Uninsured Boater coverage very similar to Uninsured Motorist coverage on your auto insurance.
    Although we have discussed some of the most important elements of a boat owner’s insurance protection, we have not even touched upon coverage for the boat itself or its equipment. This is called Material Damage coverage or Hull Insurance. The most obvious part of this coverage is for the boat and motor and they are usually covered for Actual Cash Value (market value) up to a specified amount. If you bought your boat brand new five years ago and have not reviewed your coverage since then, you’re probably over-insured. After all, the value of your boat decreases each year, especially in those first few years after it is new, so be sure to check the value you are paying for. Some policies offer an automatic amount for a boat trailer, but even if yours does be sure to make sure it is adequate. Also, you need to check your policy to see if such items as that expensive new fish finder (which never seems to “find” fish), your rods and reels, life jackets, skis, fenders, etc. are covered for loss. Some policies offer automatic coverage in a limited amount while others do not.
    Finally, although I have not specifically mentioned kayaks and canoes, there are areas of concern for these as well. Most Homeowner policies offer some automatic coverage under Household Contents for boats and equipment. This coverage is, however, typically limited to $1,000 which may be woefully inadequate if that new cruising kayak is stolen off the top of your car. Also, some policies limit that automatic coverage even further by restricting the perils insured against if the canoe or kayak happens to be off premises or, in some cases, even outside of an enclosed structure. If the wind blows a tree down onto your kayak in the back yard, it may not be covered.
    Boating is one of the primary recreational activities in our area and the lakes get busier each year. Your Boat Liability protects you in case a claim is made against you for negligence in the operation of the boat. It simply makes sense to protect the assets you have worked years to accumulate including your home, retirement plans, real estate, etc. As for Material Damage, even if you don’t have an expensive boat or one financed by a bank, the premiums for Hull Insurance are reasonable and can provide a quick way for you to get back out on the water after a mishap.
    Over the years here in North Idaho, I have seen claims paid for injured water skiers, passengers who have fallen, boats that have torn loose from moorings during wind storms, boats that have hit dead-heads and pilings and many other unfortunate occurrences. An adequate Boat Insurance policy insures that these unexpected calamities don’t have to be a financial disaster for you and your family. I hope everyone has a safe, happy and sunny boating season this year!
    Mike Mahoney is with North Idaho Insurance in Sandpoint. He offers insurance for homes, boats, cars and businesses, but does not insure a good day of fishing on the lake. For that, you're on your own.

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Mike Mahoney

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