What is the law about sailboat insurance?
There’s no federal law in the United States that mandates sailboat insurance nationwide. Unlike car insurance, most states don’t require sailboat insurance either. As of 2019, there are only two states that require coverage for boats: Arkansas and Utah. Oddly enough, Utah has few navigable waterways, and Arkansas is landlocked too (with the exception of the Mississippi and Arkansas rivers), and rivers aren’t the best place for sailing vessels anyway. Chances are you won’t own a full-size sailboat in those two states, but if you do, you’ll be legally obligated to insure it.
In the rest of the country, there’s no requirement to insure your boat. It may seem like an excellent opportunity to save a few bucks, but the legal consequences after an accident can be severe. In most cases, you will be held accountable for damage caused by your boat, even if it was an accident. Boat repair can be extraordinarily expensive, and it doesn’t take much to cause a lot of damage. That’s not to say that you will get in an accident; many experienced sailors go their whole lives without one. The point is that you’ll want to be protected if the unexpected occurs, regardless of how and whose fault it is.
Insurance isn’t just for private property damage. In every state, the environment is protected by federal law. Remember, if your boat sinks in a protected location, you’ll be responsible for preventing (or in some cases repairing) the environmental damage caused. Additionally, fuel and chemical spills are sometimes your responsibility to manage. If you run aground or get stuck in a heavily-trafficked area, somebody is going to have to pull you out. Towing services are expensive, and you’ll have to pay for whoever comes to the rescue. It’s even worse if you get into a collision with commercial vessels. An insurance policy can cover emergency transport and environmental cleanup costs. If a careless speedboat ignores a ‘no wake’ sign, you could be pushed against your will into an object or aground. Collisions with docks, buoys, or other marine infrastructure can cost thousands to repair, and it may not be your fault.
How Sailboat Insurance Can Help You
The boat insurance world is full of incredible claims and stories of accidents. All sorts of ridiculous things can happen to a boat, and sailboat insurance can financially rescue you when accidents (or mother nature) strike. The purpose of this section is not to scare you, but instead highlight the importance of insuring your boat so you can enjoy it as long as possible.
On Grand Lake in Oklahoma, captains stored their vessels under covered slips to shield them from the sun and weather. When a blizzard struck in 2011, the roof above the slips collapsed onto the boats below. Collapses are surprisingly frequent at covered marinas, especially after freak snowstorms. Those who had insurance got their boats repaired, but some couldn’t afford to fix the damage resulting in the loss of their prized vessels.
Speaking of weather, everybody with a boat in areas frequented by hurricanes should always buy insurance. Tide surges that occur during severe tropical storms can inconveniently relocate your sailboat in a parking lot or miles away up a flooded road. If you store your boat on land, high winds can knock it off its stands and cause extensive damage. During hurricane Harvey and Irma, a shocking 63,000 recreational vessels were damaged or destroyed! BoatUS estimated the total damage cost to boats from those storms was $655,000,000—that comes out to over $10,000 per person. Severe storms can (and often do) strike a significant financial blow to the sailing community, but a sensible insurance policy can ensure you’ll be back on the water in no time.
Nature strikes boaters in a variety of ways, as the crew of a sailboat in California recently learned the hard way while on an offshore excursion. On their way back from Hawaii during the Trans-Pac race, the sailors found themselves in between a mother whale and her calf. In a moment of protective rage, the mother whale punched a massive hole in the side of the vessel, causing it to take on water. The crew were rescued, but their prized sailboat sank to the bottom of the Pacific. Luckily, the owners had insurance, and the company covered their extraordinary claim.
Much of the time, sailboat damage occurs before the boat reaches the water. Boats on trailers are sometimes hit by cars or other equipment, and wind gusts can blow over even the most secure land-based boats. In one case, a series of unfortunate circumstances at a marina caused a forklift operator to drop a boat onto the pavement, resulting in extensive damage. A boat is at risk of damage any time it’s out of the water. When your sailboat needs maintenance, it’ll need to be towed or lifted out of the water with a crane, and the vessel can fall and be damaged.
How Much does Sailboat Insurance Cost?
If you think sailboat insurance will cost a fortune, you’ll be surprised by the reality. Even though a sailboat can be both a home and a vehicle, it’s likely going to cost a fraction of your other insurance policies. It’ll probably only cost a few hundred dollars per year to insure an average-sized (30-foot) sailboat. And while size plays a part, these insurance policies are usually calculated based on value. For example, a sailboat worth $20,000 costs an average of $300 per year to insure. Individual factors will have an effect on your policy cost, so you’ll need to gather all the relevant details to get an accurate quote. Be sure to note your sailboat’s:
- Location of registration
The same companies that offer auto insurance usually deal with boats as well. As with any insurance policy, it’s essential to shop around for the best deal, as one company may offer more coverage at a lower expense for your particular boat. Getting a quote is easy, and you can do it online.
However, some boats require a different type of insurance company. Large (over 50-feet), extremely expensive, and vintage boats sometimes aren’t covered by general-purpose indemnity companies, so you’ll need to find a dedicated boat insurance company. Many such organizations exist, and their policies are catered towards people with unique boats. If you own an unusually large, antique, or expensive boat, you of all people should absolutely consider an insurance policy. Unique boats (while generally more costly to insure) are especially important to cover because of their novel attributes.
Even though insurance isn’t mandatory for boats in most places, it can add priceless value to your sailing experience. Going out on the water with peace of mind should be worth much more than the couple hundred dollars spent to insure a boat. Policies from the bare minimum to full coverage are available, and you can choose whichever one fits your needs and budget. You can cover a sailboat for as little as $100 per year and get the most out of your recreational craft without worrying about an accident and financial distress.
Accidents happen, and they range from devastating and unfortunate to comical in some cases. Regardless of how often you use your sailboat, consider insuring it for the sake of the unexpected.