As the summer kicks off, many people are getting out on the Delaware waterways and oceanfront in kayaks, jetskis, speedboats, and other personal watercraft. With increased activity on the water, there are inevitably more boating accidents as well as more incidents of theft, vandalism, and other damage to boats. It is important to understand your insurance coverage and the extent of your liability as a boat owner, and ensure that you have full insurance coverage for your boating activities in place before an accident happens.
The law requires car owners to have specific car insurance, and few people would consider having a car without it. However, most states, including Delaware, do not require boat owners to have boat insurance. Many boat owners do not think about insuring themselves against the risks associated with owning a boat. Some boat owners assume that their homeowners' insurance will cover boating accidents and damage to their boat but this is not the case. Typically, a homeowners' insurance policy provides very limited coverage for personal watercraft.
What type of policy is it?
Homeowners' insurance is designed to provide coverage for damage to your residence, loss or theft of personal possession, and some personal liability for harm to others. A homeowners' insurance policy may provide coverage for some losses in relation to your boat, but will generally not provide adequate coverage as a boat owner. Each policy is different and you should read the details of your own individual policy to determine your coverage.
In many cases, people keep their boats or other personal watercraft at their vacation home at the lake or beach. In this situation, a personal watercraft may be covered under a secondary homeowners' insurance policy on the vacation home. A secondary homeowners' insurance policy may not provide the same level of coverage for a boat as a typical primary policy. Once again, every insurance policy is different and the specific terms and conditions should be checked to determine coverage.
Individual insurance policies will differ in the type and amount of coverage provided, and also in the amount of the deductible. The deductible amount will affect how much you can recover in a boating accident, even if the damage is covered by your homeowners' insurance. Sometimes, in the case of smaller losses, it is not worth claiming reimbursement from your insurance provider because the loss is less than your deductible.
Although a homeowners' insurance policy may provide a limited amount of coverage for your boating activities, it is always advisable to get a dedicated boat insurance policy for your personal watercraft. A boat insurance policy should provide much more better property and liability coverage for your boat and your activities on the water.
What type of loss is it?
As a boat owner, you may face many types of unexpected financial losses and liability, including:
- Damage to your boat or other property in a boating accident.
- Personal injury to yourself or other people in a boating accident.
- Damage to someone else's boat or property in a boating accident.
- Damage to your boat while in storage.
- Damage to your boat in transportation.
- Weather damage (e.g. wind, hail, storm) to your boat while in use or in storage.
- Falling objects.
The type of loss is important to determining whether or not a loss is covered by a homeowners' insurance policy. Depending on the individual policy, damage to a boat caused when a garage or boathouse collapses may be covered while the medical bills of a boat passenger injured in a collision may not. Some activities, such as waterskiing or tubing, may also be excluded from coverage in an insurance policy.
Homeowners' insurance policies generally only cover minor losses. Some losses that might be covered by a homeowners' insurance policy are:
- Loss of personal items on a boat e.g. a phone, cooler, or bluetooth speaker.
- Theft or damage up to a limited amount (typically a maximum of $1,000-$1,500).
- Some personal liability coverage if a small watercraft is involved.
If you are injured or your boat is damaged, you should check the terms of your insurance policies carefully to determine if you are covered for the loss. If another person is involved, you may also be able to look to their insurance provider for reimbursement of your expenses. Your attorney can review these policies with you to help you to understand your coverage.
What type of boat or watercraft is it?
There are many different types of watercraft from single person kayaks to large pontoon boats. Smaller, less powerful watercraft are more likely than larger, faster watercraft to be covered by a homeowners' insurance policy. A large boat will be excluded from both property and liability coverage in a homeowners' insurance policy. Some insurers will, however, provide liability insurance on smaller boats such as sailboats of 26 feet or less, and powerboats with inboard motors of 50 hp or outboard motors of 25 hp. Some insurers will specifically exclude jetskis from coverage under a homeowners' insurance policy. You should always check the terms of your own insurance policy to find out the extent of your own coverage. Your insurance agent or attorney can help you understand the details of the policy to find out exactly what coverage you have.
If you have any type of boat or personal watercraft, you should have a specific boat insurance policy that will provide both property and liability coverage. You can often get a boat insurance policy from the same insurance company that you use for your homeowners' or car insurance, although there are insurers that specialize only in boat insurance.
Who is operating the boat?
Whether or not your loss is covered by insurance may depend on who is involved in the accident. Before you get out on the water, or allow another person to borrow or operate your boat, you should be clear on who is covered by your insurance policy to operate the boat. Another person may not be insured to operate your boat, or the insurance coverage may be limited, even if that person has your permission to operate the boat.
Some insurance policies (both homeowners' and boating insurance) have restrictions, such as minimum age restrictions, on the people insured to operate the boat. When you are insuring your boat or reviewing the terms of your current insurance policy, you should ensure that anyone operating the boat complies with these restrictions. You must also be in compliance with local laws and regulations. In Delaware, it is illegal for anyone under 14 years of age to operate a personal watercraft on Delaware waters, and boat operators aged 14 and 15 must have an adult on board with them.
Get insurance. Get advice.
If you own a personal watercraft, you should have boating insurance to cover your losses in the event of damage or an accident. It is not enough to rely on the limited coverage that your homeowners' insurance policy might provide.
If you have already been in a boating accident, or suffered other damage to your boat, you should check all of your insurance policies (homeowners' and boating insurance) to find out the extent of your property and liability coverage. Do not rely on other people or insurance companies involved in the accident to tell you about your insurance coverage. Other people and insurers may be motivated to reduce the amount of any payout, and you may not get the full amount of compensation that you are entitled to. A good boating accident lawyer can help you understand your legal entitlements, including insurance coverage and compensation, and explain all the options available to you after a boating accident.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.