Top five boat insurance claims

Paul Birch, Managing Director of Bishop Skinner Marine looks at the top five boat insurance claims received and how to avoid them.

Following another busy season on the water, including the thrills and spills of the Round the Island Race, the Americas Cup qualifiers and, of course, Cowes week, Paul Birch, Managing Director of Bishop Skinner Marine looks at the top five boat insurance claims received and how to avoid them.

Insurance claims statistics reveal almost a third of all claims in 2015, 32%, were related to collisions, by far the costliest and most frequent claim type. Unsurprisingly, 80% of these collision claims took place in the spring-summer season. The majority of these collisions, 65%, were between yachts, typically the more expensive craft.


Collisions are the number one cause for claims. Waterways are busier in the summer, so it pays to keep a good look out when sailing or driving a motor boat, and to plan your manoeuvres in good time (don’t get caught out near marks or obstructions because you are having to adjust course for other vessels). If you are on the water when a sailing race is taking place, expect participants to tack more frequently and plan accordingly.

Paul says: “Collisions with third parties are the most common type of claims we see, so whether you’re racing or not you should pay particular attention to Colregs – the rules of the sea. Although you might be the ‘stand on vessel’ no vessel has right of way and everyone is responsible for avoiding a collision.”

Colregs set out the ‘rules of the sea’ or navigation rules, to be followed by ships and other vessels at sea, to prevent collisions. Relevant authorities in coastal states, decide which waters are subject to the Colregs and which are not. Colregs are set out in a multilateral treaty called the Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea.

Weather damage

The weather can pose a number of dangers for boats if left out in the open. Paul says: “If you keep your boat at a marina, it’s generally better sheltered from the worst weather conditions; however it’s certainly prudent to store sails rather than leaving them furled as well as checking your lines in the event of a weather warning.”

In severe storms, lightning strikes have the potential to disable or short-circuit on board electrics. This can lead to fire in extreme cases, so it’s always worth considering fire safety and ensuring your fire extinguishers are well maintained. There are a few precautions you can take in stormy conditions, such as putting any electrical items in a cooker to keep them insulted from harm, however boat insurance is always there should disaster strike.

If you keep a dinghy at a dinghy park, they are susceptible to being blown about and flipped over in high winds if they’re not properly secured. Check your covers are in good condition and secure. If there is a risk of high winds, you might want to consider removing masts and lashing them alongside, and using additional lines and pegs to secure the dinghy/trailer to the ground.

Striking underwater objects

There is nothing more disheartening than when your craft strikes an underwater hazard. Installing a GPS unit, updating or correcting paper charts and talking to local boat users when sailing through unfamiliar waterways, can help avoid hull and propeller damage. Where a boat already has an electronic plotter ensure the most recent updates are installed. Monitoring the tidal stream on objects in front of the boat, such as buoys, also helps as a sharp change in the current’s direction may indicate that something lies just beneath the surface. You should always check your charts for underwater obstructions. Sandbars are often the culprits in this case.

Paul commented: “With greater use and busier waterways, familiarity breeds complacency (plenty of accidents occur in waters that are regularly used), so plan each passage rather than assume this weekend’s trip will be the same as last weekend’s.”


Many of the capsize claims reported were for dinghies which are, thankfully, more easily rightable.  To help avoid capsizing there are a number of rules you can follow. If it is your boat you are responsible for the safety of it and any passengers on board. Remember:

  • Dinghy sailors should be wearing buoyancy aids at all times. Yacht sailors and motor boaters are at liberty to choose whether to wear a lifejacket, but do read the RYA’s lifejacket advice for more information:
  • Match the capabilities of you, your boat and your crew to the conditions. If in doubt, stay inshore. It is better to be at the pontoon wishing you were offshore than offshore wishing you were at the pontoon.
  • Be vigilant and alert to any changes in weather. Storms usually give plenty of warning before they strike.  Know what channels to listen out for weather on.
  • All boaters should carry a VHF radio with them on board (or even on their person, depending upon their activity) as an appropriate means of raising the alarm should they find themselves in distress.
  • Write a passage plan and leave this with a trustworthy friend or for smaller craft try the RYA’s SafeTrx app.

Paul says: “Remember, the best time to head back to shore is when the thought first occurs to you. Be sure to take the necessary precautions and follow your instincts if you have any reservations about the weather.”

Rig/mast damage

Paul says: “The more you use a boat, the more likelihood there is of damage.  Ten year rig checks aren’t so common in most insurance policies, but wear and tear clauses aren’t – make sure that everything is in good order.  If a boat is raced hard every year for several years, a rig check will be necessary more frequently than a cruising boat that does summer weekends only each year. And insurance can only pick up the financial tab; it can’t cover the loss of time on the water while the boat is awaiting delivery of a mast from the factory.”

RYA members enjoy exclusive discounts on Bishop Skinner Marine Insurance. To find out more visit the Bishop Skinner member benefits page.

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