As a boat owner, the last thing on your mind when you set sail is that you might need to make an insurance claim. Here's how to prepare for the unexpected

Alison Melia, a marine insurance specialist at Insure4Boats with almost 20 years’ experience, looks at the 10 most common boat insurance claims and offers some advice to boat owners on how to keep their vessels safe.


1 – Theft of boat

Unsurprisingly, boat thefts account for a high proportion of claims. The primary targets for theft are jet skis and August is a popular month for boat theft.

Thankfully, there are several actions you can take to avoid your boat being stolen. Installing an anti-theft device such as a Digitally Encoded Security System (DESS), marking your watercraft’s Hull Number and taking photos of it for identification purposes, to name a few.


2 – Theft from boat

A variety of items are stolen from boats, with the most common being outboard motors and generators. Most of these thefts take place during the warmer months of the year between April and September, so now is the time to make sure you’ve taken every possible measure to protect your on-board items.

These could include maintaining an up-to-date inventory of boat contents and stamping your items with some form of personal identification such as your postcode.


3 – Collision with underwater object

This type of incident can be especially disheartening for boat owners. It is usually caused by inexperience, unfamiliar surroundings, murky water or floating debris.

You can lessen the risk of colliding with an underwater object by installing a GPS unit or consulting with other boat owners when sailing through somewhere you don’t know well.

Monitoring the tidal stream on objects in front of the boat, such as buoys, also provides an indication of whether there are objects beneath the water.


4 – Collision with another vessel

It won’t surprise you to learn that collisions are the number one cause of boat insurance claims in the UK.

Collisions often occur when the operator either mistimes a manoeuvre or is driving the boat too fast to react to another boat coming towards them.

Jet skis and motorboats are the most common types of boats to collide with another vessel and these collisions can be very costly, resulting in several thousands of pounds worth of damage.


5 – Sinking

Sinking is usually the most expensive form of boating incident, with some claims costing tens of thousands of pounds. The extent of damage caused by sinking can range from engine control damage to the total loss of a boat.

Despite this, many boat owners believe their vessel would only sink in the worst-case scenario. However, bad weather, excessive corrosion and slipping the moorings can all cause your boat to sink.


6 – Loss of tender

Although cruising the sea with a towed tender enhances a boating experience, tender losses can be expensive.

As recently as last August, Insure4Boats received a claim worth over £42,000 from a motorboat owner after they lost their Williams jet tender in heavy seas.

To avoid this extremely unfortunate fate, it’s worth investigating various websites and forums to establish how to properly secure your tender, if you feel like you need further guidance.


7 – Storm damage

As any experienced boater will tell you, the term ‘storm damage’ doesn’t just apply to the enormous hurricanes you’d see in The Perfect Storm.

Even a strong gust of wind can damage the pulpit and result in a claim worth several thousands of pounds – as we know from recent first-hand experience, having received a claim for such damage.

That’s why it’s always worth double-checking the wind speed and direction, surf height, tidal range and tide times before setting sail.

The BBC Shipping Forecast on Radio 4 provides details of the above and is broadcast four times a day at 00:48, 05:20, 12:01 and 17:54.


8 – Malicious damage

It’s not just weather-related damage you need to consider as a boat owner – malicious damage is another very common boat insurance claim.

Just recently, one of our policyholders made a claim following malicious damage to an internal seacock in his sailing yacht, which resulted in the vessel filling up with water.

Most instances of malicious damage take place while the owner is away from their boat, which is why protecting your property with specialist boat insurance is so important.


9 – Grounding

Grounding can cause serious structural damage to your boat and can have significant financial implications. As with sinking, insurance claims relating to grounding can be tens of thousands of pounds, potentially resulting in the total loss of your boat.

When you think of grounding, you may imagine a reckless driver who hasn’t anticipated the dangers of the hard ground around them. However, grounding can result from something as innocuous as the vessel drifting overnight and hitting some rocks.

If your boat ever suffers grounding damage, it should be prevented from sailing until a thorough inspection has been carried out to ensure the bilge is not filling with water.


10 – Fire

Boat fires are becoming increasingly rare, especially with all the sophisticated fire alarms and detection systems on the market.

However, although boat fires are among the less common type of boat insurance claims, like grounding, they can result in the total loss of a boat.

A boat fire can be due to anything from an electrical fault to an explosion, and even the smallest fires result in high costs to put right.

To keep your boat as fireproof as possible, you should always keep fire extinguishers on board and make sure your extinguishers and blankets are still in-date. You should also check your engine for fluid leakages and make sure all electrical connections are tight and corrosion-free.

If you are unsure or need further advice on the correct safety equipment, get advice from a qualified marine surveyor.