Insurers getting tougher on boat owners

PALM BEACH, Fla. – After all of the damage inflicted upon boat owners during the last two hurricane seasons, insurers in Florida have begun tightening the requirements boat owners must adhere to in order to have their boats covered, the Palm Beach Post reported in a story yesterday.

“Some owners do all the prep work, while others say, ‘That’s why I have insurance,’ ” Mike Abbott, a yacht insurance agent for Fort Lauderdale-based Allied Richard Bertram Marine Group, told the newspaper. “The concept is to put a little skin in the game for the insured.”

More insurers are requiring boaters to have a plan for how they’ll protect their vessels if a storm hits and adding, or increasing, deductibles for hurricane losses, the Post reported.

Some insurers have begun requiring out-of-state owners to have full-time captains to care for boats when they aren’t around. or simply prohibiting insured boats from being in Florida during hurricane season.

“We’re just trying to take some measured approaches that are going to keep us in the business,” said Peter Lafontaine, vice president of marketing and business development for Inamar Recreational Marine, the marine underwriting division of Ace USA in Philadelphia, told the newspaper.

“The last thing we want to do is to have to withdraw from the market. . . . If you’re going to be in the marine insurance business, Florida has to be part of your strategy,” he said.

With more active storm seasons in the forecast, marine insurance rates are going up, agents say. Just how much depends on the value and size of the vessel and the experience of the boater.

Ace USA is trying to boost its business on the West Coast and in the Great Lakes area to balance its risks in Florida, Lafontaine said. Other companies are limiting their number of policies in Florida. And some may pull out of the market, according to the newspaper.

Allstate stopped writing new boat policies in Florida after the 2004 hurricane season, but the Northbrook, Ill.-based insurer is maintaining its existing policies, company spokesman Ryan Priest told the Post.

“It is a market that we are looking at ways to stay in, but we want to be in it in a circumstance where we don’t overextend ourselves,” he said.

Unlike the home insurance market, marine insurers aren’t necessarily responding to the storms with giant rate increases, Abbott said. They don’t want to sink the market, since insurance is not required, and neither are boats, a luxury item for most owners.

Industry experts say more changes and price increases are expected to come this year as marine insurers figure out how to handle the heightened risk in Florida, the Post reported.

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