Practical Steps to Anchor a Safe Boating Season

MAY 4, 2021

In 2020, retail boating sales in the U.S. increased by more than 12% over the prior year, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association. The same association reports that 310,000 powerboats were sold in 2020, the highest number of units sold since 2008. With the onset of spring, boat owners will take many of these new boats to the water for recreation and relaxation. Before you set sail, let’s be sure to be prepared for safety.

Safe Boating Starts With Maintenance and a Semi-Annual Safety Review

The most important step to boating safety starts with maintaining the vessel and equipment. It’s strongly recommended to complete a semi-annual review of the following for your watercraft:

  • Fire safety equipment
  • Life safety equipment
  • Fuel systems
  • Ground tackle
  • Stove and related equipment
  • Electrical systems
  • Bilge pump check
  • Corrosion prevention
  • Through hulls inspection
  • Battery inspection

An east coast client of USI was an avid boater who had spent most of his childhood in and around the marina near his family’s vacation home. He had been operating boats since he was a teenager and continued to enjoy boats after starting his own family. As part of his annual review, USI included the recommendation of regular checkups of the vessel, including reviewing safety equipment prior to taking the boat out.

One July afternoon, the client took his 10-year-old son and the son’s best friend out for a ride on the family boat. It was a beautiful day that permitted some fishing and swimming in the bay.

On the return to the boat slip, the two boys were horseplaying near the rear of the vessel. When our client turned to speak to the boys, the boat steered toward and struck a wooden pylon, jolting the boat.

The collision caused both boys to lose their footing and tumble off the side of the boat. The client stopped the engine immediately and took action to help get the boys out of the water. Fortunately, our client’s years of boating experience had trained him to inspect the life preservers before each trip and to require passengers to wear them while on board. Due to these safety precautions, neither boy suffered serious injury.

Although there were no serious injuries, as a precaution, the son’s friend was taken to the hospital to be examined by a doctor. Luckily, the watercraft policy the client had placed with USI included medical expense coverage for the hospital visit, avoiding a $10,000 medical bill.

While the experience was harrowing for everyone, the regular practice of safety became even more important to our client and his family. Annually reviewing your risk management program is an essential piece of providing protection for your family and assets.

In 2019, there were more than 600 fatalities and 2,500 injuries from boating accidents in the U.S. There are basic measures that can be taken to mitigate these dangers when boating. Just under 15% of victims who drowned in 2019 in boating accidents were wearing life vests, according to the U.S. Coast Guard report on accidents from boating.

There are numerous sources of safety information. We recommend the following prior to launching your boat:

Hazards of Recreational Watercraft

While they can be lots of fun, recreational watercrafts create numerous injury and loss exposures. They are extremely powerful and do not have brakes, which can make it difficult to maintain proper control when riding. In addition, the very nature of the vessel being for recreational use increases individual risk. Personal watercraft sales (like jet skis, Sea-Doos and WaveRunners) have risen, creating increased exposure on the water.

A USI client had acquired a jet ski for use at his vacation home on the Jersey Shore. The client’s son and a neighbor were riding jet skis in the bay behind the home. When the neighbor turned suddenly into the path of our client’s son, the jet skis collided, resulting in a terrible accident. The collision resulted in broken ribs, a fractured hip and a severe compound fracture of the neighbor’s leg.

The neighbor was medevacked from the scene and underwent several surgeries to repair the injuries. The medical bills, rehabilitation and lost wages would exceed seven figures. Even though the neighbor’s sharp turn actually caused the incident, the neighbor sued the son and father for the injuries and suffering caused by the accident.

Fortunately, USI had previously conducted a personal risk assessment for our client and had implemented a risk management plan that included excess liability limits of more than $5,000,000. The total damages for this loss exceeded $2,500,000, which was completely covered by the client’s personal insurance coverage.

How USI Can Help

When proper safety protocols are followed, boating and water sports can be enjoyed with reduced risk. If you engage regularly in boating activities, and especially if you own or operate a boat or personal watercraft, be sure to discuss a comprehensive risk management plan with your personal risk advisor that includes property and liability coverage.

An effective risk management plan should always include monitoring and adjusting for any changes in risk or exposures. An annual review of your risk management program reinforces loss control and safety measures and ensures that your insurance program continues to meet your evolving needs.

To learn more, contact your local USI personal risk specialist.