Fla. Boat Owners Encouraged to Have a Plan to Reduce Hurricane Claims

January 16, 2006

South Florida boaters with a plan to reduce damages and claims for their vessels if a hurricane hits will receive reduced policy rates and added or increased deductibles for storm losses according to a spokesman for Inamar Recreational Marine, the marine underwriting division of Ace USA in Philadelphia, Pa.

“We’re just trying to take some measured approaches that are going to keep us in the business,” Peter Lafontaine, vice president of marketing and business development for Inamar told the Palm Beach Post.

“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,” Lafontaine said.

It’s no surprise that Florida’s insurance prices have gone through the roof after the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons left billions of dollars in damage to homes across the state. The same is true for the boats.

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.

Insurers are no longer just raising prices. Since the past two bewildering and costly hurricane seasons, marine insurers are forcing boaters to take more steps to protect their property if they want their losses covered.

“Some owners do all the prep work, while others say, ‘That’s why I have insurance,'” explained Mike Abbott, a yacht insurance agent for Fort Lauderdale-based Allied Richard Bertram Marine Group, which has nine boat dealerships in Florida and Puerto Rico. More insurers are requiring boaters to have a plan for how they’ll protect their vessels if a storm hits.

Abbott told the Post insurers are getting tough with folks who live up north but keep their boats in Florida, sometimes requiring full-time captains to care for boats when owners aren’t around or simply prohibiting insured boats from being in Florida during hurricane season.

“All of them are reevaluating not only their rates but also their exposures in these catastrophe-prone areas,” explained Jim Holler, senior vice president of marine insurance for the Boat Owners Association of The United States, or BoatU.S., an Alexandria, Va.-based advocacy group for recreational boaters with more than 625,000 members. “That means coverage is getting tougher to find as insurers try to limit their risks in Florida, a market that has both a lot of boats and a lot of storms.”

Ace USA is making a push to boost its business on the West Coast and in the Great Lakes area to balance its risks in Florida, Lafontaine said. Others are limiting their number of policies in Florida. And some may pull out of the market.

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 said.

“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.

Florida law does not mandate insurance for boats. But lenders generally require it for financed vessels. And many marinas will insist on at least liability coverage for boats stored in their slips.

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