Stay Off the Claims List

Engage in these 9 activities between now and launch day.

shutterstock_38490160 copySpringtime is almost here, and after a long winter with our boat on the hard, we can practically taste that first day of the new boating season. The roar of the engine, the sweet purling of water along the hull, the whirr of a fishing reel, the happy shouts of children who’ve been cooped up too long.

One thing that can quickly ruin your happy picture: offseason damage to your boat, which will take you away from the water and land you firmly on your insurance company’s claims list.

The good news is that it’s not too late to take preventative action. If there is even one aha moment here, our hope is that it can help keep you off that list and ensure you hit the ramp as planned on launch day.

1. If you haven’t checked your boat lately, now is a good time.
It doesn’t matter if your boat is spending the winter layup in the water at a marina, at a warehouse, in your garage or in your backyard, you want to check it regularly throughout the offseason. If you can’t do it, hire someone, or ask a friend or family member to do it for you.
Boats on inadequate stands or blocks tip over. Bubblers quit working. Boats sink at the dock (far more often than one might imagine). Tarps and shrinkwrap become tattered and are vulnerable to UV damage.
That’s not all. Tom Conroy, marine director for Markel Insurance, recalled a couple of memorable offseason claims. In one, an owner took his boat to a storage facility for the winter, and while it was parked outside, vandals spent some quality time with it. In the other, the owner faced a scenario most boaters don’t anticipate.
“While the boat was stored under a tarp, rodents chewed the electrical wiring and made a nest in the engine,” Conroy said. Vermin can be a huge headache. The damage they can do to a boat’s interior — from upholstery to carpeting to woodwork — will be expensive and time-consuming to repair. Remove any perishable items left aboard that might be attracting them, and find their favorite in/out routes, so you can block them off.

2. When bad weather strikes, check your boat again. Immediately.
Weather is a major adversary. Heavy snow and ice can collapse the roof of storage sheds, garages and warehouses.
“A couple of years ago, there were ridiculously heavy snows in parts of the country,” said Rick Stern, boat product manager for Progressive. “People were shoveling off their roof. We saw a lot of claims where the owner thought he had a secure shed until that winter, when the roof collapsed and crushed the boat.”
Ice and snow also can submerge or capsize boats spending the winter at the marina. Tarps can collapse under the weight of snow or tear in wicked winte  r gales. Lines can fray. So, if you’ve experienced some wild winter weather, head for your boat right away and make sure it’s secure. And bring your shovel, just in case you need to get up on the roof.

3. Kill the portable heater.
If you thought running a portable heater would be a good idea, think again. Fire is a huge risk when boats are unattended for weeks on end. You could face a situation in which you lose more than your boat — you also could lose your storage building or your garage and, if it’s attached, your house.

4. Check all onboard systems — and anything that can freeze.
Boats are extremely vulnerable to low temperatures. Hoses and seacocks freeze. Blocked drains and forgotten plugs trap water. Todd Shasha, managing director of personal insurance for boats and yachts at Travelers Insurance, recommends routinely checking all plugs, seacocks, through-hulls and drains. Look for cracking and other signs of freeze damage, be sure that rain and melting snow are draining properly, and inspect the bilge.
Southerners and West Coasters, beware: Freeze losses often occur in states not typically associated with cold weather. Damon Hostetter, senior vice president for ACE Recreational Marine Insurance (which was in the process of acquiring Chubb at press time), noted a surprising number of freeze losses in California and the deep South. It does happen, so you need to be prepared.
While you’re giving your boat a once-over, also take the opportunity to check all your critical onboard systems, including shore-power connections, anodes, batteries and electronics. Better to discover a failure now than on launch day.

5. Give your trailer the TLC it deserves.
Shasha noted that even the most diligent boaters can neglect their trailer. Check the tires, and if they’re worn, replace them. Attend to the bearings, and repack or replace them if necessary. Look over the springs, and replace them if they’re cracked or loose. Check for rust around the coupler, examine the winch cable or strap for breaks, and be sure the lights and brakes are working properly.
“I’ve seen trailers absolutely implode if they’re not cared for, especially if they’re exposed to salt water,” Shasha advised. “They deteriorate quickly.”
And the last thing you want is to discover a problem while you’re towing your boat down the highway at 65 mph. Enough said.

shutterstock_195191120 copy6. Curl up with your insurance policy.
It’s not as much fun as watching the latest season of “Game of Thrones,” but the fi ne print can bite policyholders hard, Conroy said, so reading and understanding a policy’s fi ne print is vital. Pay close attention to the specifi c terms, particularly the exclusions. For example, will your carrier cover critter damage? Some do, but not all.
“We look for the facts of the loss fi rst to determine what happened and why it happened,” Stern said. “If the boat has a fi tted cover, we’ll cover rodent and vermin damage.”
Another good example: Will your policy exclude ice and freezing damage unless the boat is winterized by a professional?
“Make sure winterizing is done correctly,” Shasha cautioned. “It’ll help with your claim if something goes wrong, because the insurer will know you fulfilled your end of the deal. It’s so important. Rectifying a winterization mistake can be very expensive.”
Stern added, “If it’s clear winterizing was done correctly, we’ll cover damage related to that. And if you live in part of the country where winterizing isn’t customary and you have experienced a hard freeze, don’t worry. We’ll cover those losses because you couldn’t have known that would happen.”

shutterstock_348233516 copy7. It’s not too late to add moisture absorbers.
Unlike space heaters, moisture absorbers are a welcome addition to a boat in layup, and it’s not too late to add them to a boat’s lockers and enclosed interior spaces. They’re designed to get rid of mildew, mold damage and odors; as they collect liquid, they lock it in place, so owners don’t have to worry about spillage.

8. Prep your checklist.
Reread your boat’s owner’s manual, as well. Not only will it refresh your memory, it will help you fi ne tune your spring commissioning checklist. It’s your road map for all critical prelaunch steps, such as making sure you have fresh fuel and clean oil, inspecting your batteries for signs of corrosion, fl ushing out any antifreeze, inspecting your anchor and rode, and so much more. Winter layup may seem like a quiet time, but attention to detail is vital in the weeks leading up to launch.
“(People) think of boats like cars — one oil change per year, and you’re good,” Stern said. “No. If something goes wrong with a boat, it’s not a matter of just being stuck by the side of the road. You’ve got a much bigger problem.”
Being diligent with your winter layup maintenance and spring prep work, Shasha advised, will help prevent nasty surprises down the road.

9. Always remember the hazards of spring.
Mother Nature isn’t always kind in the springtime. Debris washes down swollen rivers and hides in stirred-up coastal waters. Storms shift the topography below the surface. Before your launch day, talk with someone who’s been out on the water already — marina staff, perhaps, or an avid angler or recreational boater in your community. Ask questions, because forewarned is forearmed.
Don’t let the delirium of that first heady cruise cloud your eyes or dull your judgment. Remain vigilant, post a lookout, and go slow. After all, the whole glorious season is still ahead of you.

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