The market for yacht insurance has hardened in recent years, due to the frequency and severity of catastrophic (CAT) claims. Widespread losses incurred along the West Coast of Florida and the Atlantic Coast from Hurricane Ian in 2022, for example, resulted in more than $112 billion in damages. Because of catastrophes such as Ian, many watercraft insurance carriers - both admitted and non-admitted - have pulled out of the market in coastal areas.

For carriers that continue to provide coverage in hurricane-prone states, premium costs have doubled or tripled. The increased coverage costs and the difficulty in securing boat coverage has deterred some from purchasing them - but not all. Brokers today are challenged with securing coverage for their high-net-worth clients even in high-risk areas.

In this market segment, there are three tiers of coverage for high-end boats, based on cost and size of the boat:

  • Top tier boats have values of $2 million or greater, are at least 65-feet long or larger and must have a full-time captain.
  • Middle tier boats are valued between $350,000 and $2 million and are between 35-feet and 65-feet long and the owner-operator is typically the full-time captain.
  • First tier boats cost up to $350,000 and are 15-feet to 35-feet long.

Incidentally, middle tier boats are the most difficult to secure coverage for, due to the number of high claims filed and the types of boats covered within this tier. Premiums can run comparatively higher than other tiers as a result.

What can brokers do to help their insureds?

Much of your focus when searching for yacht coverage for clients should begin with a discussion on the age of the craft. Advise your clients that older boats - especially those 10 years and older - are more costly to cover and are harder to insure.

Here are six tips to help guide brokers as they advise boat-owning clients on how to mitigate risk and secure coverage.

  1. Don't jump ship.

Sometimes the purchase of a larger or more expensive boat can make obtaining coverage difficult. If a client considers upgrading from a 25-foot craft to a 40-foot one, for example, it's prudent for you to let them know that they will need a captain's sign off and premium costs will increase. That is, if the carrier accepts the risk in the first place.

  1. Be proactive about obtaining insurance.

Advise clients to start looking for insurance the day they begin shopping for a boat. Other than first-tier purchases, same day quote-and-bind processes are a thing of the past. Securing coverage for middle- and top-tier crafts can now take up to a week.

In addition, inform boat owners that many insurers require them to hire a captain for 50 hours of training if piloting a craft larger than 10 feet to 12 feet in size, or depending on the size of the boat, they may have to hire a full-time captain to place coverage.

  1. Have a hurricane plan in place.

Most carriers require boat owners have a plan should a hurricane occur. Advise owners they may have to move their boats inland or to a facility that's rated to withstand hurricanes. If domiciled in a hurricane-prone state, owners may have to store their boats in a CAT-4 or CAT-5 rated facility when not in use.

  1. Don't be an absentee owner.

Advise clients about the perils associated with absentee ownership. Clients who live in a state other than where the boat is stored are considered absentee owners. In the current market, this significantly limits the number of carriers that will actually extend coverage to out-of-state boat owners.

  1. Stay mindful of wind coverages and exclusions.

In the past year or so, carriers have begun to exclude some wind coverage; an exclusion that applies to named hurricanes or tropical storms. In the case of routine storms, wind coverage does apply. Marine coverage is not needed for those without bank loans. However, financing boat purchases will require owners to carry wind coverage and proof of such protection before closing.

  1. Maintenance matters more than ever.

Inform clients that regular maintenance is imperative for reducing risk and should be considered a part of their insurance strategy. Scheduled oil changes are vital but inboard motors require a closer inspection of parts such as impellers. A worn impeller can cause overheating and a failure to follow scheduled maintenance requirements can result in a denied claim. Along similar lines, fire and safety equipment should be evaluated to ensure those systems are in proper working order.

WRITTEN BY Josh Giordano

Giordano is a yacht insurance specialist and advisor for HUB Private Client.