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Insure your boat: tips from an expert

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How often do sailboats capsize? What should you do if there's a sudden storm at sea? And what insurance do you need for your motorboat or sailboat? Our expert has answers to the most important questions on boat insurance. 

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    Daniel Lindemann

    Daniel Lindemann is a Senior Advisor Marine and Boat Insurance Expert at AXA. The enthusiastic boater has been sailing for decades in both domestic and international waters.

How should I insure my boat?

That depends on what type of vessel you have. With or without a motor? Sailboat or motorboat? Liability insurance is mandatory for motorized boats as well as for sailboats larger than 15 sqm. The question then arises as to whether additional insurance coverage such as partial accidental damage insurance or comprehensive cover such as all-risk boat insurance makes sense. AXA offers attractive and varied solutions for all conceivable watercraft and requirements. As a rule of thumb: It doesn't pay to skimp on boat insurance.

What's the most common type of damage to boats?

The most obvious damage involves collisions, sail tears or storm damage, either while sailing or at port. There will always be storms, the only question is when. This is because the weather has changed dramatically over recent years. Today we're seeing extreme weather situations more frequently. Even hail damage is becoming more frequent, so it's advisable to at least take out partial accidental damage

The other extreme is drought. If water levels are too low, there's more chance of running aground and that can quickly become expensive. I'm also keep suffering from fire damage.

Consider fire, for example: In summer 2021, several boats caught fire in the harbor in Lachen, canton Schwyz. How do you assess such extreme claims?

Fire damage happens more often than people realize. If there are fires in port too, the fire service is often powerless to act, as most boats are made of plastic or wood. Not much can be extinguished if the temperature is 1,000 degrees Celsius. If one boat burns, the second, third and fourth ones soon go up in flames too.

I also noticed a fire in port on Lake Constance, probably triggered by a short-circuit in a cool box. If you don't have any partial accidental or all-risk insurance in place in this type of situation, you normally have to pay for the damage yourself. As already mentioned, it's negligent to skimp on boat insurance. Luckily  the owners were not to blame in this instance. 

Are there any other sources of danger for boats?

Of course there's snow and hail. And we have certainly had a lot of that in recent years. When there is a rapid heavy snowfall, the load which can weigh tons puts pressure on the tarpaulin (cover) and railings. And if the snow is wet, the load from above becomes extreme. Anyone storing their boat indoors for the winter fares better. I always quickly check my boat after every snowfall and storm. In particular I check whether the railing is frozen or has slipped. Boat damage can also occur when it rains. There's a duty of care for such claims.

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    Store your boat properly for the winter

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How dangerous are summer storms and bad weather for boats?

In port, storms and bad weather are very dangerous due to the movement. If boats aren't fendered and moored correctly in port, they slam against each other sideways, or the bow hits the dock or shore. The external forces are enormous, as are the consequences. You should therefore always check the material regularly and replace where necessary. Are the ropes still good or was the buoy checked? If damage was predictable due to poor or weathered material, this can also become expensive for the owner.

How are dangers on open waters classified?

Storms on open waters are not as bad as in port. If a storm occurs, it can be "weathered" at sea. This means that strategic measures can be taken to avoid damage to the boat and of course to protect the crew. I've also experienced that a couple of times myself.

How often do sailboats capsize?

Total losses are rather rare. If a sailboat capsizes, all-risk insurance is beneficial. If there's partial accidental damage, every claim is considered and assessed individually.

Does the insurance company pay if I can't continue sailing due to a breakdown?

Yes, if you have appropriate insurance cover. The new "Breakdown assistance" supplementary module covers everything up to CHF 2,000. In other words: you're protected against the financial consequences of the recovery. If  the motor doesn't start when you're on the water, you can simply contact the sea rescue or water police and they'll bring you safely to land. In Swiss waters, however, some older boats are used, so Assistance supplementary insurance makes sense.

Does a sailboat require special insurance?

No. It's best to keep it simple, so we don't distinguish between motorboats and sailboats. Regardless of whether mast, motor, equipment or sail: what counts is the overall value of the boat. The insurance is calculated on this basis.

Is AXA boat insurance only valid in Swiss waters?

No. If the boat can be transported, you can also sail in foreign waters or on the sea. The insurance essentially covers all European inland waters and connecting harbors. You can also sail in European coastal waters in sight of coast and within six nautical miles of the coast.

High seas in Zone B are also insured, provided that the boat's construction and equipment as well as the operator’s license meet the requirements of the Swiss Maritime Authority. Zone B covers the Mediterranean, including all straits and connecting inland seas plus Atlantic waters within predefined connecting lines.

And if anyone is planning a round-the-world trip?

AXA covers everything, even in international waters. All boats are insured worldwide on high seas (Zone C). Even boats that have been bought and launched abroad, provided they sail under a Swiss flag. For everything that sails with a foreign flag, AXA offers comprehensive protection via our international marine partner Lloyd's of London.

What insurance is needed if a boat is hired?

Liability insurance is always required when hiring a boat. Supplementary insurance - use of car-sharing and rental vehicles - also applies. Third-party insurance (use of private third-party vehicles) alone would be insufficient for a rented boat.

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