Insurance For The Long Haul

Accidents can happen, wherever you are

The legendary Bill Tilman wasn’t afraid of many things. Having survived the slaughter in the trenches of WWI, fighting with Tito’s partisans in WWII, establishing the route by which Everest was finally conquered and then late in life sailing a succession of elderly Bristol Channel pilot cutters to climb remote peaks in the polar regions, he proved that again and again. His life of adventure was a model of simplicity, frugality and self-sufficiency – ‘every herring should hang by its own tail’ was a favourite dictum. He only admitted to one fear when planning his latter day voyages to the ends of the earth, the short trip down the Lymington river through the moorings to the open seas and freedom, and claimed to have insured his boats for that stretch alone.

Few of us could emulate his exploits, and not just because Bill Tilman possessed more courage in his little finger than most of us possess in our entire bodies, but would we agree with his views of  the need for insurance? Sailing our craft anywhere these days almost certainly demands insurance, at third party level at the very least. It is now very difficult to navigate in European waters without insurance, and one of the first things that officials will want to inspect on arrival in a new port is the certificate of insurance.

To Insure Or Not?

On our voyage so far we’ve met a few crews traveling without insurance. Generally they have been in rugged steel boats, or elderly wooden craft, either too hard up to insure them, or they espouse the philosophy that self-preservation is more important, pointing to belt and braces rigging and heavy ground tackle with multiple anchors. Most have flown under the wire by anchoring everywhere, and avoiding any harbour where papers are likely to be inspected. ‘Sailing without insurance is a frame of mind’ as one German skipper put it to me.

Whilst it’s hard not to admire such nerve, and we heartily agree with the need to be ready for anything, sailing Pèlerin without insurance was never going to be an option for us. She is our home and most of everything we possess, and although the insurance premiums are hefty they are definitely a price worth paying, not just for our peace of mind concerning our investment, but also in terms of our responsibility to others in the event of an accident.

It’s also true that it is becoming harder to sail a yacht to some of the most remote places without insurance or permits. Entering the national parks in Greenland or the Antarctic now demands substantial insurance as part of a permit, not just to cover the cost of rescue, but also to cover any environmental damage caused. Failure to obtain the relevant permit and insurance for such places leaves the crew open to prosecution in their home country, and may even result in more draconian legislation or restrictions on yachts wishing to visit in the future.

But Where To Find It?

And it won’t be cheap, nor will it be available off the shelf, as there are few insurers who are prepared to cover remote areas. In some cases, it might not even be available at all. Pèlerin has been insured since day one with Pantaenius, probably Europe’s most respected insurer amongst long distance sailors. With a well earned reputation for straight dealing and comprehensive cover, we have always found them a reassuring partner, but when we outlined our plans to visit some of the West African countries they simply pointed out that they wouldn’t cover us, citing the remoteness of the locations and costs of repair or recovery. As we’re unwilling to change our plans, it’s therefore been a case of finding an insurer that will cover us or go uninsured – and for reasons I’ve already explained, that’s not an option.

So I emailed all of the UK based insurers I could identify with an outline of our itinerary, and not one even bothered to reply, which may say as much about British conservatism as for their disinterest in potential new business. But we got an instant response from the one French agent we contacted, Alain De L’Assee in La Rochelle, with a financially acceptable offer of coverage from 60º N to 40º S with French insurance giants Groupama. Possibly this is a reflection of the fact that more French boats travel to some of their old territorial possessions like Senegal than from any other nation, but we’ve also encountered Dutch and German boats heading in the same direction who obtained coverage at home, so it can’t be that alone.

It’s A Changed World

It’s a little daunting to change to a ’foreign’ insurer, though, and reading the small print in the proposal has to be done in bite size chunks to avoid mental collapse. But it seems to be the only way to go at this stage, so we’re getting used to the idea. What Bill Tilman would have made of such pathetic concerns is debatable, but equally what he would have made of his old country in these times perhaps even more so. And if he were around and wanted to repeat his arctic voyages, the chances are he’d have to go through the same process – to his astonishment and contempt, I don’t doubt.

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Meet the Author

Colin

Colin, European Correspondent here at AAC, is a deeply experienced offshore sailor who holds a Yachtmaster licence, and a gifted photographer and talented writer who has added a whole new dimension to Attainable Adventure Cruising. In addition, since Colin and Louise are from England and had their OVNI 435, Pèlerin built in France, they bring a European perspective to our site. You can read more about Colin and Louise and their business at their website.

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  • RDE Jun 14, 2011, 10:33 pm

    Colin,
    In my yacht repair business I’ve recently been negotiating to purchase a rather expensive 44′ er that was struck by lightening and sunk to just above the floorboards. The owner had to spend over two years suing his insurance “provider” before he got partial payment, and was never financially able to put the boat right.

    I’ve come to believe that insurance in the USA is too frequently just a form of extortion rather than a source of financial security to the buyer. Not surprising considering the close relationship of the industry to the bankster capitalism that dominates our financial affairs.

    My one experience with Canadian single-payer auto insurance was eminently satisfactory. I hope that your European marine coverage proves equally reliable, or even better that you never need to use it!

    • Colin Speedie Jun 15, 2011, 2:30 pm

      Hi

      Good point – as I also found out to my cost when we lost the rudder on our commercial boat. The insurer took six weeks to even appoint a surveyor, by which time our business was sunk.

      It was certainly one of the factors that influenced our change of insurer (!) when we built our new boat. Pantaenius have a good rep, at least over here, and do seem to understand this end of the market, and it’s probably true that we wouldn’t be planning to change from them were it not for their reluctance to cover us for W Africa.

      And it’s also why I’m reading the small print for the new policy so assiduously – even if it is in French.

      Best wishes

      Colin

  • David Nutt Jun 15, 2011, 7:47 am

    While transiting the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea emails regarding insurance coverage for Danza flew back and forth. We were covered, they claimed, but not in the territorial waters of Yemen, Eritrea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. We were advised to stay in the middle of the Red Sea. I pointed out that if we stayed precisely in the middle of Red Sea we would be in the territorial waters of two, not just one, of the banned countries. In the end they informed us that in reality we did not have coverage and cancelled my policy for non payment of a $1200 surcharge for sailing these waters. I was able to insure Danza for the rest of our circumnavigation with an Israeli company for half the cost and half the deductible and never tested its value with a claim. I carry a policy with Pantaenius for our ventures to Greenland knowing full well its value is to my heirs, not me, if things go really wrong up there.

    • Colin Speedie Jun 15, 2011, 2:39 pm

      David

      You’ve got to love some of these companies, and wonder whether there’s a single sailor on the payroll.

      And whilst I’m glad to hear Pantaenius will cover you for Greenland, I’m astonished that they draw a distinction between our planned voyage and Greenland, which I’d have thought is a FAR greater challenge.

      Best wishes

      Colin

  • Richard Hudson Jun 15, 2011, 10:23 am

    Interesting post.

    I had a policy with Pantaenius when my boat was in Europe, but when I told them I wanted to sail farther away, they declined coverage, as they do not cover US or Canadian boats permanently cruising outside of Europe.

    For the last three years I’ve been using Dolphin Insurance, out of Vancouver, Canada, which has a third-party-liability-only policy valid anywhere in the world. They ask each year what countries I’ll be going to, and so far, they have not had a problem with any of them, including Greenland.

    • Colin Speedie Jun 15, 2011, 2:41 pm

      Richard

      That’s a really interesting point, and I’m sure many people are unaware that such a possibility exists, so many thanks for that.

      Insurance with US boats does seem to be a greater problem, though, perhaps because of higher liability claims?

      Best wishes

      Colin

      • Richard Hudson Jun 15, 2011, 8:58 pm

        Colin,

        Thanks, am glad to see your article is getting a lot of comments with names and details of insurance companies—that is certainly useful to anyone looking for insurance for the long haul.

        I don’t know why Pantaenius didn’t want to insure North American boats permanently cruising outside Europe. They just said their underwriters don’t do that and I didn’t ask why, just started looking for another insurer.

        Richard

    • Roger Harris Aug 31, 2015, 2:38 pm

      On a somewhat related note, the well-known travel insurer Topsail is “unable to offer cover to US or Canadian nationals”. No explanation was given to me, but I suspect that for whatever reason it doesn’t want to bother meeting applicable licensing requirements.

      Skip Novak recommends Bupa Globa, which has no arbitrary restrictions on insureds’ country of residence or places of intended travel. As yet I have no personal experience with them, but the premiums quoted on their website seem reasonable.

      • John Sep 1, 2015, 8:08 am

        Hi Roger,

        Thanks very much for the tip.

  • Chris Jun 15, 2011, 10:46 am

    We switched to a Dutch company when our major US insurer concluded that two people with 37 years’ experience was less safe than adding a third person of completely unknown credentials for any voyages more than twelve miles offshore.

    Most insurance is a priced and packaged commodity, and much sold by people schooled in financial risk only. When we made the change we searched for and found an agent who had circumnavigated his own boat and a company that requires sailing aware underwriters, not just statisticians for whom adventure is anathema.

    • Colin Speedie Jun 15, 2011, 2:47 pm

      Chris, I’m delighted someone else has some experience of ‘going foreign’, and I’ve heard good things about some of the Dutch insurers.

      This question of experience is an interesting one. Pantaenius were very good in that respect, but some others insist on extra crew for ocean passages. We have a cadre of really great sailors with whom we’ve covered many miles over the years that we can call upon to help us, but generally we prefer to go on our own – how else will we get the experience we need for the really difficult legs?

      And I’d totally agree with you that dealing with truly experienced people for insurance is vital, as only they have a true understanding of what the real risks are. Maybe you could let us all know who you have gone with?

      Best wishes

      Colin

  • Chris Jun 15, 2011, 4:09 pm

    Colin,

    I would tell, but that was three years ago, and we’ve switched again. I should have been more careful with my tenses. Our experience with the Dutch firm was truly excellent, but we dropped Europe and the Med from our cruising plans (with our own boat) and the Euro-$ exchange had become unsupportable. So we decided to look for a US insurer with a solid reputation for claims service and non-interference in command decisions.

    We went through the same broker and ended up with Markel Marine. While we have had no claims experience, three of our friends, two sailing sisterships of ours, have had lightning strikes with claims between $60 & 90K. Not only did Markel cut an immediate — as in, pre-survey partial check to get them started restoring function, they also agreed to pay the owner of one for his labor in lieu of a professional technician’s.

    And Markel insisted on a survey that went beyond looking for obvious damage to electronics and paid for repairs to delaminated hull materials and the replacement of systems which appeared to function but were suspect.

    We will change again when we head farther offshore. Our broker has identified another company with an equivalent reputation when their services are needed in foreign waters. It remains to be seen. While one’s claims history travels with one, insurance is a contractual obligation not a marriage, so we are disinclined to believe we need to be “loyal” to any single provider.

    C

    • Colin Speedie Jun 16, 2011, 1:22 pm

      Hi Chris

      Good to hear a good news story, and let’s hope you never have to find out for yourself – one way or the other.

      Loyalty seems to be one of those words that has slipped into the historic section of the dictionary these days, which I very much regret – but as you suggest, that cuts both ways.

      Best wishes

      Colin

  • David Head Jun 16, 2011, 1:15 pm

    My insurance experience has an altogether different twist. When making a recent application for renewal and comparison quotations the insurers were far more interested in the pieces of paper that I held than the 54 years of sailing experience from dinghies to large offshore yachts. Being fair a protracted conversation and explanation did illicit a better response. In the end we settled for Saga here in the UK, and will look at the market again when I am free to venture beyond their cruising limits. I echo the need for a more informed decision making process amongst insurers, especially the need for water-borne underwriters!

  • Colin Speedie Jun 16, 2011, 1:28 pm

    Hi David

    Good point, and again, what a pity that qualifications have just become another one of those ‘box ticking’ exercises (especially it seems in the UK).

    A lifetime’s experience only means something to someone at the other end who can conceive of what that entails, and when I (and you) first started it seemed that all of the Agents were sailors. Now that’s seldom the case.

    But now that we are both over the magic age for Saga, there’s another option, and that’s got to be a good thing. And, as you say, when the horizon beckons you can always look around – there have been some useful contacts in these comments to help that process.

    Best wishes

    Colin

  • RDE Jun 16, 2011, 5:23 pm

    Funny thing about those nice embossed certificates that say things like 100 ton Yatchmaster. In the past I’ve bailed out on two deliveries where the captain had one of them: First one got very nervous when he tried to dock his million dollar Swan, and proceeded to run it into the dock at 4 knots. First time for everything, I guess!

    The other wanted to proceed across the Gulf of Tuanapec on a sports fisherman with no functioning fuel read outs, no dinghy, an out of date life raft, a faulty charging system, and engines that automatically shut down if voltage dropped below 24 volts and couldn’t be restarted. By the way, our other crew on that fiasco had just received his captain’s license, but had never been on the open ocean out of sight of land. Spent a lot of time polishing his owner’s yacht and baiting hooks — I guess that counts as sea time.
    Call me a contrarian, but if I were an insurance agent I’d want to know if a certified captain had any actual experience or judgement before I wrote a policy!

  • Colin Speedie Jun 17, 2011, 10:21 am

    I couldn’t agree more.

    In the UK in order to obtain to take the Yachtmaster practical exam, the minimum mileage requirement is 2500 miles (plus a range of night hours, 60M plus passages as skipper etc.). If you pass it’s possible to upgrade that to Commercial level by simply taking extra courses such as First Aid at Sea, Basic Sea Survival etc., plus a medical examination. After which you can legally take charge of a Commercial vessel up to 24m/200grt…

    Most successful Yachtmaster candidates realise that it is just a beginning, and time and experience will be needed to develop and hone the additional skills required to sail offshore with their family and friends. But the ability and competence required to take responsibility for largish vessels with paying passengers, or even teach sailing at that level – I think requires far more miles and hard won experience than 2500 miles can deliver. No doubt others may take a different view, but that was what I had in mind when I referred to box ticking with insurance – it’s the long term experience that counts. And perhaps it’s naive of insurers not to recognise that fact.

    Best wishes

    Colin

  • Chris Jun 17, 2011, 10:56 am

    I received my pilot’s license after 44 hours of flight instruction when I was 17. At this point I had no doubt I was merely qualified to learn to fly.

    I was still learning when I quit decades later due to fuel prices making flight hours dearer than gold. When the last prop stopped spinning, I was still learning to fly.

    My first flight instructor retired with nearly three years, in flight hours, and maintained he was still learning to fly. The flying community has a saying, “There are old pilots, and there are bold pilots, but there are no old, bold pilots.”

    Those who believe a certificate of incremental learning qualifies them to be bold, are unlikely to become old in their endeavors.

    The various US states have begun instituting mandatory boating safety paper chases. If prior efforts portend, accident rates will climb because people will now believe they know what they are doing or know all they need know to venture beyond their inherent limits. They will have been made bold.

  • Derek Hillen Jun 17, 2011, 9:27 pm

    We tranisted the Red Sea and crossed paths with the formidable Danza and Nutt family in 2004. Fortunately, we were able to obtain insurance through Al Golden at IMIS via their “Jackline” policy underwritten by the previously mentioned Markel. I have dealt with Al (a sailor) and his son Gary for many years and have always had good experiences. (I was even insured as a singlehander in my wild days). We haven’t tested the relationship with a claim yet, however! I think now getting coverage for the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea would be much more difficult.

    We are currently looking at our insurance options as we now live in Hong Kong and are soon to take delivery of our next boat. I am told by local underwriters they will insure my wife and I for offshore work if we take along a mystery 3rd person crew. They would be perfectly happy for that to be a local boat boy who can polish a hull but can’t sail, navigate, steer and probably gets violently seasick as well. Hmmm. No thanks.

    We are still negotiating that one and if we can’t come to terms I will go back to IMIS.

    Derek
    (formerly of S/V Tehani-li)

  • Richard Jun 19, 2011, 10:24 am

    I’ve been shopping / dreaming here in South Florida for a vessel of my own in the 29′ to 35′ range for the past 2 years. Unable to afford new or custom built, I like the late 60’s and 70’s fiberglass vessels.

    3 months ago I found a real “sleeper” that a neighbor up the canal offered to me at a very fair price. She’s a 1979, 31′ Irwin in great shape. Well maintained and cared for all of her life.

    I emailed 7 insurance companies looking for “local coverage” (vessel not leaving Fla. waters) and was denied by all. Their reason: the vessel’s too old, regardless of the shape she’s in.

    I still have every dream and intention to sail thru out the Caribbean, Mexico, S. America, S. Pacific aboard my own vessel one day, and according the the responses I keep getting when inquiring to insure “such and such” a vessel of that age, I can forget ever being insured.

    So, what does one do, where does one turn?? And where might one find a listing of countries / ports requiring a vessel to be insured or don’t enter their waters??

    Thanks,
    Richard

    • Colin Speedie Jun 21, 2011, 8:45 am

      Hi Richard

      Just an additional thought – maybe you could go with third party only? Great to hear about Good Old Boat, though, which sounds like a good idea.

      As another aside for anyone looking for a low cost older cruising boat, there are a number of ferrocement cruising boats that can fit that description—Hartleys, Endurances, etc.—but an acquaintance found his solid Endurance very hard to cover, and I’m led to believe that’s an increasing problem for these boats.

      Good luck with the used boat search

      Colin

  • Chris Jun 19, 2011, 10:54 am

    Richard, get in touch with “Good Old Boat” magazine. Karen, the editor, will know of ideas and potential sources.

    • Richard Jun 20, 2011, 8:21 pm

      Hey Chris,

      Thanks for your speedy reply and insight. I will try contacting Karen at “Good Old Boat” magazine with the next “dreamweaver” I spot. (The 79 Irwin 31er was powered by the original Atomic 4 and I’d prefer a newer diesel).

      Richard

  • Ann Bainbridge Jun 20, 2011, 12:11 pm

    We are also insured with Markel and their ‘jackline’ policy through Al Golden at IMIS. We had wanted to go with Pantanaeus, but, they wouldn’t insure us for U.S. waters. Markel required a U.S. address (we are Canadian). They also required a survey (and compliance with the recommendations) of our thirty year old boat. They covered us for our two-person North Atlantic crossing last year (our first) and for waters up to 70N. There was an extra premium for this special coverage. This year we are covered for waters up to 80N for our trip to Svalbard where we are now. The Svalbard-required SAR insurance was available for a very reasonable extra $100 premium. No claims yet and we hope not to have any, but, so far are satisfied customers as we have been able to get specialized coverage for whatever we have wanted to do. The only concern is that 3rd party liability coverage is low ($300k) and I’m wondering whether this will cause a problem with officials in the Baltic/Med where we’re heading next.

    Regards
    Ann

  • Colin Speedie Jun 21, 2011, 9:11 am

    Hi Ann

    Thanks for a very useful comment, that I’m sure will be of help to anyone in the same situation. The premium for Svalbard sounds like a good deal, too.

    The third party coverage does seem low, and although I don’t think it will be a problem with officialdom (you are covered, after all), I think it may be an issue in the Med with some of the marinas. Perhaps Markel can offer a higher value for an additional premium? We used to do this with our commercial boat when we carried government employees on our surveys – we had to increase cover to £10m, from our normal £3m.

    Best wishes

    Colin

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