Going Without Insurance For Offshore Cruising?

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.

But Not For Us

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.

Less Practical

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.

It’s A Changed World

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.

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 Harries

Hi Roger,

Thanks very much for the tip.

Chris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

George L

Those are the minimum requirements for the exam. While some may fall through the cracks, for the vast majority it will take much more experience to pass.

There are folks with tickets who can’t sail and folks without tickets who can sail. Nevertheless, with the YM, I would expect a fairly strong correlation.

Chris

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

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

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

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

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

Richard

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

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

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

Andre Langevin

Hello fellow cruisers,
I received bad news from my insurer Pantaenius US; they are getting out of the transatlantic, transpacific coverage and also out of the Carribean. Just at the same time i’m planning to spend the next winter (Nov 2020) in the South. As Canadian we are cursed because for many insurer in Europe because of the TRIA law in USA, they treat Canadian on the same level and can’t supply insurance for us. The canadian market is so small there are no specializez company that offer blue shore yacht insurance since the number of people asking so is small. So i’m out of option currently and even the prestigious Sailtheworld association has nothing to offer to Canadian. Neither Pantaenius UK. I’ve done several call so far and it might not just be the Canada, many insurer rely on Lloyds syndicates for sub-coverage and i’ve been told that Lloyds has closed many of its offering in the wake of the previous years lost.

If you are Canadian with a Canadian boat i’d would be happy to know where you are insured and the % of the boat value you pay in insurance for South or extra territorial coverage?

Ann Bainbridge

Andre,
Our boat is Canadian and we’ve run into this recently. We used to be insured with Markel (see my comment from 2011 above), but, their premiums became unaffordable and their geographic coverage rules too restrictive. We were then insured until 2019 with Pantaenius Australia where we were at the time (Pantaenius US wouldn’t cover us) until they wouldn’t renew our policy due to our being Canadian, I couldn’t ever determine the details on exactly why. After searching worldwide we gave up and have liability only insurance supplied by Dolphin Insurance in BC so we can at least get into marinas. I think TopSail in the UK would have covered us, but, they had a three person crew limitation for transocean passages which doesn’t work for us. Good luck in your search, it’s very frustrating.

John Harries

Hi Andre and Ann,

We too have been having trouble with Pantaenius, very frustrating given that we have been with them for over 25 years without a claim. Right now we are still insured with them through the US office and have ocean coverage, but I’m not sure how long that will last.

My friend Wilson, also from Nova Scotia has recently insured for an upcoming trans Atlantic passage with Dolphin in BC. The coverage seems sensible, without a lot of crew restrictions and the like. The price is not cheap, but given that it’s an ocean policy, not outrageous.

Jeffrey Harris

In addition to boat insurance, we should talk about health insurance. -And lets call out the scoundrels for all of the community to see. The poster child for me right now is Azimuth Risk. They are the ones who abandon Patrick Childress in South Africa when he got Covid. I got this from Rebecca. Whats the point of paying for and believing you have coverage when the company then reneges? RDE said it well in the first comment, “Insurance in the USA is just a form of extortion.” As a community, let’s try to bring these sorts of practices into the daylight for all to see.

John Harries

Hi Jeffrey,

Yes, I read about that too. What really made me crazy is that they abandoned Patrick with zero payments. The point being that I can see that an insurance company’s contingency fund might be overwhelmed by an event like COVID, but in that case the right thing to do would have been to pay out a percentage that the fund could sustain, not cut them off completely. It also brings up questions about their underwriting ethics which should be monitored by a regulator, but generally isn’t.

This is going to be a huge ongoing problem for anyone who wants to travel since, at least here in Canada, all the travel insurance companies are adding a COVID exclusion clause, which, in effect, makes travel to the USA impractical for us, even when (or if) the border opens.

Ralph Keitel

Hi Everyone.

I’m new here (first post/question) and, in fact, new/soon-to-be cruiser (idea was to buy first boat this year but prices here in US have gone crazy since Covid and market is cleaned out. So instead I spent past 18 months doing my ASA 101-106 courses and sailing my club’s Hunter 28 and… reading a lot. Hopefully, prices little more ‘normal’ again next year)

My question re Insurance: most big general US insurance companies (Allstate, GEICO etc) are willing to insure me – even as first-time boat owner – but their policies are super-restrictive (US waters only, max 100m offshore etc). Whereas I’m guessing that specialized marine insurance companies are unlikely to offer me coverage given that I’m a newbie, right?

So, the only way to go seems to be: sail first 1-2 years in US waters (Chesapeake, Florida…) – which is OK, happy to get more experience before crossing oceans – and only THEN approach specialized maritime insurance co’s for overseas coverage? Does that sound right or am I missing a trick here?

Thanks in advance for your guidance everyone.

John Harries

Hi Ralph,

Getting ocean insurance has got way harder in the last 5 years, so it’s not just you. It’s also got way more expensive even for the experienced. The other problem is that the North American underwriters just don’t understand going offshore and most of them won’t write a policy at any price, so the only alternative is Lloyd’s or European market. Given that, what I would advise is that as soon as Covid travel restrictions lift you travel to the UK and do a RYA Yacht Master Offshore course. With that ticket in hand and perhaps one or two voyages with others under your belt you should be able to secure cover but do recognize that the cost will be high, probably 2% of replacement value.

Ralph Keitel

Dear John,

Thank you VERY much for your reply; very helpful. And yes, I’m fully prepared that offshore insurance will be a major line item in my monthly budget and will provision accordingly.

My big question, however, is re the RYA course: being based in the US (and Covid travel restrictions), I did several ASA courses (ASA 101-106, the last being a full 1-week course) and got the ASA’s IPC (which I’m told is recognized as equivalent to the European ICC). As such, do you really think that insurance companies will require RYA license – just because it’s a European certificate (vs American)?
I’m honestly a little fatigued of studying/exams after 12 months and was hoping I could skip that… any thoughts?

And, if I may, one last question: being European, I could potentially also register boat in Europe. Might that make a difference for obtaining insurance?

Thanks, Ralph

John Harries

Hi Ralph,

You’re welcome.

Actually your question got me working on a long planned article on offshore insurance, so let’s leave this until I publish that in a few days.

Ralph Keitel

That’s fine John.
Thanks, Ralph

Andre Langevin

Well i have been trying to get insurance for my first voyage on the Atlantic and out of 10 requests, one one interested. And i also received proposal from entreprise with Russian underwritters… not my level of confort. So far i will go with Edward Williams although its a Spain company backed by ION which is Costa rica. This is the only one that will cover the boat for an Atlantic voyage…altough the legal confort zone in my opinion is 3 out of 5.

Marc Dacey

We have Day Skipper RYA certifications with tidal and plan on taking Yachtmaster certs in Brittany (there’s a good fellow there who teaches in English and French). Nonetheless, we got the most basic insurance (collision and liability) approved for ocean cruising from Vancouver’s Dolphin Insurance for about C$1,000 for our 12 metre steel motorsailer. Unfortunately, COVID has cancelled our trans-Atlantic this year, meaning our “domestic” insurer will cover us as long as we stay within 150 of the Atlantic coast here in the Maritimes, so we cancelled the Dolphin policy until next year.

But keep in mind that this is a policy that doesn’t cover the total loss of the boat, just the likely cost of polluting a European harbour or whacking another boat. If you want to replace your boat or pay for damages, things get very expensive quickly.

We have been told generally that every “step” on the RYA ladder can translate to a 5-10% reduction in premiums, as can the acquisition of an International Certificate of Competency, and should you go with a European insurer, these will be expected, and, if I recall properly, it’s difficult for sailors without some formal boat-handling training to get into certain marinas and harbours.

Andre Langevin

Hello Marc, i am Canadian and the boat is Canadian registered. I have been told by all major insurer from France and Europe (apart from Lloyds) that due to an obscur change in the antiterrorist law and third party responsibility that they won’t cover Canadian boats. Pantaenius also declined. Options are limited. Dolphin Insurance declined to cover us because we were going to Antigua through the atlantic rather than the ICW. The insurance market is turning into a circus of “local waters, 100 nm from coast, and don’t go to far please….”

Marc Dacey

Was this just for liability insurance? Grim as the prospect of losing one’s boat would be, that seems to be today’s dividing line on obtaining any offshore insurance: just get insured for running down a pirogue and not the construction loss of one’s boat and its contents. This is despite the fact that liveaboards and long-distance cruisers generally are motivated to keep the boat in mechanically good order in the interests of arriving alive.

Andre Langevin

Marc my first round of insurance seeking was for the whole boat value + liability. I ended up with Edward Williams for boat value and liability but i added Dolphin for liability only. Thus i have two insurances on the boat. The third insurance is the steel hull and swing keel. LOL