On the Importance of Sailing Insurance
There is currently much discussion about third party insurance and whether it is necessary. Let there be no doubt. If you are out sailing, whether in an organised race or just “out and about” on the river you have certain responsibilities as the skipper of a craft which cannot be ignored and perhaps your chief responsibility is to avoid being the cause of injury or loss to others.
The risks of sailing
In the same way as the driver of a motor vehicle has a duty to exercise care and can be liable for any breach of that duty, the skipper of a craft also has a duty of care and potentially may be sued by an affected third party if something goes wrong and that skipper is responsible - or thought to be responsible! Personal injury claims can result in large damages awards particularly where the injuries are serious or there is a loss of income or quality of life. In extreme instances there may be loss of life itself - and there is always the risk of causing damage to another boat or property.
Just to dispel the notion that these concerns may be fanciful I did a Google search of “boating accidents” and the results were somewhat sobering. Perhaps because of the proliferation of jet skis in more recent times, there is no shortage of “no win - no fee” law firms claiming an expertise in dealing with boating accidents and offering to run claims against skippers who have been involved in accidents resulting in injury, death or property loss. And do not assume that they will confine their interest to accidents involving jet skis!
Do I need insurance?
This is where insurance has a role to play. While insurance may not be a substitute for exercising proper care in the first place, we are not all perfect and crowded waterways such as the Barwon River can at times present a challenging and uncertain environment. Accidents are just waiting to happen. Skippers should be aware that neither the club nor Australian Sailing provide insurance that covers the potential legal liability of individual members to third parties or their property in the event of an accident, including an accident occurring during an organised race. So we are potentially all on our own.
There are some boutique insurance companies that offer standalone boating policies and some of the larger “general insurance” companies may also provide boating cover either as a standalone boating policy or even (in some limited instances) as a part of a household policy.
As with all insurance policies, the devil is in the detail. Skippers have to be careful to ensure that the cover offered suits their needs. One household policy issued by a general insurer I examined recently included what it described as “boat cover” which was a good start. But the policy terms made it clear that the policy did not extend cover to boats over a particular length so that under this policy there was no cover for a Laser or a boat longer than a Laser! And even then the cover offered to smaller craft was quite limited.
While some standalone boating policies may offer a broader range of cover, again they have their own limitations. For example, some only extend cover when the boat is being used in a sanctioned club race. Other policies do not extend cover to boats that are moored.
So do not necessarily assume that your household policy will provide cover (as most likely it may not) and be aware that the extent of the cover provided (or not provided) under standalone boating policies will vary from insurer to insurer.