There is no doubt that the majority of readers will have several existing insurance policies, providing cover for everything from your home, car and possessions, to your health and for medical purposes – but what about your boat? The experts at Val Wyatt Marine have put their heads together to produce this useful guide on everything you need to know about boat insurance.

Table of Contents 

Is boat insurance a legal requirement

Should I take out boat insurance

What does boat insurance cover

How to compare different options

It would seem like a simple question, but it’s not. Everyone knows it is illegal to drive on UK roads without car insurance, but the legal guidance on boat ownership is not quite as straightforward.

The government website states, rather loosely, that: “You should check what kind of insurance you need – it depends on how and where you use your boat.

“If you’re using inland waterways, you’ll usually need to have ‘third party’ insurance for at least £1 million if you have a powered boat or a houseboat.”

The word “usually” is vague, to say the least. It may not appear to be the most helpful advice, but the lack of clarity is due to the multiple variables involved. For instance, individual paddleboards, canoes and rowing boats are often defined as ‘open boats’. And UK waters vary dramatically – paddling in a reservoir is very different from being out on the open seas or on the River Thames. 

The confusion is increased by the fact that the UK’s inland waterways are governed by several navigation authorities. Some rivers are governed by the Environment Agency, others by the Canal & River Trust. Other authorities include the Broads Authority (Norfolk Broads). For coastal waters, the relevant authority is the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

It is often merely a question of size. For example, the Broads Authority states that: “Owners of boats are required to have third party insurance with a minimum cover of £2 million. An exception is made for unpowered craft with a block area of less than 6m2.”

It really comes down to common sense. If you have a canoe that you keep at home, boat insurance will most likely not be compulsory. If you moor a yacht or boat at a marina or harbour, there will almost certainly be a requirement to hold third party insurance. 

In almost all cases, without third-party insurance, you’ll be unable to use your boat on the waterways and unable to obtain a mooring agreement for it. If in doubt, check with the marina or navigation authority. Alternatively, seek the advice of a specialist boat insurance company.

Should I take out boat insurance?

Aside from the legalities, is taking out boat insurance a sensible option? Life insurance is not a legal requirement, but most parents want to know their family will be okay in any eventuality. Insurance is all about peace of mind, and boat insurance is no exception.

Firstly, there is the reassurance that you are covered for damage or injury to others (or even a fatality), which can be extremely expensive. Third party insurance is not just there to mitigate against your actions, as marine insurance experts, Mercia Marine explain: “You may be surprised by the fact that a significant proportion of boat insurance claims occur whilst vessels are unattended in what the owners believed to be safe locations. Other people, through theft, vandalism and unreported accidents are a significant risk to your use of your vessel and although this may seem unfair, it’s an unfortunate reality.”

The confusion around boat insurance means not everyone on the water has third party policies in place. Uninsured Boater coverage will compensate you for injuries sustained aboard your boat that are caused by an operator of another boat who has no liability insurance.

The obvious benefit of taking out comprehensive cover is that you are protected against costly repairs to your boat. The water is an unforgiving place, and accidents can occur much more easily than you might think. Such a policy will also cover fire and theft.

Aside from damage to your boat, there are other risks to consider. Pollution Liability Insurance protects you against big bills for accidental oil spills or other environmental incidents. Medical Payment Insurance is essential to ensure you and your crew can cover hospital or funeral charges resulting from a watercraft accident, including while water-skiing. It is important to ensure these benefits are payable without regard to fault.

It is also important to remember that, in some instances, you will need boat insurance to secure your boat license.

What does boat insurance cover?

Standard boat insurance policies normally include:

  • Accidental damage, including fire, theft and malicious damage, sinking, stranding, collisions, and salvage costs
  • Damage to engines
  • Damage caused while your boat is being transported
  • Damage caused during lifting and launching
  • Damage to or loss of your boat due to latent defects
  • Damage caused by frost
  • Cover for personal items

Most policies also offer flexibility in terms of boat management, allowing anyone else to which you have granted permission to sail your boat to remain covered by your boat insurance. However, some polices do state that cover is void if your vessel is chartered, so if you are keen to do this, check whether this is acceptable.

Source: Towergate Insurance

How to compare different options?

Like almost every insurance market, boat insurances can be found on the well-known comparison sites such as GoCompare. There are also specialist boat comparison sites, including Compare Boat Insurance. Although comparison sites can help you find the most competitive prices, additional research is still essential.

As the boat insurance options are so varied, make sure you find one that suits your boat size and power, and covers how you use your vessel. It is easy to over insure – i.e. pay a premium which covers more than you need.

Also, be sure to check exclusions. No-one likes to read the small print, but don’t get caught out and find your policy doesn’t pay out when you expect it to.

Some exclusions are unavoidable. No-one expects to claim for deliberate misuse of a boat, and it is unlikely that general wear and tear will be covered. Check if damage to machinery in the event of a breakdown is covered.

Look out for exclusions such as whether it is a year-round policy or just seasonal cover. Are there limits to how far you can sail? Does it only cover UK waters? Are water sports such as water-skiing included?

Take your time when choosing your boat insurance. Patience at the buying stage can save a lot of heartache and money and will avoid a rejected claim.

We would also recommend contacting Haven Knox-Johnson, an insurance company we have teamed up with in order to provide preferential rates to our customers via this link

If you have a question on boat insurance, please contact our friendly and experienced team here, or call 01182 176631.