Boat Owners Insurance: Perhaps Not So Optional

insurance for small recreational fishing boats

Why You May Want to Reconsider Boat Insurance

Fishing or just boating, for that matter, can bring great and fun adventure! However, it is not always incident-free – nothing is. So, having reaffirmed Murphy’s law, I ask: does your boat have insurance? If it does, then you know how important it is, and the information I am about to share with you might not be all new to you.

However, if you don’t or are asking yourself if you have to have it, you may want to want to read on – at least, if protecting your investment or yourself against potentially expensive damage, loss or liability is important to you.

If your boat is not insured, then now might be the time to start thinking about it. You will see why skipping coverage could be the most costly mistake you can make with boat ownership. You will also learn the basics of how boat insurance works and how to get the right coverage for your boat, watercraft or yacht in this post.

Hopefully, the information offered here will help you to better make the right decisions about coverage for your fishing boat or other recreational watercraft. I will also delve into add-on coverage such as fishing tackle insurance to protect your precious gear and equipment on your next fishing trip. This article is about protecting you and your recreational fishing boat against the unforeseen.

That old saying, ‘better safe than sorry’, certainly applies to boating and fishing as well. So, let’s get into the details.

Is Insurance on Your Boat Required?

There is generally no legal, or otherwise, the requirement to carry it. Sure, a handful of states require liability coverage, most marinas will require boat slip insurance to keep your boat, and lenders will typically make you carry coverage against loss if you are financing the boat. But as it is the majority of the time you are not compelled to have it

For the sake of insurance classification, a boat is a vessel that is 26 ft. or less. If it is 27 ft. or longer it is considered a yacht, regardless of what it looks like. In the broader sense and for the sake of this post, I will use the word boat to encompass all size vessels.

However, regardless of the size, you may want to purchase coverage for peace of mind. The exception may be a situation such as where you have a house with a dock that has a clause to cover your boat.

But keep in mind that even in such cases, the coverage is limited to small boats with no engine, or if an engine, a small one; and it will most likely have many exclusions that make it inadequate. In this situation, it is better to call around or check online and compare small boat insurance quotes.


For bigger boats or for more comprehensive coverage you will have to get a policy, in any case, if you want adequate protection.

An insurance plan of any kind is something none of us ever want to use, but having it when you need it can make the difference a bad fishing trip and a life-changing event in some cases. You’ll be glad you had it! If you’re still asking yourself, ‘Do I need it?’ let me give you a few possible scenarios where having it is definitely a good and smart thing:

  • You hit another boat – to pay for the other’s boat repairs
  • You hit another boat and you are at fault (covers you/boat for repairs)
  • You’re hit by another boater who is uninsured/underinsured (covers damage to your boat/bodily injury to you or your passengers)
  • You hit private property – to pay for damages
  • You lose your personal fishing gear in a boating incident
  • You need assistance/towing while out in the water
  • Your boat floods
  • You hit something (a rock, dock, etc.) and the boat gets damaged
  • Your boat hurts other people ( They can be on your boat or another boat you hit (bodily injury)
  • The boat is damaged during a hurricane
  • The boat is damaged by fire
  • The boat is vandalized or stolen
  • Your engine breaks down (most insurance companies offer this option but with limitations)

Remember, having insurance does not always guarantee you have the right coverage. Especially with boat coverages, there really are no standards, and each boat owner has to choose the coverage that best fits his or her situation.

Tell your broker exactly the type of boating you plan on doing and the types of coverage you are looking for. And, even more importantly, always read the fine print on your policy!

Coverage While on Land

Remember, boat owners insurance does not give you any type of coverage while your boat is on land. However, there is a risk from when you keep it at home or when you are in transit.

Before you get your boat, you should check the insurance policies of your home and car see what kind of coverage they may offer. It is important that you know what they cover in case something happens to your boat while it is out of the water.

Generally, your auto insurance will cover incidents while you are towing the boat, and your homeowner’s policy would pay for damages while your boat is in your driveway, garage or yard, for example. Keep in mind, however, that any coverage will usually be very limited and only cover small boats with property damage limits as little as $1000 and offer no liability protection.

Of course, If there is not enough coverage, or if you want to feel more comfortable handling potential risks, there is another type of plan called the umbrella policy. You can use it to go beyond the limits of your original coverage to further protect yourself in case of an accident or loss involving your boat.

Are There Any Restrictions?


There are some limitations on most plans to make them more affordable. Since sportfishing is generally a seasonal activity, they cover accidents only during specific times of the year. That means that if you happen to go out on your boat on a date outside the ones stated on your policy, you will not be protected.

Another restriction is navigational limits or limits with regards to the area within which your boat will be covered by your plan. Depending on the type of boat you have, there may be additional limitations/policy requirements.

For example, while every company has their own guidelines, most will restrict the range that a boat can cruise and still be covered, particularly if it is a small boat, and will require that a boat owner purchase an extension” in order to cruise outside the original covered area. “

There are, of course, conditions and limitations even with the extension. An insurer that specializes in marine coverage may offer more liberal cruise distance extensions.

Another restriction involves the countries in which you plan to operate your boat – even when covered by so-called international boat insurance.

Check your coverage area before you get an insurance policy to make sure you are protected where you want to sail or fish. Just because you are covered in the United States it doesn’t mean you’ll be covered on that fishing trip you are planning to the Caribbean on your boat with your buddies.

Confirm with your current agent. Additionally, some countries such as Mexico also require that you have liability insurance issued by a local company if you want to enter and fish their waters.

Your Boat’s Value: Two Ways of Looking at It

You should be aware of these two important terms:

  • Agreed Value
  • Market Value

The agreed value means that in the case of a total loss of your ship, you’ll get paid the amount stated in the policy, regardless of any other factor. For market value policies, the price for your boat in case of total loss is determined according to the depreciated cost of your boat.

Most times, insurance companies offer discounts when you sign up for a market value policy since it will always be lower. However, that will not be suitable for all situations. If your boat is new, it is better to sign for an agreed value, since it will protect your investment.

How to Qualify for Better Rates

To be eligible for lower-cost insurance, do the following:

  • Add any safety options to your fishing boat
  • Layup discount for not using your boat year-round
  • Take qualified boating classes
  • No driving incidents (inland or water)
  • Discount for freshwater boating instead of saltwater

These points will lower the risks, and therefore the cost of your policy. Also, make sure your boat is correctly classified to get the best possible coverage.

Additional Options

There are other coverage options for fishermen. If you are a pro, then you might be interested in some of the following:

  • Get coverage for your fishing gear (rods, reels, depth/fish finders, trolling motors, etc.) up to a certain amount
  • Tow service/on-water emergency coverage
  • Reimbursement of tournament fees in case you cannot participate due to covered conditions
  • Liability coverage for pro fishermen for activities related to exhibitions, paid shows, seminar, workshops, fishing guide events

Two Not-So-Optional Coverages Anglers Should Consider


From the previous list of optional coverage, even recreational fishermen should consider tow and fishing gear insurance. These options address some of the most common issues involved with sportfishing.

The tow expenses on the water are unexpected and high. The average rate per hour of towing is 500 dollars. If you are 20 miles away, it can cost you thousands of dollars. As you can see, tow insurance sounds like good protection. An Alternative to this is having a membership with a marine tow service, such as BoatUS or Sea Tow, that may provide more services and coverage options.

As for the fishing gear, since most people buy their equipment little by little, they are not always aware of the total investment they’ve made. There’s also the expensive single pieces of tackle many of us have.

If you were to sit down and add up the value of all the fishing-related equipment you have accumulated over the years, you will quickly realize the necessity for insuring them. A big loss through accident, theft or something else could certainly sour any fishing trip. So, it is better to be protected.

Compare, Get the Right Policy

Getting a boat policy is neither difficult nor as expensive as it once used to be. In fact, most of your traditional home and auto insurance companies such as Progressive, Allstate, State Farm and Geico (bought out BoatUS) all offer various insurance products and some can even provide you with an online quote.

There are also dedicated marine insurance companies out there that are worth researching for comparison to get the best coverage and rates.

My recommendation is that you speak with a boat insurance agency or yacht insurance broker, as they specialize in the field and your coverage is more likely to be set up right from the beginning.

You’ll be happy you did should you ever have a to make a claim, and the peace of mind you’ll have will allow you to focus on the things you love to do most… like fishing!

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