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Family on boatWhether you are in Maine or Minnesota, San Diego or Sandy Hook - if it's summer, it's boating season. Not to rain on your nautical parade, but before setting sail, revving up the engine, or manning the oars as the case may be, think about these few safety tips brought to you courtesy of the Insurance Information Institute and the Coast Guard Auxiliary:

  • Make sure you monitor the weather forecast and leave a float plan with someone on shore that can call the Coast Guard if you are overdue. A "float plan", according to Len Pampalone, Flotilla Commander in the NJ Coast Guard Auxiliary, will give details of your expected location and timing in order to assist any potential search and rescue  operations that might be necessary should you run into trouble. Leave such a plan with someone dependable.
  • "Buy a radio with the Digital Select feature which ties into Global Positioning Satellite Systems," says Pampalone. This is quickly becoming the standard for shipboard radio equipment so get it now, even if, like cell phone service, the system doesn't work everywhere. Eventually it will.
  • Proper Coast Guard approved fire extinguishers should be strategically placed on board the boat. It makes sense, according to Pampalone, to place more than required for the size of the vessel. Put them in the rear (stern), and bow, as well as at the helm, for example. The idea is to avoid having the extinguisher on the other side of the fire.
  • The Coast Guard suggests that every person on board wear a life jacket and do not permit riding on the bow, seatbacks or gunwales. Some eighty percent of boater fatalities are attributed to a missing life jacket. Pampalone goes on to warn that life jackets should be properly fitted prior to use and recommends labeling them accordingly so that everyone knows which one is theirs.  "They're useless if you need them in an emergency and you take one that is not fitted properly" says Pampalone, who has demonstrated this fact in amusing fashion during boating safety classes he has taught for the Coast Guard.
  • Of course, boating safety courses are a must for boaters and can often make you eligible for discounts on insurance coverage. Check with your agent to see about discounts available, and the Coast Guard Auxiliary, U.S. Power Squadrons or the American Red Cross for applicable courses.
  • A free vessel safety check is available for most by calling the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary at 1-800-368-5647 or visiting
  • Properly equip your boat with safety devices such as a first aid kit, flares, a tool kit, spare parts, a flashlight, navigation lights, and a whistle, horn or bell. "Where applicable," warns Pampalone, "look for expiration dates and keep your supply fresh."
  • There's something about boating that invites one to pop the top and enjoy a cold one. Not a good idea for the skipper. Naturally, as with driving, there is a high correlation between alcohol consumption and boating fatalities. In 2001 alcohol was involved in more than one third of all boating fatalities, the Insurance Information Institute reports.
  • Each time you go out, before operating the vessel check the engine, fuel, and electrical and steering systems for leaks.
  • "According to maritime law (as enforced by the Coast Guard), you are responsible for your own wake," says Pampalone. In other words, if the wake of your vessel causes injury to another party, you will be liable for damages, so take care not to speed, particularly in crowded waters. 
Before setting out, review your insurance coverages with your agent. While canoes, small sail boats and boats equipped with motors that are less than 25 mph are generally covered under a homeowners or renters insurance policy, larger and faster boats (including jet skis and wave runners) require a separate boat insurance policy. A typical policy will cover Bodily Injury (to others), Property Damage (for damage to someone else's property), guest passenger liability for any legal expenses incurred by a guest in operating the boat with your permission, medical payments and theft. Boat owners may also consider purchasing an umbrella liability policy for additional protection for their car, home and boat.

Boating can be an excellent and rewarding recreational activity. Doing it responsibly will ensure years of smooth sailing. Anchors away!

Call us at 800-961-0953 for Michigan City boat insurance quote.
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