The subject of cover for claims arising from tropical storms in the Caribbean and
US coasts has come under the limelight since the industry took a beating following
Hurricane Ivan in Grenada (2004) and other hurricanes (especially Katrina) in 2005.
There seems to be growing evidence that, as a consequence of global warming, there
is a trend towards a greater incidence of tropical storms of greater severity each
year. Prior to Ivan, most insurers defined a "box" by latitude and longitude limits,
and excluded all claims for damage arising from named tropical storms within this
box during the accepted hurricane season, normally 1 July to 31 October, but often
extended to 1 June to 30 November. Box limits varied slightly between companies,
but this clause had the effect of concentrating the boats laid up during the hurricane
season to Grenada and Trinidad. Grenada had not had a hurricane for 48 years when
Ivan struck, but when it came it caught about 800 boats there, and a very high proportion
were badly damaged. The resultant claims severely tested the insurers as well as
the local repair facilities.
Post-Ivan, the insurers are all reviewing their "hurricane clauses". One approach
(Pantaenius) is to scrap the "box" and time limits, and to exclude all claims for
damage arising from named tropical storms (anywhere, anytime), unless the boat is
either at sea or laid up ashore in a one-piece steel cradle with the boat and cradle
tied down to secure ground anchors. Others are merely extending the box and time
"Al Shaheen" is insured with Pantaenius, and has been since new. This choice is based
primarily on a (personally tested) knowledge that their claims settlement record
is excellent; that they are the market leader in the sector in which we operate;
that their policy wording is comprehensive, open and straightforward without being
couched in obscure "legalise" and that they will listen to the customer! Cost is
obviously a factor, and Pantaenius, whilst in our case being somewhat dearer than
the competition, are not significantly out-of-line.
Insurance of small marine craft is a complex, and often expensive, matter especially
when one moves away from the established NorthWest Europe cruising area. There are
usually two components; insurance of the boat (hull insurance) and third party liability.
Of the two, third party cover is normally straightforward and relatively cheap even
for the "standard" £1 or £2 million cover necessary to cover against claims from
commercial shipping that one might become involved with. Many European insurers will
reduce this standard limit when cruising in a USA jurisdiction, for fear of excessive
liability claims. However, most prudent yachtsmen carry this level of third part
cover, costing in the order of £100 per year.
On the other hand, hull insurance is at least an order of magnitude more expensive.
Many "live aboard" yachtsmen, especially those on less costly or older boats, choose
either not to insure or to "self insure" simply because they cannot afford, or justify,
the premiums. However, when your boat represents a significant part of your total
assets, there is no choice but to insure. In this case, the cover needs to be first
class and you need to have the comfort of knowing that, in the event of a major claim,
the Insurer will deal with it quickly, efficiently, fairly and without hassle, argument
or "nit-picking". Unfortunately for many owners, several major European Insurers
failed badly in this respect over claims following the major losses brought about
by Hurricane Ivan in Grenada in 2004.
Outside the established European cruising limits, the issues which cause the Insurers
to increase rates are: their ability to service claims in remote locations; the lack
of adequate repair facilities and skills for sophisticated modern boats in remote
areas and the risk of damage arising from tropical storms. Other issues which may
affect the availability of cover, especially for long ocean passages, are the number,
experience and age of the crew as well as the age and condition of the boat.