19 March 2017

A Sailing Romance

If buying a sailboat is like falling in love, then having an insurance agent in the middle of the courtship is like bringing a lawyer along on each date. It's the opposite of romance.

Insurance woes also make for pretty dull reading, so I won't spend too much time on it, other than to discuss a few issues I've never seen mentioned anywhere else.

First, no American company seemed interested in insuring an older steel boat. I'm not sure whether it was the age or the material that bothered them, but certainly the combination was toxic. I never got past first base with the Americans.

On the other hand, a famous British marine insurance company had no problem with an older steel boat, but they didn't like me at all. Specifically, they didn't like that the largest boat I'd owned previously was a 28-foot Southern Cross. They didn't think I could handle a 40-foot boat.

"But I know loads of people who own boats they can't handle," I protested to my insurance agent.

"I know, I know," she said. "And I have many clients who would not qualify for insurance -- if they were applying today. The rules have gotten much stricter in the last few years, and you are trying to break the 10-foot rule."

"What's that?"

"The rule against buying a boat that's more than 10 feet longer than what you've owned before," she said.

"That's a rule? So if I was looking at a 36-foot boat?"

"No problem. I could write the insurance this afternoon."

"But we have spent the last few years getting experience on bigger boats -- sailing a thousand miles down the coast of Brazil, sailing the Caribbean, crossing the English Channel..."

"Sorry, that doesn't count. They weren't your boats."

"What if we got ASA certified?" I asked.

"Wouldn't make any difference."

So Romeo could marry Juliet today, but break the 10-foot rule? Taboo!

Even worse, we were trying to buy a boat in Martinique -- there was no way even a famous British marine insurance company would give us coverage outside the US and Bahamas.

Nevertheless, I persisted. There must be some way through this thicket of senseless rules, I thought. And I was right. Eventually my (genuinely helpful) insurance agent and I found the way. At least I think we have. I still don't have final approval, but we are close. Very close.

Briefly, for the benefit of others who might try to break the 10-foot rule, here is the compromise we worked out:

First, we had to have the Joshua delivered to the US or Bahamas by an 'approved operator'. That's insurance lingo for an experienced delivery crew. If we were buying a super yacht, that would have been a small detail, but hiring a delivery crew would have raised the cost of the more reasonable Joshua by at least 50%. Talk about romance killer.

That's why the current owner's offer to deliver the boat to the Bahamas was so important. Our insurance company was fine with giving us coverage for a one-time passage from Martinique to the Bahamas, as long as Captain Gill was in command.

And the experience we would gain by sailing with Gill and John on the 1200 mile passage would help us get over the experience hurdle. We would use the long passage to learn how to handle the Joshua, and then prove our new-found competence to an independent 'checkout' captain in the Bahamas. Once he or she signed us off as 'competent', we'd be over the 10-foot gap and free to sail the boat ourselves.

So that's the plan: buy the Joshua in Martinique, sail her to the Bahamas with the current owners, learn as much as we can along the way, and get signed off. It seems a bit absurd, but that's 2017 for you. Romance may be eternal, but rules and regulations are ever changing, and we must, it seems, change with them.

Helena and I are just back yesterday from St. Lucia, surveying the sturdy Joshua. More on that adventure, next time...

Next Up:  Joshua Survey


  1. I am so glad you have navigated these treacherous waters! I look forward to following your 1200 mile passage as trainee captain.

  2. CONGRATS on getting this far with the Joshua.

    For the naive, who doesn't own a boat that needs insurance, what is "the 10 foot rule?" I assume it has to do with the boat's length, but 10 feet relative to what? Your previous boat, your height, your age, the height of your stack of money?

    Keep havin' fun!

    1. Hi Bob, sorry, I thought I made it clear. Hopefully it is now. It's a boat that's more than 10 feet longer than you've had before.

  3. If a yachtsman can't afford to have insurance for liability only, which should be much easier to obtain, then perhaps he should downsize, not upsize.

    1. Liability insurance is the hard part because the risk is unlimited. Images e the damage a big steel boat could do in a marina full of mega-yachts.

    2. That doesn't really matter. The probabilities are very well understood, especially for sail powered displacement vessels. If you were looking for "liability only", you would find it much easier to obtain. There is far more uncertainty providing hull insurance on an old boat. Moreover, boats like yours are individually underwritten, and generally by competent knowledgable underwriters. There is something oddball in the rigid "10 foot longer" explanation given to you by your broker.

    3. It's an interesting question. I will ask her tomorrow.

      Can I ask your experience? Are you a broker or have you a lot of recent experience buying insurance?

    4. 30 years in the business. Been out for quite a few but I'd be shocked if it's changed much.

    5. That's my point: it has changed. it doesn't matter that I've been sailing big and small boats for 50 years. What matters is filling in the forms and satisfying arbitrary rules. Sad, but that's been my experience in this situation at this time.


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