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Superyacht insurance: How to choose the best policy for your yacht

8 December 2021• Written by Kate Lardy

Picking insurance coverage for your superyacht can be fraught with difficulty. BOAT reveals what owners really need to know when it comes to yacht insurance and how to keep the process as pain-free as possible if the worst happens.

When it comes to superyacht insurance, shopping around for the best deal may not be the smartest tactic. “Many of the insurance policies and contracts out there are quite similar, but, as with everything, the devil’s in the detail. Sometimes what may appear to be a really good option might contain some restrictions or exclusions in cover that might catch the unwary person out,” says Mike Wimbridge, managing director of Pantaenius UK.

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Indeed, insuring superyachts worth tens to hundreds of millions of pounds, plying waters subject to windstorms and even perhaps political upheaval, is complicated. There are a lot of considerations at play and in the end what you see on your policy is what you get. “Marine insurance is not specifically regulated, meaning policy forms don’t have to be approved by any regulators in any country or state like other types of consumer insurance do. So whatever you get on your policy contract is what you get today for insurance, and it could be different for everyone,” says Nancy Poppe, North American Yacht Practice Leader at Willis Marine Superyachts.

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In general, there are two types of insurance a yacht needs: Hull and Protection & Indemnity (P&I). Hull covers physical damage to the vessel and its appurtenances, while P&I is marine liability insurance for third-party liability, explains Poppe. The larger the yacht and/or the more complex its cruising programme, the more likely this coverage will be split with P&I provided by a P&I Club. “They offer a single shot $500 million P&I limit, and they can very easily offer all of the certificates,” says Spencer Lloyd, president of AssuredPartners’ yacht speciality team. “For instance, there’s something now called the Nairobi Wreck Removal endorsement and some of the companies that do both Hull and P&I do not have the ability to issue these certificates for a yacht travelling in foreign waters.”

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The marine insurance market currently is a bit turbulent, which means not every yacht is insurable. A few years ago a large number of underwriters – overwhelmed by hurricanes and fires – pulled out of the marine market, creating a hard market where demand exceeded supply. It’s since stabilised to some extent, helped by the fact that 2021 churned up no serious windstorms, but underwriters today can still afford to be picky.

Wimbridge likens the last few years to “panning for gold”, as the market was shaken up to see where things lie. “The London market, the traditional home of the superyacht market, is not comfortable below USD10 million. So the more domestic markets are picking those risks up, whether that be US or Europe or Australia. I think above 10 million, it’d be fair to say the London market has been choosy over recent years,” says Wimbridge. But he is seeing more competition creeping in for what insurers would class the more desirable risks in the megayacht area, so that’s leading to a steadying of the market. The under-$5 million market, though, is more volatile, subject to holes when a single underwriter pulls out.

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Factors that affect a yacht’s insurability include its age (even if it’s refit), whether it will be based in a windstorm-prone area, and the owner’s experience, explains Poppe. “For boats that, say, want to summer in Florida and winter in the Caribbean, there are very limited choices particularly in the smaller end of things. And first-time owners jumping into large-sized vessels with no prior ownership experience and not hiring a full time professional manager – there's limited, if any, options for coverage there,” she says. With this in mind, she advises any prospective owner to secure an offer of insurance before they accept an offer to buy a yacht.

Once the insurance is in place, the communication doesn’t stop. There are a few situations where it’s common that the underwriter requires advance notice or coverage can be excluded. One of these is yard work.

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“A lot of yacht policies will exclude welding and hot work until you notify them first and beforehand,” says Lloyd, explaining that the underwriter will typically want to see a copy of the yard’s insurance certificate, any independent contractor’s liability, a drawing of what welding is going to take place and a gas-free certificate if the tanks have to be cleared of flammable liquids. The difficulty he has seen lately is when the shipyard wants a complete waiver of liability, a situation he deems unfair. “A lot of times the company insuring the yacht will come back and say, ‘Hey, we want a $10,000 to $15,000 additional premium for the exposure of what you're having done’.”

How underwriters consider named windstorms also differs, with at least one excluding all coverage for yachts under 500 gross tonnes. “In the old days, the bigger boats didn't necessarily need a hurricane plan. But in this day and age, most underwriters are asking to see the hurricane plan for all sized yachts,” says Poppe.

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“If you're going to be in the shipyard, having work done during hurricane season, you need to give your underwriter a lot of advance notice,” she continues. “If you're not going to be able to move the vessel to sea in the event of a storm coming, you are probably going to face either no coverage for windstorm or a quite high deductible for windstorm.”

Another point that could be lost in the fine print is itinerary exclusions. “For instance, there are parts of the world that are deemed to be political hotspots, so they tend to be excluded from the war cover,” says Wimbridge.

Insurance companies also want to be involved in choosing the captain. “They have gotten much more strict about captain resumes,” says Lloyd. “Rule of thumb was the captain must have a minimum of two years’ experience on similar-size boats to the one that they are applying for. And some have raised it to three years. We are in a constant battle because with so many boats being sold, there’s not enough qualified people to fill the positions. And how does the mate, who is good and capable but doesn’t have the resume, take the next step?”

Credit: Getty Images/ Ricardo Arduengo/AFP

With all of these considerations, it’s crucial that the owner – whether they are dealing directly with an underwriting agent like Pantaenius UK or working with a broker like Poppe or Lloyd – is being advised by someone they trust and someone experienced in insuring yachts of a similar type and cruising programme.

In the end, insurance is a relationship business, Wimbridge points out. “The selection of the insurance partner and, if appropriate, the insurance broker, I think is paramount because those parties are experts in this process and often the clients aren’t. And in many cases, the ultimate client isn’t the one doing the negotiation. Depending on how large the boat is, there can be several people in that chain involved in the pre-discussions, offering their own thoughts and advice, which might not necessarily be the most helpful. The advice in all aspects of this is to choose the right partner, people that will give you proper advice.”

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