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One yacht insurer used to advertise that “not all policies are the same,” and this is very true, and neither, incidentally, are all lnsurer’s service levels the same!

We recently had a discussion about towing, on the water, that is, as opposed to on the road, as someone had raised the issue that one of the popular insurers had altered their wording so that they now exclude towing on the water under a pre-arranged contract but include towing in an emergency.

We deal with several insurers plus we now have two Binding Authorities where we set the terms, to a large extent. Our first “Binder” contains a restriction that the insured vessel shall not tow or be towed except in emergency or “as is customary”.

Whilst trying to get similar cover for our second “Binder” in 2010 it became clear that the underwriters, whilst accepting that towage in an emergency is going to happen, were not at all keen on the “towing as is customary” wording. We eventually agreed that “towing as is customary on inland waters” was an acceptable compromise. Our need to include this is that we underwrite a lot of business on the Broads and towing on the Broads is quite commonplace, particularly non-powered vessels being towed between regattas which will fall within the “towing as is customary” wording. We were particularly concerned that, for instance, an owner, finding himself some miles from base, having no engine and the wind failed with an adverse tide, should not be penalised under his insurance should he accept a tow from a passing power craft. Equally the power craft should not be penalised either.

I think some insurers may well be trying to resist claims from the practice of towing dinghies at sea. Whilst this could be considered “customary”, dinghies, some with outboard motors attached, do go missing every year; either the tow rope breaks and no one notices in time, or the weather turns a bit rough and the dinghy swamps, again usually breaking the tow and the dinghy is unable to be recovered. Although this may be considered “customary” by some, it is not particularly good seamanship, especially if it results in the loss of your dinghy!

So what would we recommend? The importance of using an insurer that understands the local needs is paramount if you are to avoid a gap in your cover. If you are going to use an “out of area” insurer, i.e. someone who doesn’t know what goes on locally, then you really need to read your policy wording very carefully and ask appropriate questions to ensure the cover is suitable for your specific requirements and will meet your expectations in the event of a claim.

D. Long - 3/2/2011

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