By John K. Fulweiler, Esq.
Whether blue water sailor or coastal cruiser, our weird quarantine world isn’t all that different from being shipboard. You keep an eye on the food, watch the water, worry the book you’ve maybe been meaning to write, consider the next menu, and scan the seascape. All you’re missing is lap of water and press of wind. My schedule largely remains the same as I trundle each morning into the office and lock the door behind me. The physical space is quiet. The dog bed’s perpetual dimple is gone as he’s sheltering at home with the girls. Everyone else around here is working remotely and we trade emails and share files and make follow-up calls as to which draft version of what you sent was sent when. Every three hours or so, I spring from the desk and do a mile lap around Newport streets so empty it feels like Christmas morning…except the gift we’ve gotten isn’t something we want.
With the brighter days, I’ve been rustling around the Interwebs assembling a list of items needed (okay, wanted) for this season’s sailing adventures. It’s all there, from a new Racor filter assembly to a linear autopilot setup that only seems affordable after Johnnie W joins me – he’s always carrying on about updating this or buying that, but listen too much and he’ll steer you into bankruptcy!
That said, this time of year also has us all doing the marina drive-by which should have you thinking about insurance and marina contracts. Yes, two topics that you likely rank below grinding fiberglass on an interest level scale, but two topics that’ll end a boating career if the circumstances line up right.
The way car insurance is so regulated, your car insurer is like a freshman at some middling boarding school, all sweat and fury trying to dodge demerits. On the other side of campus is the marine insurer with the latitude (and attitude) of a Jeff Spicoli as there’s little to no regulation. In my opinion, this makes the marine insurer treat claims differently and more brazenly. If you don’t know and understand what your marine insurer will and will not cover, you can be in for a whopper of a surprise. While you should read your entire policy (and all its riders and endorsements), take special care to understand where you and your boat can and can’t go, whether you’re required to have crew aboard (and if so, how many crew are covered), what coverage you have (if any) for yacht races, and really understand what requirements exist to maintain your vessel. At least around here, we see a lot of insurance claims denied because of an alleged “failure to maintain.” (In my opinion, this “failure to maintain” is abused as a reason for denying coverage and it makes me mad.)
Anyway, one other thing. Maybe consider having a broker help you secure your boating coverage. It’s not a pleasant way to think, but it might give you another target if you wind up in a situation where you don’t have coverage and you should have been covered. Food for thought. And whether you’re working with a broker or direct with the insurer, I wouldn’t be comfortable having any one of those folks tell me, “Yeah, that’s covered.” Ask where in the policy it provides coverage for the “that” you’re worrying and, if in doubt, consider sending a follow-up email confirming your understanding. All of this will pay dividends some dark day.
When it comes to the marina, don’t lose your focus on what legal rights you’re abandoning just because they’ve passed you a gold leaf-embossed dockage contract. Always take a beat and make certain you understand your contractual rights and obligations. (Remember my old trick; begin your quick review of a contract by starting at the backend and working forward because that way you’ll usually encounter the ‘bad’ terms early in your review since they typically lurk at the end of a contract.) When the contract comes over on your email, get your admiralty attorney on the horn to review and comment on the contract. (As I’m often heard to say: “Any attorney worth their salt should be able to clear time to quickly review your contract.”) I don’t blame you for not wanting to think about insurance and contracts, but don’t forget my slightly varied version of Ecclesiastes 9:11: Time and chance happens to us all.
It’s a Saturday and I’m leaving the office now looking bandito-like with my scarf making me mumble Mr. Smalls’ yesteryear lyric: “Way back when I had the red and black lumberjack with the hat to match.”
Underway and making way (and pining a little for those 1994 days). ■
This article is provided for your general information, is not legal opinion and should not be relied upon. Always seek legal counsel to understand your rights and remedies.
John K. Fulweiler, Esq. is a Proctor-in-Admiralty representing individuals and small businesses in maritime matters including personal injury claims throughout the East and Gulf Coasts and with his office in Newport, Rhode Island. He can be reached at 1-800-383-MAYDAY (6293) or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit his website at saltwaterlaw.com.