The most common causes of boat accidents

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  • Trade-A-Boat

What is the most likely cause of a boat accident? What are the most commonly stolen items? Club Marine shares some sobering statistics.


  • Hull damage is the most common boat accident, accounting for 35 per cent of all claims.


  • Most boat incidents occur at the boat ramp or on the way to or from the water.


  • Underwater running gear accounts for 18 per cent of boat accident claims.


  • A substantial number of claims result from boats colliding on the dock.


  • Boat theft increases sharply during summer. Less than half of stolen boats are recovered. More than half of all stolen boat insurance claims involved no forced entry.


When it comes to boat accidents, yes, worse things DO happen at sea, but they can also happen on the way to the boat ramp, or while your boat is parked up outside your holiday home. Club Marine shares some sobering facts about source of insurance claims — and how you can avoid being another statistic this summer.


Boat accidents

Trailer boat stranded on boat ramp
Most boat accidents happen either on the boat ramp, or while travelling to and from the water. 

As the weather warms up and with the holiday boating season just weeks away, Australia’s Greatest Boats 2016 sponsor Club Marine shares with us some of the ways you can avoid having your boating trip cut short this summer.

Not surprisingly, damage to hulls features highly amongst Club Marine’s most common insurance claims – accounting for around 35 per cent of total claims in Australia.

Most of these boating accidents are incurred at the boat ramp, or on the way to and from the water.

Damage to underwater running gear is another common form of boat accident, accounting for 18 per cent of claims. Most of these relate to accidental collisions with reefs, rocks and floating objects such as logs.

Boat come off trailer at ramp
No one wants to be this guy. So take care when removing that final strap at the ramp.

A large number of boat accident insurance claims also result from boats colliding while on the dock, so take care to approach the ramp carefully when coming in for a retrieval and keep your wake and speed down.

If you’re a new boat owner, take your time at the ramp when launching and retrieving, or better still, practise in an empty car park to increase your confidence when reversing.

Also be certain not to take that final strap off your boat until you’re ready to drop her into the drink. No one wants to be that guy with their boat laying on the ramp like a beached whale.

When travelling to and from the ramp, don’t forget to lower biminis, antennas and rocket launchers and watch your overhead height at fuel stations or your post-fishing-session fast food joint. Watch your wheel guards around bollards at the fuel station, too.


Boat theft

Stolen boat
The number of stolen boats increases sharply as it gets warmer. Thieves will go to great lengths to get what they want. This $100,000 MasterCraft was stolen from a dealer's yard in November 2013!

Club Marine’s figures identify a distinct trend towards a rise in stolen boats as the warmer months draw near. Everyone is thinking about hitting the water – even the criminals!

When it comes to stolen boats, the key is prevention. While Club Marine does not specifically endorse any anti-theft devices for trailers, it seems there is strong evidence to suggest that wheel clamps are the most effective. These are the most difficult for thieves to quickly remove. Better again is a wheel clamp (Klamp It or Trojan Sentry, for example) in combination with some form of coupling lock (Hitch Helmet or similar).

Most insurers offer a reduced excess on claims if the stolen boat was fitted with some type of security device. So hang onto your receipts…

Trojan sentry theft prevention device
Most insurers will reduce the insurance excess if a boat trailer is fitted with a theft prevention device.

It’s also worth noting more than half of all boat theft claims involve no forced entry, meaning that the boats, engines or accessories weren’t secured or adequately protected with some form of anti-theft measure. The message here is clear: Lock it or lose it! Otherwise your stolen boat claim may be denied.

Unfortunately, if your boat is stolen, the outlook is none too rosy.

Less than half of stolen vessels in Australia are recovered, although for the ones that are, there is a common theme…

If owners can quickly and pro-actively engage with friends and fellow boaties on social media to publicise the theft, this can sometimes be the difference between getting your boat back, or not.

The aim is to rapidly increase awareness of the theft in the local boating community, hopefully before the thieves can travel too far away.


Theft of boating equipment

Fishing rods in open boat
Club Marine says it is happy to insure your fishing rods and fishing gear, but they need to be stored in a lockable compartment. Pic: Warren Steptoe.

Trailerable vessels are often open vessels and not every modern boat includes lockable storage compartments, particularly those suited to rod storage.

Club Marine will gladly insure your rods and reels (tackle cannot be covered), but only if those rods and reels are stored in a lockable compartment before being stolen.

In fact, Club Marine says around two-thirds of all theft claims it receives are for items that have not been securely stowed away.

How to avoid this situation? Always be aware of your precious (and pricey) rods and reels, especially when your fishing gear might just be tossed into the boat after a day’s fishing – at remote camps, holiday parks, or short-term rentals, for example.

Boat ramps are no exception. Don’t duck off for a coffee or a celebratory beer after your epic session and leave everything unsecured in the cockpit of your boat, even if the vessel is nearby.

It only takes a second for someone to grab an armload of your favourite gear, totalling thousands of dollars, as Club Marine can attest. Lock ‘em up!

These principles should also be applied to your boat itself, while at the ramp or in transit. There are plenty of cases where entire vessels on trailers have been stolen from busy ramps while the owner was preoccupied.

Even something as simple as a padlock linking your safety chain to the tow hitch will go a long way toward preventing this.

Marine electronics being stolen from the helm of trailerboats are also on the rise. Fishfinders and GPS plotters are small, high-value items that make popular targets, even older models.

Most are now fitted with quick-release mounting brackets, so there’s no excuse for not removing your plotter when the boat is in storage. Alternatively, keep your whole boat and all its electronic goodies out of sight in a locked garage or similar.


Marine engine problems

Mechanical failure accounts for around 70 per cent of outboard motor claims and it’s worth noting that many of these claims are denied on the basis of not being specifically covered in the policy.

Engine maintenance is very much the skipper’s responsibility — not your insurer’s!

Club Marine suggests referring to engine warranties in the event of a failure not related to external causes, such as underwater collisions.


Trailer damage

Damaged boat trailer
Insurers will check that boat trailers have been maintained. If, for example, the bearings are found to be in poor shape, a claim is likely to be denied.

Most boat owners are fastidious regarding the maintenance of their vessel and its engine, but what about the good ol’ trailer? Often overlooked until something goes horribly wrong, your trailer is simple (and cheap) to maintain, but essential in getting your pride and joy to the water and back again, safely.

Preventative maintenance is key here. A collapsed wheel bearing could you see you stuck on the side of the highway, or worst case, your boat dumped unceremoniously on the road.

If poorly maintained bearings are discovered to be the cause, your claim is likely to be denied.

Club Marine recommends greasing trailer bearings every six months and then replacing the whole bearing assembly every two years. Again, keep your receipts, as documenting trailer service history is just as important as your engine maintenance log.

Club Marine Assist (phone 1300 00 2582) is also available to help out should you find yourself stuck on the side of the road or at the boat ramp with trailer or vehicle problems.


Inform your insurer

Just like vehicle insurance, it’s important to keep your insurer appraised of any changes made to your boat, either by yourself or by your local boatbuilder/marine mechanic.

However, in the case of boats, there seems to be a far higher incidence of boating/fishing enthusiasts who are eager to undertake a few homemade modifications in the backyard.

But from an insurance point of view, any modifications to the vessel need to be signed off by a professional who can provide a condition report to the insurer.

Much like you wouldn’t fit new suspension to your Landcruiser tow vehicle in your garage and expect it to be road-legal; for the same reasons amateur boat restorers need to have their work certified before it can be fully insured.

Club Marine suggests discussing any planned changes with your insurer before they take place.

The insurer can then provide advice on what sort of information they will need in order for the policy to be updated to cover the modified boat.

It’s also important to keep in mind the "sum insured" – the replacement value attributed to your boat by the insurer. While major restoration works or modifications might cost you plenty of dollars, that cost won’t necessarily translate directly to the boat’s value.

Just because you spent $5000 rejuvenating your pride and joy, its resale value is not necessarily increased by $5000 or more, but your insurer can help determine this.

Be sure to keep receipts of new equipment and take photos of modifications to assist in the event of a claim.

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