As we wrapped up 2012, it was a year for the record books. Not
only did pontoon sales lead the way for an industry recovery in the boating
world, but the weather was the most severe that it had ever been. Hurricanes in
the east and wildfires in the west with a plethora of other happenings
everywhere else. With all of these insurance claims, premiums are bound to go
up on things, including your pontoon or deck boat.
"It's not just hurricanes
on the coast," says Bob Adriance, technical director of BoatUS, the nation's
largest specialty boat insurance provider. "We've had weather-related claims
all over the country."
There is no way of predicting exactly what 2013 will look
like but it doesn't matter. Industry insiders all agree; rates will most likely
"The first thing marine owners have to focus on is the fact
that their insurance is going to go up," says Andrew Barile, a California-based
independent insurance and reinsurance consultant. "Everybody is going to have
to pay. The distribution system works that way. If the industry loses money
they've got to get the money back."
Given the damage to boats, Sandy's hit might be felt disproportionately
in the marine industry and in coastal locations, where more than half of the
nation's economic productivity is located, according to the National Oceanic
and Atmospheric Administration. Boat owners and marine businesses likely will
see a sharper rise in rates than others because of the widespread marine damage
says U.K.-based Steve Evans, who owns Artemis.bm, a firm that analyzes
alternative risk transfer and weather risk markets, among other industry
Steep competition for market share has kept rates low in
recent years, so the increases could be significant, especially if some
insurers pull out of certain markets. In other words, coastal businesses and
marina owners in other areas could experience the challenges Florida has been facing for years, due
either to insurance providers quitting the market or dealers and owners being
priced out of it. "If someone decides it's too risky and gets out there's
always someone who will come back in," Adriance says. Customers will "just have
to pay for it."
Claim checks already are slowing, says Greg Wright of John
B. Wright, a second-generation insurance broker at the New Jersey business his father started in
1961. "The first couple of weeks after Sandy, insurance companies were writing
checks pretty quick," Wright says. "Now they're starting to ask questions. I
can see it happening."
The company's typical customers-to-claims ratio along the Jersey coast is about 4.5 percent, Wright says. After Sandy that number shot to
41 percent. "I'm not jumping out of the business," says Wright. "We've been
doing this since 1960, but this makes you think."
With $650 million in boat damage alone (the BoatUS
estimate), insurance companies will have to increase rates quickly and
dramatically, he says. "We were wondering when rates would start to come up,"
says Wright. "I thought it would be after the tsunami in Japan."
That statement begs the question: Why would a tsunami in Japan affect insurance rates in the United States?
"There's just so much money to pay claims," Wright says. "Picture a world
bucket of money to pay claims."
Already priced out
Property owners should look at their budgets and their
policies and analyze their risks annually, says Wright, who concedes that few
of them do. "If a marina owner hasn't sat down with an agent to review their
insurance, they're playing with fire," he says.
Paul Terzian at Manahawkin, N.J.-based Causeway Marine says
he knew his dealership wasn't covered for floods, even though he's about a
half-mile from the water. "It [flood insurance] wasn't cost-effective for us,
and we're not a marina - we're a landlocked dealer," Terzian says. "Between the
deductible and the premium, it's more cost-effective to self-insure."
the worst flood Causeway had seen in 30 years was a quarter-inch of water that
receded after eight minutes, he says. This time 20 to 28 inches filled
buildings and sheds, destroying parts, inventory, engines, tools and equipment.
Despite being on the hook himself for most of the damage, Terzian expects his
rates to rise.
"Sandy's going to affect us
all, not just marina insurance and the Northeast," says John Naybor, a former
engineer who owns three marinas in Florida.
The Atlantic region is only seven years into a heavy storm
cycle that typically lasts between 25 and 40 years, according to a NOAA report.
The last one was from the mid-1930s through 1970. From 1990 through 2008
population density increased 32 percent in Gulf of Mexico coastal counties and 17
percent in Atlantic coastal counties, according to separate NOAA figures. The
most densely populated portions of those coastlines lie less than 10 feet above
mean sea level, and more than half of the nation's economic productivity is in
Sandy will change the way
marinas are insured, speculates Mark Yearn, marine insurance specialist at Norman Spencer
Agency. "It's extremely
difficult to make money insuring docks, no matter where they are," Yearn says.
Some insurers take into account the marina's exposure to the elements to some
degree but usually don't assess construction.
"The evil truth is that the industry is woefully
unsophisticated and the insurance industry is woefully undereducated about dock
coverage, in part because the data doesn't exist either within their own
portfolios or even at a collaborative level," says Christopher Pesce, president
of the Maritime Program Group, a marine insurance underwriter. "We don't need
data to know that old docks are maybe not as good as new docks. But I don't
think there's a carrier out there that can tell you that they have data that
floating docks are better than fixed, or styrofoam encapsulated [docks] are
better than wood."
Adriance thinks exposure and age, as well as construction
and materials, are a critical piece of dock survival. After Hurricane Ike,
BoatUS put together a group to begin evaluating marinas. "If you have floating
docks with tall, 18-foot pilings, time and time again they go through the
storms. The boats go up, the boats go down," Adriance says.
Fixed docks can be a problem because boats have gotten
beamier over the years, he says, leaving about a foot and a half of space on
each side. "Before a storm you try to tie it loose enough so it can move up and
down with the waves but tight enough so your boat doesn't bang against the
sides, and that's very difficult to do," Adriance says.
Every year boats drift off pilings that are too short and
float away, still tied to docks, Adriance says. "It's not fair that a marina in
a sheltered location with floating docks and tall pilings is treated the same
as someone who's completely exposed and has old docks," he says.
Chris Squeri, director of the New York Marine Trades
Association, agrees. "I probably paid the same premium as everyone else, but I
have high pilings to hold boats in so our docks didn't lift off," he says. "The
insurance didn't take into account that I had less damage because I'm sheltered
in the back of the canal and have higher elevation away from shore. We only had
one boat fall."
Cues from Florida
Storms always increase the amount of scrutiny paid to risk,
Some might begin looking beyond building codes, Naybor says.
"There's a national code for buildings, but it does not take into account wind
load and seas and tidal surge," says Naybor.
Insurers who lack the resources to send out inspectors with
engineering backgrounds could withdraw from the market or raise rates across
the board. That might cause others to do what Naybor already did - rebuild
stronger and self-insure, Adriance says.
In 2004, Hurricane Ivan wiped out one of Naybor's three Florida marinas and
severely damaged another. The storm set records with its high intensity and low
Only two national underwriters will insure marina structures
he says, which led to higher prices. When dock coverage premiums were at their
highest, he says, marina owners were paying 16 percent of the docks' value to
insure them. "My theory was that if you built a marina that could withstand
most hurricanes and self-insured, you were better off than if you went through
an insurer," Naybor says. "So I built a hurricane-resistant marina with
floating docks. It's really all about engineering. It doesn't have to do with
floating or fixed. It's all very site-specific."
Naybor thinks that about 60 percent of Florida marinas carry no storm insurance,
although the number often cited is 40 percent.
Paying higher premiums won't be an option for some who are
already over-leveraged in this difficult economy, Naybor says. In some cases,
those who raised deductibles to trim a few bucks from the monthly budget won't
be able to afford rebuilding, especially when they factor in the financial hit
of the revenue lost while they're shut down, Naybor says.
"What's going to happen with a lot of these marinas,
particularly the mom-and-pops, if they are leveraged and owe a bunch of money
for the deductibles - they'll be throwing keys to the bank left and right,"
Naybor says. "It happens down here all the time. About 5 percent will say,
`Good luck with that pile. See you later.' "
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