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Signs of a Hard Market in 2023

Dan Bookham, AAI

Dan Bookham, AAI

By Dan Bookham for February 2023 WorkBoat Magazine

With 2022 rapidly receding to stern but with the new year still as fresh as a cadet on their first cruise, I thought this would be as good a column as any to step back from coverage and safety details and instead give a high-level view of how the marine insurance landscape appears to be shaping up for 2023.

The phrase to familiarize yourself with above all others this year is “hard market.” Insurance is subject to a range of forces − claims activity, social inflation in jury awards, stock market performance, inflation and the overall state of the economy, the availability and affordability of reinsurance, the end of an era of cheap capital, geopolitical concerns and climate instability, among others. These factors combine to harden the market by driving insurers into a defensive posture to protect their balance sheets. In a hard market, premiums increase, underwriting becomes much more selective, the capacity to offer policies decreases and insurance carriers become less aggressive competitors. There’s no point in soliciting your competition’s customers if you don’t have the capacity or appetite to write the risk.

Economy-wide, inflation and labor issues are big drivers of disruption, as is the drying up of the cheap capital well (which funded large tranches of reinsurance) and the challenging performance of the financial markets – most insurers invest portions of the premium they collect to offset claims losses and to generate additional revenue. In the marine universe, the supply and cost issues around energy and distillates, the war in Ukraine, climate driven uncertainty, record-smashing hull, cargo and property claims and huge settlements and nuclear jury awards on P&I claims all have insurers battening the hatches.

We are also seeing other longer-term trends in the economy having increasing impacts on insurance. The oft-discussed troika of “Environmental, Social & Corporate Governance” concerns (ESG) are coming to the fore and will likely feature more heavily in approaches to underwriting. We are already seeing this where some insurers and reinsurers are declining to take on new hydrocarbon business: State legislatures in oil and gas states are less than impressed. AI, machine learning and increased automation will also continue to decouple the person from the process when it comes to underwriting and quoting coverage. This will mean potential expense savings for insurers, but will they pass these on to customers? And what impact will robo-underwriting have on the quality of the product that has been driven by the expertise of actual people since the early days at Lloyds’ Coffee House?

What can individual operators and companies do to offset this? Well as the old saw has it, quality will out. A good risk will still be attractive to insurers, even in a time of retrenchment. Making sure you are paying attention to the details like vessel or yard housekeeping, working on culture, making your safety management systems a living process, investing in maintenance and training, being responsive to loss control recommendations and working with your insurance agent to both present your business in its best light and to understand how insurance functions as a tool will put you in the best position to weather the storm. Hard markets are no fun for anyone, but a proactive and prepared business can avoid most of the issues they cause.

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Loss Control Visits: Taking a Proactive and Collaborative Approach

Dan Bookham, AAI

By Dan Bookham for December 2022 WorkBoat Magazine

Hang around vessels, shipyards, terminals  and insurance long enough and you are bound to become familiar with the seemingly strange ritual of the loss control visit. The frequency of the visits depends on the individual insurance company but invariably at some point risk engineers will show up to visit clad in high viz and hard hat, usually clutching a camera (and sometimes a clipboard) to inspect your boat or facility for potential hazards and issues. Sometimes they bring donuts. They also always issue a report and list “recommendations” (read requirements, lest you lose your insurance), which, unlike the Krispy Kremes, can often feel hard to digest.

It doesn’t have to be that way, however. By taking a proactive approach to risk management and drawing on the resources of your insurance company (resources your premium payments fund), those loss control visits can feel less like a visit by a drill instructor looking for an unmade bed and more like a collaboration with safety specialists who can both save you money and ensure your people head home each day or after each trip with the same number of digits and limbs they had when they came in.

In preparing for a loss control visit, I highly recommend working with your insurance agent to undertake a preliminary walk-through to see if you both can spot any easy fixes or potential trouble spots (a frayed cord on a tool for example, or sloppy housekeeping in a workshop). Having your own punch list of planned corrections and improvements will minimize any surprises and make it easier to budget for the fixes. When the loss control team visits, rather than just relying on the written report, be sure to ask them to flag issues in a post walk-through meeting so you can discuss them while memories are fresh.

When the report comes in, be prepared to respond with a timeline to address the elements they raise. I’ve often found that draconian demands to make immediate fixes soften if you demonstrate a willingness to work on trouble spots at a reasonable (and often more affordable) pace. Proactively use the tools insurers provide, both online and in person, to make the most of your premium dollars and improve the safety and risk profile of your business.

Not only does a proactive and collaborative approach to loss control make the workday safer for your people, your customers and their property, your passengers, and your own stuff, it also can result in lower lifetime insurance costs as fewer claims and a proactive approach to safety and risk make you an attractive customer for insurers to woo.

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When it Comes to Claim Reporting, Don’t Hesitate

Chris Richmond, CIC, AAI, CMIP

Chris Richmond, CIC, AAI, CMIP

By Chris Richmond
For November 2022 WorkBoat Magazine.

You have heard it before but it bears repeating: If something occurs that you think might be a claim let your agent know sooner rather than later. If a passenger or crew member is injured, report it, even if they say they are fine and do not need medical attention at the time.

The time to record information pertaining to any sort of occurrence is immediately after it happens. This is when everything is still fresh in your mind and you can accurately record the events that happened. Who was injured? Where did it happen? What were they doing at the time? It is much easier to obtain this information at the time of the time of the event rather than try to track it down six months later when you receive a letter from an attorney. By letting your agent know what happened, they in turn can report the claim to the insurance company. There is no harm in sending something in for reporting purposes only. Adjusters would much rather have this information sooner than later − even if the eventual medical bill is less than your deductible.

We had a passenger vessel operator contact us recently to report a claim. A passenger had fallen while disembarking from a tender while on a shore trip. The captain had offered medical assistance off the boat at a local clinic but the passenger had refused, stating that they were fine and wanted to continue on with the trip. The cruise continued and the passenger enjoyed the remainder of the trip with no complaint. Fourteen months later, the owner of the vessel receives a notice from an attorney looking for payment of medical bills as well as for pain and suffering.

Another client had a similar situation but with a crew member. The individual injured her back while on board. The insured reported the occurrence and the crew member received medical treatment for her injury. Eighteen months later the insured was issued a notice of summons from the crew member’s attorney looking for pain and suffering. The adjustor was able to reopen the claim and review the file with all the pertinent notes from the time of the claim.

You should never feel that you can’t report something to your insurance agent. Unsafe areas of operations can be determined on board and corrected. This can help reduce injuries and ultimately save you money in the long run. By including your agent in the conversation you can help keep your passengers safer and your business more profitable.

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Underinsurance Headache – for October 2022 WorkBoat Magazine

Dan Bookham, AAI

By Dan Bookham
For October 2022 WorkBoat Magazine

You cannot escape the headlines: Almost everything is getting more expensive. Supply chain issues, increased demand, workforce shortages and other pressures are driving inflation at a sharp clip, and every industry is affected. And while an uptick in prices might be a boost to one’s top line profits, there’s obviously a negative impact on the cost of doing business. Insurance is not immune to inflationary pressures either, and most insurance and reinsurance companies continue to look warily at the cost of materials, the time it takes to replace or rebuild property, legal expenses and other factors as they review their books of business. The indications are that American businesses have a large (and self-inflicted) underinsurance headache.

Think about your own operations. How much money would you need to replace a string of damaged or destroyed barges? To repair or replace systems or deck machinery on a tug? To build a new ferry? To bring in replacement containers, reefer points or gensets? To source and replace a dock crane, a warehouse, or even something as basic as bollards? Is the insurance limit you have in place going to cut it?

Additionally, scarcity of materials, labor shortages and transportation & logistics problems have lengthened the time needed to repair or replace damaged property. Under these conditions, it might take two to three times as long to rebuild and reequip a facility or vessel than it took prior to the pandemic. Think about your key assets. How quickly can you get the replacement part or unit from the factory to your facility? How congested is the shipyard orderbook or the construction pipeline in your state? Do you have the relationships that could help you bump your project to the top of the list, or do you have to resign yourself to waiting in line? And at the end of the day, have you factored that into your business income insurance limit?

With all of this in mind, if you aren’t talking to your insurance agent about the ongoing inflation in construction and materials costs and longer time horizons on projects you could well find yourself underinsured. The point of your policy is to protect your assets and make you whole in the event of a loss. Proper valuations of the cost to replace or rebuild your assets (including your lost income resulting from a loss) are at the core of making sure your insurance is working for you.

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Marine Professional Liability Coverage

Chris Richmond, CIC, AAI, CMIP

Chris Richmond, CIC, AAI, CMIP

By Chris Richmond
For August 2022 WorkBoat Magazine.

A very long time ago when I was captain of an old wooden sailing vessel, I was bringing the boat in to the harbor to tie up to the dock, something that I had done countless times. Except this time when I put the engine in reverse to stop forward movement the boat went ahead. Quickly losing room in the congested harbor, I tried again to engage reverse propulsion, to no avail. A wooden tour boat tied up ahead of me finally stopped my movement. There was season-ending damage.

While my vessel’s Hull and P&I policy took care of the damage claim, the Coast Guard felt that I had been derelict in duties as captain and wanted to conduct an admiralty hearing against my license. I now needed professional liability insurance coverage.

Typically used by attorneys, accountants, consultants and real estate brokers, professional liability provides coverage against claims made against professionals who have not performed up to the standards of their profession. This type of liability coverage is also available to licensed mariners. Should a claim occur, and the captain be deemed negligent, he or she could be sued in addition to the vessel.

Coverage can include defense costs (both against your license, civil legal defense as well as criminal acts defense), coverage for fines and penalties as well as a daily subsistence allowance. It is important to note that professional equipment, such as a personal GPS or similar navigational device, can also be included. Loss of income can be added to compensate for lost wages due to down time resulting from a claim.

Whether you are driving a 6 pack harbor taxi or a blue water tanker, your livelihood requires you to hold a valid USCG license. When you are involved in a claim involving your license, having  professional liability coverage to fall back on can both help alleviate the headache of defending yourself and help take care of some defense costs. Have a talk with your marine insurance agent before you need this kind of protection.

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How to Read Your Insurance Policy

Dan Bookham, AAI

By Dan Bookham for WorkBoat magazine, August 2022

After being an avid reader of Workboat for many years it’s my distinct honor to be joining my colleague Chris Richmond as a contributor to the monthly “Insurance Watch” column. For my first go around I figured it makes sense to start with revisiting a basic topic: How to read your insurance policy.

Once you get past various legal notices, billing options and marketing messages, insurance policies have five parts: Declarations, insuring agreements, conditions, exclusions and endorsements. The smart mariner will take the time to review each of these in order, as they define the rights and responsibilities that come with the coverage you purchase.

Declarations. This is the what, where, when, by whom and for whom, price and coverage period of the policy. Check to make sure the named insureds are correct, any lenders are shown and that the right coverage lines are in place.

Insuring agreements. These explain the coverage you’ve bought in detail. An “open perils” policy covers everything except those areas covered in the exclusions (more on that below) while a “named perils” policy is for a list of specific things. Depending on the appetite of the insurer, certain additional perils can be agreed to and listed, usually by endorsement (again, more on this below).

Conditions. The insurer uses this section to outline what you must do to collaborate with them and in turn what they will do to help you get paid or to defend you in the event of a loss. This section also lays out how to file a claim. Pay close attention to the conditions, ideally before you are scrambling to file a claim, as following the ‘rules of the road’ in the policy will expedite claims handling and ordinarily lead to a smoother resolution of any call on your insurance coverage.

Exclusions. While the word itself fits certain stereotypes of insurance, this section is actually driven by logic and common sense. You can’t deliberately sink your boat or burn your warehouse and expect to get paid, and you can’t expect your Hull and P& I coverage to respond to an automobile accident. Exclusions exist to ensure your policy remains affordable, that it covers reasonable risks associated with the appropriate operations and that exposures outside the realm of insurability aren’t subject to your policy.

Endorsements. These can be used to expand or limit coverage, either at your request or at the discretion of the insurance company. Because a policy is a contract these serve as customized amendments that allow the coverage you buy provide a better fit to your unique operations. Here’s where your agent can really earn their salt and why working with agents or brokers with marine experience can make a real difference in the coverage you call on when the chips are down.

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Not All Marine Surveys are the Same

By Chris Richmond
For July 2022 WorkBoat Magazine.

Chris Richmond, AAI, CMIP

Chris Richmond, CIC, AAI, CMIP

Whether you are interested in purchasing a new vessel or have owned the same boat for years chances are at some point you will need a marine survey. Depending on the circumstances and who is requesting the document the survey you receive can vary greatly.

In terms of insurance, when purchasing a new vessel you will almost always need a survey in order to get an underwriter to provide you with coverage. And don’t try to use the seller’s pre-listing survey, because the underwriter most likely will not accept it. The surveyor is working for the party paying him or her  to perform inspection, and underwriters want that surveyor to be working for the client who is purchasing the boat. That is why a pre-purchase survey is in your best interest.

Also known as a condition and value survey, this will be more comprehensive and the surveyor will have your best interests and concerns in mind. You do not want surprises after you have purchased the boat and a condition and value survey will provide more detail on equipment, amenities and will provide a list of recommendations of areas that need to be addressed.

Generally, insurance companies will accept a survey that is within two years old. One thing that companies always ask is if the survey recommendations have been completed. Outstanding recs are not always a show stopper, however. Depending on the severity of the recs you may be able to delay addressing them for a while. If you do have some that are significant and could affect the safety of the vessel, see if the underwriter will still provide coverage but no navigation. You can then have insurance on your vessel while she is laid up and problems are being addressed.

Should you have an accident and the insurance company gets involved, then the adjustor will most likely request a damage survey. The surveyor becomes the eyes and ears for the insurance company and is  tasked with assessing the extent of damage to the vessel and attempting to determine what happened and why. This becomes very important when the adjuster decides on the payout of the claim – because the surveyor will assist in determining if the claim is covered or not.

A fit for trip survey can be requested by an underwriter to determine if a vessel is sound enough to make a voyage from one port to another. We had a client who was in the midst of a refit. The vessel needed to travel to another yard in a neighboring state to complete the job. The underwriter wanted some reassurance that the boat was capable of making the trip, hence the call for this type of survey.

The survey is one of the most important documents that an underwriter will review for your boat. If the insurance company requests and pays for the survey,  don’t expect to see the complete document. The company owns the survey and most likely will not give it to you. This can save you some money in the short run but if you want to shop your boat to other markets you will need to pay for a new survey. If you have a surveyor you like, stick with him or her. He or she will be familiar with your vessel and will be more efficient in future surveys, saving you money. And finally, have a conversation with your surveyor before they step on board your boat to make sure you are both on the same page with what you are asking them to report on because you don’t want any surprises after they are done.

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Building a Boat? You Need Hull Builder’s Risk Insurance

By Chris Richmond
Originally Submitted to WorkBoat Magazine 

Building boats can be the primary part of your business or just an occasional project. Regardless of how many or how often you do this, one thing is common: You will need a Hull Builders Risk insurance policy. And don’t think that this applies only to a new build. A vessel undergoing a major refit can be covered under this as well. The policy can be extended to cover not only the hull but also material and equipment that has not yet been installed on the vessel.

For the occasional new hull build or the major refit, your policy can be written on single hull basis. For yards in the business of building boats, there is an open builders risk policy for multiple boats.

Valuation of the hull can be calculated two ways. It can be written on the completed value of vessel, or for larger vessels it can be a monthly reporting schedule of the unfinished project which gradually increases to the completed value.

Some policies offer buyback coverage for faulty workmanship. There is a condition to conduct inspections during the build and report any findings to the your underwriter. Keep in mind that claims due to faulty design are not covered. You will want to a professional liability policy for this.

Additional coverages which can be added to the policy includes:

  • Delivery of bare hull to yard to be finished off
  • Launching of vessel
  • Sea trials of vessel
  • Delivery of completed boat to end user

Protection and Indemnity limits are added to cover liability claims due to injury on or around the vessel during the construction process as well as after the vessel has been launched and is conducting sea trials or delivery. And if you are providing crew on board after the vessel has been launched, be sure to have the policy amended to reflect this additional risk.

Whether you are building the vessel for a client of having one built for your own use, the day of launching is always a memorable occasion and one to celebrate. Be sure to do your due diligence beforehand to properly cover potential risks involved with your project to help make this day a great one.

Chris Richmond, CIC, AAI, CMIP
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Maritime Employers Liability – What It Is and Why You Need It

By Chris Richmond
For WorkBoat Magazine

Recently we were reviewing insurance coverage with a local marine contractor. Through the course of our conversation, we learned that one of their employees had been operating a crane aboard another contractor’s barge for that contractor’s project. While this happened only rarely, it did open up a big gap in their coverage. Fortunately, there was a solution: Maritime Employers Liability.

Commercial vessels will carry Protection and Indemnity. As we know, P&I provides coverage for the insured’s crew members. But this only applies to crew members who are employed by the vessel owner or operator. Your employees working on board someone else’s vessel would be covered under an MEL. The MEL follows your employees while they are on non-owned vessels. Coverage under the policy can include:

  • Jones Act
  • Death on the High Seas Act
  • General Maritime Law of the United States
  • Maintenance, Cure and Wages

One important thing to remember is that while an MEL policy will provide coverage for the benefits listed above it does not include a workers compensation policy. You will still need to keep in force coverage under either you state workers compensation policy or your USL&H. One nice thing about an MEL is that you can often have it added to your existing USL&H policy.

MEL is rated differently than typical crew members on your Protection & Indemnity policy. Those crew members are charged per crew for a fixed price, usually between $750 and $1,000 per head. MEL not only looks at how many employees you have working on non-owned vessels but also at your total number of employees as well as payroll associated with both wet and dry exposures. Payroll also needs to be broken out between USL&H, state act (workers compensation) and Jones Act.

There is much more underwriting that goes into an MEL quote as compared with crew on an owned vessel. The premium associated with the MEL policy will vary based on the payroll associated with the exposure − but be prepared to pay at least $5,000 as there is generally a minimum premium with this coverage.

When you send your employees out on a job you want to make sure that they are properly prepared and protected. Do not forget to protect yourself, as well. Without a Maritime Employers Liability policy you could be leaving yourself unprotected against a major claim.

Chris Richmond, CIC, AAI, CMIP
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Why It’s Important Not to Overlook Cargo Insurance

By Chris Richmond
Originally Submitted to WorkBoat Magazine

I met recently with a client who operates a small water taxi service. I noticed several crates in the bed of his truck and learned he was transporting them to one of our local islands. While this seemed like an innocent risk to the insured, there was one glaring problem: His policy excluded coverage for cargo.

While marine policies will have limited coverage for passengers’ personal effects, there is often an exclusion attached for cargo. This can be added by endorsement with a sublimit of coverage, with premium based on the amount of coverage. Be sure to understand the value of the cargo you are going to be transporting, because your policy will only provide the limits you have paid for. You will also have a separate deductible for cargo claims. A good practice is to have a freight contract with your customer which determines the value of the items to be shipped. This can help avoid any surprises in case of a loss.

Take a look at how the cargo has been packed. We all know things can get rough and wet on the water. You should have an established set of guidelines regarding packaging and you should reserve the right to refuse the right to ship an improperly packaged item. You can’t control the weather and you don’t want to have to pay for someone else’s poor work.

As with all insurance, the cargo endorsement will come with exclusions. Be sure to review these with your agent to make sure everyone is on the same page. Negotiations with an underwriter can often result in more favorable coverage.

Here in Maine, small cargo vessels servicing local island communities are lifeblood to those islands. Often the families operating them have been doing so for many generations. The same is true of many coastal and riverine cargo operations throughout the U.S. As the nature of your business changes and develops, so too should your approach to risk management. Talk to your agent and see if your policy needs to be updated.

Chris Richmond, CIC, AAI, CMIP