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Learn Safe Boating Rules and Requirements

Every year, the U.S. Coast Guard reports thousands of accidents and hundreds of deaths resulting from recreational boating. Four leading causes of these tragic accidents are speeding, recklessness, inattention, and operator inexperience. These four problems magnify themselves, especially when combined with other safety concerns and issues.

Utilize and Maintain Safety Equipment

Having the right safety equipment on-board and in good working order can mean the difference between life and death on the water.

  • Fire extinguishers - Boats with false floors or enclosed compartments require a Coast Guard approved fire extinguisher to be on board at all times. Be sure to keep it charged, and in a handy location.
  • Life jackets and Personal Flotation devices - Each person on board needs to have a U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket. Boats that are more than 16 feet long need to have a PFD that can be thrown to a person who has fallen overboard.
  • Boat lights - Test your lights before you leave the dock. Be sure to carry extra batteries as well.
  • Anchor - Not only do you need to have an anchor, but you also need to know how to use it. Each year improper anchoring is a cause of fatal and non-fatal accidents.
  • Emergency supplies - Keep a first aid kit on board along with maps, flares, and matches. It is wise to keep your emergency supplies in a floating pouch.

Leave the Alcoholic Beverages Onshore

  • Never operate a boat when under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The effects of alcohol can be increased by exposure to wind and sun, as well as noise and vibration.
  • Most years, about a third of all boating deaths are drug or alcohol related. Don't become a grim statistic. Stay sober and alive.

Loading and Unloading Your Boat

  • Know your boat's weight capacity and abide by it. Overloading your boat can spell trouble.
  • Practice good boat launch etiquette and safety. Load equipment into your boat before you arrive at the ramp. Ask someone to hold the bow line and to help out in boat handling at the pier. Be courteous and cooperative with other boaters upon launching and upon your return.

Use Good Judgment and Common Sense

  • Tell a close friend or family member where you are going and when you will return.
  • Read and understand local and federal boating regulations before entering the water.
  • Do not allow passengers to ride on seatbacks or on gunwales, and ask them to stay inside of protective railings.
  • Watch your speed and follow all boat traffic rules.

When it comes to boating, take steps to prevent accidents before they happen.

Until You Know It's Protected, Keep Your Boat on Dry Land

Americans love the sense of freedom and adventure that comes from boating. But boating can have a dark side, too. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, there were 4,730 boating accidents that involved 736 deaths in 2009. The price tag of these recreational boating accidents is high: about $36 million dollars per year. And these figures are probably only the tip of the iceberg since the Coast Guard believes that more than 80 percent of all boating accidents go unreported.

Given this level of risk for accidents, it would make sense that boat owners would look for a way to protect themselves, but that doesn't seem to be the case. A study conducted by Progressive Insurance revealed that nearly one third of U.S. boat owners don't own a separate watercraft policy. That's probably because boat owners assume that their craft is covered by their personal auto policy or their homeowner's policy. This is a mistake that can cost them big time.

The standard auto policy covers the boat trailer for liability with the option to add coverage for physical damage. The boat itself, however, is not covered for liability or damage.

Some homeowner's policies offer coverage for physical damage for boats, but only for smaller vessels. The typical homeowner's policy contains a special property limit of $1,500 on watercraft, which doesn't begin to equal the dollar value of most boats. In addition, the covered perils specific to the boat are also greatly restricted.

There is also liability coverage available for boats under the majority of homeowner's policies, but once again, it is only applicable to smaller watercraft. The only exception is a boat with an outboard motor. That means that any type of boat you own that is powered by an inboard or inboard-outboard motor is excluded from liability coverage under the homeowner's policy.

Because most boat owners are unaware how large a property and liability loss they expose themselves to without proper insurance, the Institutional Risk Management Institute (IRMI) has created a list of loss scenarios that demonstrate the need for specialized boat owners coverage:

  • Your cruiser collides with a speedboat whose operator fails to yield the right of way, causing extensive damage to your boat. The owner of the speedboat does not have any insurance coverage.
  • An expensive fishing boat you just purchased is stolen from your home.
  • Your 27-foot-long sailboat is damaged by a hailstorm and high winds while docked at the marina.
  • Your sport fishing boat is struck by lightning, incapacitating its electrical system.
  • Your daughter's friend is water skiing behind your boat and falls into the lake, injuring herself, due to the excessive speed of the boat.
  • You negligently cause another boat to overturn to avoid a collision.
  • Your outboard motor explodes, seriously injuring your next-door neighbor.

These scenarios illustrate the need to factor insurance costs into the equation when buying a boat. If you fail to insure your boat properly, your boat loan may become the smallest of your financial worries.

Five Tips to Keep Your Most Precious Cargo Safe on a Summer Road Trip

As the warmer summer months arrive, many families blow the dust off their suitcases and hit the road for a much-needed vacation. Of course, you should go through the normal checklist for your vehicle, such as checking your oil levels and air in your tires. But, for those traveling with babies and children, there may be some additional precautions to take before heading out on vacation.

Most parents are accustomed to the usual disturbances and distractions caused by children crying, spilling snacks, and fighting with their siblings in the backseat. Such incidents may be unavoidable, especially during lengthy road trips that test a child's ability to sit still. However, there are a few tips to help you keep your focus on the road and ensure your family safely arrives at the destination. Add the following to your pre-takeoff checklist:

  • Check all child seats in the vehicle.

    Even if you feel certain that your child's safety or booster seat has been properly installed, double check it. You might have unknowingly made a mistake during the installation or after quickly moving it from one vehicle to another. According to the National Safety Belt Coalition, incorrectly installed car seats and misuse are responsible for the serious injuries and deaths of children in car accidents everyday. You may even consider taking your vehicle to an expert that can show you the correct way to use and install a booster or child safety seat. You can find a listing of certified child passenger safety technicians in your area at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) website.
  • Invest in a child safety mirror.

    Such mirrors have become popular with parents that find themselves frequently traveling with their children. Most of these special mirrors are inexpensive. They are also easy to install; you just attach it to your rear view mirror. Now, you can occasionally see what your children are doing in the backseat without actually turning around and taking your eyes off the road. Your children will be less likely to get into mischief when they see that your mirror is essentially like having eyes in the back of your head.

    For smaller children and infants in rear-facing car seats, you can use an infant mirror that attaches to the back seat's headrest or rear window. It will be positioned so that you can see the baby when you look into your rear view mirror. Plus, your baby may be less fussy along the trip if he's preoccupied with the entertainment of his/her own reflection.
  • Get some road trip entertainment for the kids.

    Any parent knows that a bored child is typically much more likely to act up and get into trouble. This is a distraction that can be alleviated by packing your kids some new, fun activities to keep them entertained and out of trouble. Think about what your child may enjoy - books, games, puzzles, coloring books, a travel diary, movies, video games, and so forth. If your vehicle doesn't have a DVD player, you may consider purchasing a portable one.
  • Give the kids frequent breaks.

    Whether it be at a restaurant, rest stop, park, or even a local attraction, try to stop every two or three hours for a break. Pit stops may extend your overall travel time, but letting your kids burn off some energy and stretch their legs will be well worth it during long road trips.
  • Reassess your insurance needs and coverage.

    About two weeks before your travel date, assess your auto insurance policy to make sure it's congruent with your needs and offers sufficient financial protection. Most parents, especially new ones, don't think about reviewing their auto insurance plan before they head out on vacation with a child in the backseat. However, raising a child is a huge financial responsibility that could prompt an increase to property damage or liability coverage.

Keep Your Home Safe During Holiday Travel Time

Whether you're planning a Caribbean vacation getaway, or a trip to visit relatives this holiday season, keep in mind that an empty house is a tempting target for a burglar. But with a little common sense and some careful planning, you can reduce the possibility that your home will be broken into while you're gone.

  • Prepare your first line of defense - Use sturdy locks on all doors and windows and secure before you leave. Repair any broken windows or locks. Never operate under the assumption that a burglar won't find the one that's faulty.
  • Enlist the help of a trusted neighbor - Tell one neighbor your itinerary and your estimated time of arrival and return. That person should have a key to your front door to periodically check on the house, and a telephone number where you can be reached in an emergency.
  • Don't broadcast your plans - Especially in the era of social media, never post your travel plans on Facebook or Twitter. According to a recent article in the New York Times, tech-savvy thieves are taking advantage of the detailed information provided by unsuspecting social media users.
  • Never let the house appear empty from the street - Stop your newspaper delivery, and have your neighbor pick up your mail and any packages left on the front porch. Arrange for someone to mow the lawn, rake leaves and clean the yard if you'll be away for an extended period. Ask your neighbor to place garbage cans at the curb on normal pickup days and put them back after the garbage pickup. If you leave your car at home, park it where you normally would. However, be sure your neighbor moves it occasionally so that it appears the car is being driven. If you're driving your car, have your neighbor periodically park in your driveway or in front of your house.
  • Your home shouldn't seem empty on the inside either - Plug in timers to turn lights and even a television on and off at appropriate times. Turn the ringer on your telephone down. If a burglar is around, and hears a call that goes unanswered, they'll know you're away. Don't leave a message on your answering machine notifying everyone you're on vacation. Leave your blinds, shades and curtains in a normal position. Don't close them unless you would normally do so while at home.
  • Don't give thieves alternate ways to enter your home - Lock garage doors and windows. You should also secure storage sheds, attic entrances and yard gates.
  • Don't leave valuables in plain sight - Consider locking valuables in a bank safety deposit box. If you do leave valuables at home, make sure they are engraved. This simple precaution will allow stolen property to be easily identified and returned to you if recovered later.

Insure Your New Boat with Proper Coverage

Before you go out and purchase that new boat you have been dreaming about all winter, consider the importance of also purchasing the proper watercraft coverage that you will need for your new toy.

Many people mistakenly believe that their boat will be covered under either their personal auto policy (PAP) or homeowner's policy. Auto policies do not provide liability coverage or coverage for damage on boats. Homeowner's policies may cover only boats that have low value or are low-powered. So before going out and purchasing a boat, contact us to discuss the proper watercraft coverage that you will need.

Here are some considerations to make when it comes to figuring out if you will need separate watercraft coverage for your boat. These types of boats will require a separate insurance policy:

  • Any boat valued over $1,500
  • A sailboat that is over 26 feet long
  • Powerboats that have motors exceeding 25 horsepower

Insurance companies will often deny coverage for particular types of watercraft. These types of watercraft may be denied coverage:

  • Watercraft such as jet skis or wave runners, due to the high number of accidents with them.
  • Houseboats, homemade or kit boats, competition bass boats and speedboats.
  • Boats that are over 15 to 20 years of age due to a higher loss frequency (Note: It is also wise to order a marine survey or inspection of an older boat before purchasing, which can point out deficiencies in the boat that could cause you to reconsider the purchase or renegotiate the price).

Finally, when it comes to purchasing the proper watercraft coverage needed for your new boat, also consider purchasing a personal umbrella policy. This policy would be in addition to a watercraft policy and is especially beneficial if you are going to purchase a speedboat, one designed for skiing or any other type of craft that has a higher potential for loss of life or damage. Umbrella policies are relatively inexpensive and will provide additional coverage above the liability coverage found in a watercraft policy.

If you purchase a personal umbrella policy, use the same insurance company that provides your homeowner's policy or personal auto policy.

Check Coverage Before Hitting the Road in Your RV This Summer

Whether you drive 600 miles a year in your RV (recreational vehicle) or 6,000, you need to have suitable insurance protection before hitting the road. Because insurance policies tailored to the needs posed by motor homes, recreational vehicles, fifth-wheels and/or travel trailers vary from state-to-state and policy-to-policy, it is important to insure your RV with at least the basics.

Most insurance specialists agree that comprehensive coverage is, indeed, a must as it covers most direct, sudden, and accidental losses including those caused by collision, theft, vandalism, fire, smoke, landslide, windstorm, lightning and hail. You may also want coverage for RV awnings, satellite dishes, and other accessories. There are even policies that cover emergency expenses including lodging or travel expenses home if the RV is damaged or destroyed by a covered loss while more than 50 miles away from home.

Look for an insurance policy that provides adequate campsite/vacation liability, coverage for when the RV is parked, and for when you are using the RV as a temporary residence. Because it protects the RV from costly depreciation, total loss replacement coverage may also prove to be useful and is well worth the minimal added cost.. With total loss replacement coverage, the RV owner gets a new RV of similar kind and quality if the vehicle is destroyed within its first five model years. This is unlike standard automobile policies that only pay the actual cash value of the RV at the time it is destroyed. Add replacement cost coverage on personal belongings that are stolen from the RV or destroyed while in the RV and you can rest assured you will be adequately protected.

RV owners should also consider buying a special stationary policy that offers extensive comprehensive and contents coverage if the RV is used as a seasonal or permanent residence. This includes coverage for liability, medical payments to others, and property damage claims caused by an accident for which RV owners may be held liable . Your homeowners or auto insurance policies may not cover exposures related to the use of your RV as a residence - even if just seasonal.

Because such special coverage policies vary from one state to the next and some coverages aren't offered in all states, it is important to do your homework, or better yet, your "RVwork," and find a policy that suits your travel needs.

Is Your Motorcycle Properly Insured? Check Before Hitting the Open Road

It's been thirty-seven years since Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper showed a generation of Americans that a motorcycle and the open road was the highest form of freedom. And although that generation may find itself with graying temples, its members are no less in love with their bikes now than they were then.

In fact, in the past twenty years owning a motorcycle has grown in popularity. Motorcycle registrations have risen from about 3.8 million in 1994 to nearly 5.4 million in 2003. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation estimates that the average annual motorcycle mileage rose from 2,478 in 1998 to 3,050 in 2003.

It seems that the demographic group most likely to be doing the riding are the Baby Boomers. In a study conducted in the year 2000 by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Baby Boomers make up a greater portion of motorcycle riders as well as a greater proportion of the fatalities in motorcycle accidents. In 1998, when 43.7 percent of owners were over 40, older riders for the first time made up the majority of those killed in motorcycle crashes.

These sobering statistics clearly point out the need to be adequately insured. This can be tricky because of the differences in state insurance requirements. Most states do mandate liability coverage. This covers bodily injury and property damage caused to other people involved in an accident. Your motorcycle, however, is not covered. Some liability policies include Guest Passenger Liability, which covers a passenger injured on the motorcycle. State law and your insurance carrier determine if this provision is included in a liability policy.

There are other types of coverage although they are optional in most states. They include:

  • Collision - covers the book value of your motorcycle before it was damaged in a collision with another vehicle or object. Your carrier pays for the amount of damages, minus your deductible.
  • Comprehensive coverage - pays for damages caused by events such as fire, theft or vandalism. Your insurance company will pay for damages, minus your deductible, up to the book value of the motorcycle.
  • Uninsured Motorist - pays for medical treatment, lost wages and other damages if an uninsured driver hits you. If your coverage includes property damage, then your bike is also covered.
  • Underinsured Motorist - pays for the same expenses as Uninsured Motorist coverage but it only applies if the other party has lower coverage limits than you do and the damages are greater than the other party's limits.

It's important to note that most comprehensive and collision coverages will only cover the factory standard parts on your bike. If you customize it by adding any additional accessories, you will need to buy additional equipment coverage.

Ask your carrier if it offers a premium discount if you graduate from a rider-training course such as the one conducted by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. Maintaining a good driving record with no violations may also help reduce your premiums. Similar to auto insurance, the type, style, age of the motorcycle, number of miles you drive a year and where you store your bike may also affect your premium rates.

Hurricane Preparedness - Have a Plan in Place

In the United States, hurricane season officially begins June 1st and runs until November 30th each year. It is important to have a thorough storm emergency plan in place if you live in an area prone to hurricanes. It is also imperative that you know your local evacuation routes prior to the issuing of a "Hurricane Watch" or a "Hurricane Warning." Radio and television networks will keep you updated with the latest information for your area.

There are different meanings to the terms "Hurricane Watch" and "Hurricane Warning." If a "Hurricane Watch" is issued for your area, weather conditions are favorable to produce a hurricane within 36 hours. When a "Hurricane Watch" has been announced preparations that require extra time, such as securing a boat or evacuating an island, should be initiated.

A "Hurricane Warning" is a more serious notification. If a "Hurricane Warning" has been issued, sustained winds of at least 74 mph are expected within 24 hours. You should now be in the process of completing protective actions and deciding where you will be safest during the storm. If you live in an area that is prone to flooding, do not plan on riding the storm out at home.

Other Items to Consider Before a Hurricane

  • Purchase materials to board up windows.
  • Store any outdoor objects that could blow away.
  • Find a safe place for your pet. Your veterinarian or local humane society can provide you with information on preparing your pets for an emergency.
  • Stock up on supplies and prepare a survival kit for your home and car. Items to include are: a first-aid kit; canned food and bottled water, enough for at least 3 to 7 days per person; toiletries; blankets and pillows; a battery-operated radio and flashlight; some protective clothing and any special items for infants or elderly.
  • Store important documents in waterproof containers or bags.
  • Withdraw some cash. Banks and businesses can be closed for a period of time following a hurricane.
  • Fill up your car's fuel tank.

Be Safe As the Hurricane Approaches

  • It is safer to stay indoors and away from windows, as strong winds will blow items around.
  • If you live in a mobile home, seek temporary refuge in a shelter.
  • If your home is in a flood prone or low-lying area, move to higher ground or go to a shelter.
  • If a mandatory evacuation has been issued, leave immediately.

After The Hurricane

  • Exercise caution when checking for injured or trapped people.
  • Beware of flooding which is typical after a hurricane, and do not attempt to drive into floodwaters.
  • Avoid standing water. It may be electrically charged from underground or downed power lines.
  • Do not drink tap water until it has been cleared to do so.

While hurricanes are potentially dangerous and life threatening, preparedness is crucial to weathering the storm safely.