Winterizing, slippery ice!

Outsource or do-it-yourself? Whichever category you belong to: check the policy conditions for hull insurance. Some marine insurers require that you have the winterizing done by a professional company. Frost damage is assessed critically as shown below.

Mr. Van Vuuren prepared his sloop for the winter himself. In the spring he notices frost damage to the engine. His insurer reacts icily: “The winter preparation should be done by a recognized company, in the absence of which coverage for frost damage is excluded”. Van Vuuren does not receive any payment for the damage.  Mr. Hondsma had work done by the yard and agreed verbally that the yard would also winterize his ship. In the spring the engine gave up the ghost. A damage of many thousands of euros. “Don’t panic”, thinks Hondsma, “I had the boat winterized by a professional”. The invoice does not show this and the yard denies it. Hondsma can’t prove anything and can whistle for compensation. Mr. Van Nijmegen had done everything right: the winterizing was done by a professional company and he received a neatly itemized invoice of the work. His boat, a beautiful half-open vlet, was lying outside during the winter, covered with a tarpaulin. In the spring the punt turned out to be half full of water, with disastrous consequences. Snowfall caused the tarpaulin to collapse and the thaw destroyed part of the contents and the engine. The insurer coolly rejected the claim because of “insufficient care”. The insurer also believes that Van Nijmegen had a duty of care to inspect the ship in the meantime.

An insured claimed his frost damage through the courts, arguing that the policy conditions regarding the exclusion of damage caused by freezing were worded too broadly. The court found the provision clear and further that an insurer is in principle free to determine the limitation of the scope of the cover. The court also ruled that an insurer does not have to inform an insured about the risks of frost damage: it is X’s own responsibility to find out what is necessary. If he lacks the necessary expertise, it is up to him to call in help or to obtain information about this. According to the court, an insured person should limit his damage as much as possible.

Almost all insurers have an “exoneration clause” for frost damage. As an insured, you must at least be able to prove that you took adequate precautions. If you haven’t had the winter preparation done by a professional company, this proof is actually impossible. An invoice will do a lot better. Even after winterising your boat, you still have a duty of care to regularly check it (or have it checked) and to protect it from damage.


Frits Hommersom met groene bril

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