KNMC watersport magazine

Getting ready for winter? Slippery Ice!

By the time this issue appears, the winter season has already begun and the enthusiastic (motor) boat owner will (I hope in any case) have taken adequate precautions to prevent damage when the ship is not stored ashore.

However self-reliant, practical and technical the average boat owner may be, winterizing is a trade in itself and therefore this subject gets special attention in this contribution. The stories below outline a number of pitfalls you may encounter (and can avoid after reading this article)

Mr. De Wit owned a luxury sloop that he prepared himself every year for the winter. He bled the hoses, tapped the cooling systems, everything was in perfect order. He was shocked to discover in the spring that there was frost damage to the engine and that the repair had to cost more than six thousand euros. Zwartjes made a claim with his insurer, who reacted coolly: “The winter preparation must be carried out by a recognised company, failing which cover for frost damage is excluded”. De Wit could jump high and low, but he did not receive any payment.

Mr. De Hond had read his policy conditions carefully. When he offered his ship to a yard for some maintenance work at the end of the sailing season, he verbally agreed that the yard would also make the ship winter-ready. In the spring, the engine of his yacht gave only a few hoots, vomited some black smoke and gave up the ghost. A damage of many thousands of euros. “No panic,” thought De Hond, “after all, I had the boat winterized by a professional.” The insurer then asked for proof, so De Hond took out his invoice. The specific item was not indicated on it. On inquiry the yard (how surprising) categorically denied that it had been agreed that winterising the boat was part of the contract, so De Hond could not prove that a professional had made his boat winter-ready and could therefore whistle on the compensation.

Finally, the story of Mr. Van Lochem. He had done everything right before the winter: a professional company had taken care of the winter preparation and he had a neat invoice on which everything was clearly described. He had his ship, a beautiful semi-open vlet, moored outside for the winter. The ship was equipped with a tarpaulin. Again, Van Lochem went to the marina in good spirits in the spring to find that the punt was half full of water, with disastrous consequences for some of the contents and the engine. A reconstruction showed that there had been a lot of snowfall and that the tarpaulin had collapsed under the pressure of the many centimeters of snow. After the frost, the snow had turned to water and had done its devastating work. The claim to the insurer was hypothermally replicated with the statement, that it was rejected because of “insufficient care”. According to the insurer, although Van Lochem had had the ship professionally and correctly winterized, he also had a duty of care to inspect the ship in the interim, especially considering the extreme weather conditions. The undersigned was also unable to make the difference in this case. Although the insurer eventually made a partial indemnity payment, the greater part of the damage was for Mr. Van Lochem’s account.

In a judgment rendered this year, an insured tried to collect his frost damage claim through the courts from his insurer, arguing that the policy condition of excluding damage caused by freezing was worded too broadly, but the court ruled that the provision had been clearly formulated and furthermore that in principle an insurer is free to determine the limitation of the scope of the cover.

The insured also blamed the insurer for not having informed him of the risks of frost damage, or at least of the necessity to take measures, but the court ruled that an insurer does not have such a duty of care based on the insurance contract. The court considered: it is X’s own responsibility to ascertain what is necessary for this. If he lacks sufficient expertise, it is up to him to seek help or to obtain information about this. In that context the court also considered that in general an insured person has the obligation to limit his damage as much as possible.

What can we learn from these incidents?
(Nearly) 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 so that you cannot be blamed for the damage. If you have not had a professional company do the winter preparation for you, it is actually impossible to prove that you took adequate precautions.

No matter how good, handy and careful you are, have it done by a professional! Make sure you also have an invoice that shows this job was done. Not only will this help you in your claim, if the occasion arises, it will also keep the way open for holding the company concerned liable.

Finally: Don’t think you can sit back when you have had your boat winterized. Just like on the water, you have a duty of care in the winter to regularly check your ship (or have it checked) and to protect it from damage.

When it is difficult or impractical to visit your vessel in person due to (corona) circumstances, you can make a virtue of necessity by having the work and periodic inspections done by a party in the harbor.

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Frits Hommersom met groene bril

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