Every year I make sure my boat is well prepared for the winter. I completely winterize the ship to protect it from the elements. Last winter I was shocked to discover that the engine had suffered frost damage after all. This meant over € 6,000 in repair costs. My insurer has since reported that they will not reimburse this amount. Is that right?”
Water sports lawyer Frits Hommersom: “The claim with the insurer was rejected with a reference to the policy conditions which state: ‘winterisation should be carried out by a recognised professional company, failing which cover for frost damage is excluded’. So yes: the insurance company with whom Mrs. Huizinga’s boat is registered, is within its rights and does not have to compensate the frost damage to the engine.
Unfortunately, Mrs. Huizinga is not the only one who is or may be faced with an unpleasant surprise like this. Therefore, below I will give some examples where cover for frost damage was denied and tips on how to avoid such disappointments in the future. For example, Mr. Lenstra had presented his sailing vessel to a yard for some maintenance work at the end of the sailing season. He verbally agreed that the yard would also make his ship winter-ready. In the spring, the engine gave only a few hoots, emitted some black smoke and then gave up the ghost. It meant a loss of many thousands of euros. Don’t panic, thought Lenstra, I have read my policy conditions carefully and had the boat winterized by a professional. The insurer then asked for proof, so Lenstra took out his invoice. The specific item ‘winterizing’ was not included in the official invoice. On inquiry the yard categorically denied that winterisation had been agreed. Therefore Mr Lenstra could not prove that he had had his ship winterized by a professional and, with regard to his claim, he was left with a cold comfort.
Pack of snow.
Another example: Mr. De Vries had done everything right before the winter: a professional company had taken care of the winter preparation and he also had a neat invoice on which this was described. He had the ship, a beautiful semi-open vlet, moored outside for the winter. The ship was also neatly covered with a tarpaulin. In the spring De Vries went to the marina in good spirits only to find that his beautiful punt was full of water and that this had disastrous consequences for part 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. After the frost the snow had turned into 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 De Vries 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 of that winter. Although the insurer eventually compensated part of the damage out of courtesy, Mr. De Vries himself still had to pay the largest part.
What can we learn from these incidents?
(Nearly) all insurers have an ‘exoneration clause’ for frost damage if the winter preparation has not been done by a professional. No matter how good, handy and careful you are, always have this done by a professional. In addition, make sure you receive an invoice that shows that this was actually done. Not only will this help you with your claim with the company where you have insured your boat, but it also keeps the road open to hold the company liable that turns out not to have done the work properly. In addition, don’t think you can sit back when you’ve had your ship winterized. Just like in summer on the water, a duty of care applies in winter as well to protect your ship from damage.”
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