With the end of the Victoria Day (May Two-Four) long weekend and the beginning of Safe Boating Awareness Week in Ontario, now is as good a time as any to revisit boat insurance and liability in the province. Despite being around boats for a lot of my life, I recall being surprised when I first heard during law school that boat insurance was not mandatory in Ontario.
In the Spring of 2015, there was a terrible boating collision on Lake Simcoe near Keswick. I was retained to represent the injured family members. My clients were fishing while anchored when they were struck by another boat. The boat operator claimed to have never seen them because his bow blocked his field of vision. The operator was charged by the York Regional Police Marine Unit.
My client had worked in Aurora and Newmarket for many years and had a serious future loss of income claim due to the injuries suffered in the accident. Though incredibly unlucky to be involved in the accident, the family were lucky that the negligent boater had his own boat insurance policy. The policy covered the negligent boat operator in the lawsuit and this very serious case settled prior to trial.
The above result is not the norm for boating cases because so many boaters do not have insurance. Not thinking about boating insurance can cost people dearly whether they or someone in their family are injured or if they harm someone while operating their boat.
There are two important scenarios to think about:
Injuries to You or Your Family
Due to the circumstances involved in boating accidents including frequent user error, alcohol, high speeds, boating at night, and the lack of safety measures on most boats, the injuries suffered are often life-altering. It is very important that boaters have proper uninsured/underinsured boat policies. This will cover you and your family members if you are injured by a boat that does not have insurance or a boat that has very little insurance. This means that your own boat insurance steps into the shoes of the negligent and uninsured or underinsured boater. You should review the above with your insurer and make sure you ask about insurance limits and the situations where the above does and does not apply.
Ask your insurer about the Marine Liability Act and potential damages caps under it, even though you have likely never heard of this before. The insurance adjuster will likely spill their coffee and may put you on hold for a minute or two, but this is an important question when you address what policy and insurance limits are best for you and your family. They should tell you that boating lawsuits can exceed more than $1,000,000 in some instances, so keep that in mind when selecting the amount of your insurance limits. Increasing your insurance limits is usually pretty cheap.
Injuries Caused by You or Your Family
It is as simple as this: You risk your house, cottage, investments, wages, etc. if you operate a boat without insurance. Look at the above case I mentioned on Lake Simcoe. If that boater did not have his own insurance, he would have had to sell off his assets to pay the Judgment against him as well as paying for his own legal fees. It would have caused major financial hardship to his family.
Due to the fact that boat accidents usually have such severe and life-altering injuries, it is incredibly foolish to operate a boat without insurance. Call your insurer to review the options of a boat policy. Be sure not to forget to ask about the underinsured/uninsured protection measures to cover yourself in all scenarios.
Also ask your insurance adjuster about the interplay between your home and cottage insurance policies as well as any umbrella policies that may apply to boating coverage, as some very small boats may be covered but it often depends on factors like boat size and horsepower. Again, focus on underinsured/uninsured protection for your family, as these likely will not be covered under just a home or cottage policy.
Damages for boat accident cases can be substantial, particularly when assessing income loss and future care needs. If you operate your boat in an affluent cottage area, chances are the people around you would likely have high income loss claims if they were injured. Take that into account when you discuss your boat policy insurance limits with your insurance adjuster.
Understanding the interplay between a boat policy and your other insurance policies is paramount to make sure your assets are protected. It is important to have this conversation with your insurance adjuster. Revisiting these conversations every few years is important too, as your family and assets change including the values of your home or cottage.
Though boating can provide great enjoyment and recreation throughout our short summer in Ontario (it snowed this May), it is very important that you think about boat insurance at the start of every season, as you do not want to be surprised like I was during law school when I first heard that boating insurance was not mandatory in Ontario.
Carr Hatch is a Partner at Thomson, Rogers. He has represented numerous families across Ontario in boating and marine liability cases, including cases in Muskoka, Georgian Bay, and Lake Simcoe, as well as on the Intercoastal Waterway in Florida. Carr may be reached at 416-868-3208 or by EMAIL.