What you need to know before disaster strikes
By Charles V. Vanek
A fellow squadron member called me late Tuesday, 16 Aug., to tell me about a fire at the marina where I kept my boat. My daughter and I hurriedly drove to the marina. A mile from the marina, authorities were turning all traffic around to allow emergency vehicles to enter. I parked the car, and we walked through side streets to get to the marina.
When we finally arrived, I could see a tower ladder dumping a steady stream of water onto my boat, a 37-foot Silverton named Rare Eagle. I knew the boat was gone. It took the fire departments several hours to completely extinguish the fire on the boats and several more for the inspectors, detectives, fire investigators and Coast Guard to sort out all the issues.
Here’s what happened: A 45-foot boat moored two boats away caught fire, and by the time the fire department arrived, 10 boats had been engulfed and at least eight were completely destroyed.
We tried to get as much information as possible. We were told to talk to the adjuster representing the boat owner whose boat caused the fire, but when I approached him, he did not want to talk to me.
Having gotten as much information as we could, we decided to go home at 0200.
The insurance debacle
Having just lost a boat three families and 13 grandchildren had enjoyed, I got little sleep that night. In the morning, I called the insurance agency and sent them all the pictures, claim number and contacts we had collected. I called back later that day to make sure they had all the information they needed. They had forwarded the information to the insurance company and gave me an agent’s name and telephone number. When I contacted the agent, I was told an adjuster would contact me that afternoon or the following morning. After waiting until 1100 the next day, I called the agent, who said an adjuster hadn’t been assigned yet.
The following day, a Friday, the marina owner kept asking where the adjuster was. Repeated phone calls and warnings from the Coast Guard did nothing to get an adjuster on the scene. Finally, the Coast Guard called the insurance company and got the adjusters there at 1700. The adjuster said the boat was a total loss and the owner whose boat caused the accident would be responsible for the boat’s removal.
Apparently nobody believed this, not my insurance company, the marina owner or the boat owner’s insurance company. I’ve been told removing my boat was my responsibility, and I thought we had liability insurance to cover such an event.
My insurance company disagreed. Our original policy had a clause stating that the insurance would cover removal if it wasn’t covered by the causing party. That clause mysteriously disappeared. The marina owner kept asking for money to pay for the removal of the boat, but I was advised not to pay for removal until we found out who was responsible.
So now, everybody is suing everybody.
Although I cannot yet give you the outcome of this incident, I can give you advice based on my experience, which may help when purchasing insurance. I am not an expert, just the victim of a horrid experience.
- Make sure your insurance will cover the cost of replacement. If you upgrade any significant item on the boat, increase the value of the insurance to cover it.
- Include the cost of removing a useless hull from its location.
- Include coverage for a hazardous material spill (oil, gas, antifreeze, etc.).
- Include the cost to remove a hull that may be a navigational hazard.
- Include a significant amount of liability insurance if your boat is moored next to other boats.
- Keep a log of purchased items that are part of the boat, and keep the log off the boat.
- Keep a list of all personal items brought on the boat for livability, and keep the log off the boat.
- Check with your marina as to coverage for boat disposal in case of a fire or sinking.
- Get to know your insurance agent; a friend will be of greater assistance than a total stranger.
- If a fire does occur, get the names, numbers, job titles and photos of people in the area.
Cdr Charles Vanek, AP, of Moriches Bay Power Squadron/3, has been a volunteer fireman for 35 years and is a former fire chief. An avid boater, scuba diver and fisherman, he and his wife, Catherine, enjoy water-related activities with their children and grandchildren.
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