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Craziest Boat Insurance Claims


Most of the claims that pass through the BoatUS Marine Insurance claims department are pretty standard. But after insuring boats for 52 years, we’ve seen plenty that are anything but.

A sunken boat is a serious problem unto itself, but it’s compounded when it settles on a reef covered with unexploded bombs.

Full speed ahead!

This beautiful wooden sailboat (above) looks eerily peaceful on the bottom near Smugglers Cove in Kahoolawe Island, Hawaii. Trim the sheets, and Crescendo looks as though she’d glide silently away. (A) that can’t happen, and (B) that would not be a good idea. For one thing, there are gigantic unexploded bombs lying around all over the reef she struck that could blow the boat to pieces. There’s also a large hole on the other side of the boat that spilled most of the interior onto the reef. Luckily, none of the bombs were struck by debris, or the tiny cove might have become a major seaport. Because the Navy doesn’t like debris near any of its bombs, Crescendo had to be removed (verrrrry carefully). The good news is that all of the crew escaped unharmed.

Davey Jones Meets Casey Jones

A small powerboat was heading across a lake in upstate New York one night when the skipper turned the helm over to a guest and went below for a few minutes. His instruction: “Head toward the light,” referring to a lighted marker at the channel entrance. The guest climbed into the chair, grabbed the wheel, glanced around the lake and headed toward a light he assumed was marking the channel. Moments later the boat bounced off the bottom, took to the air briefly and came to an abrupt halt. The skipper stumbled up from below and both men peered over the side of the boat expecting to see a sandbar or maybe a jetty. Instead they saw the dim outline of several railroad tracks that the boat was resting on. Stunned, skipper and guest then looked up and saw the light they were heading for — on the back of a train — disappearing into the darkness.

“Neither were wearing life jackets, or apparently anything else, as the boat motored away.”

A few moments later another light suddenly appeared out of the darkness and illuminated the tracks, boat, and bewildered crew. This time the light wasn’t on the back of a train. It was on the front. The skipper gave the command for all hands to abandon ship, and the two men scrambled down the swim ladder to safety. Seconds later, amid blasting horns, screeching wheels, and splintering fiberglass, the incident passed into BoatUS Marine Insurance claims history.

Train Vs. Boat, Part Two

A man in Oregon was towing his boat to a nearby lake when he came upon a railroad crossing with no signal lights or crossing arms. He slowed slightly so the boat wouldn’t be bounced too hard. Because a building was blocking his view of the tracks, he saw the train a split second after hearing the horn blasting. Had the truck not been towing the boat, aside from a heart-stopping scare, he said he would have slammed on his brakes and stopped the truck — end of story. But, because he was less than 50 feet from the track, and towing a trailer at 25 mph, he had only a scant second or two to make a very critical decision. Accelerate across the tracks and have the boat take the hit, or slam on the brakes and have the boat push the truck into the train’s path? Needless to say, he shoved down hard on the accelerator. The train slammed into the trailer just behind the second axle, ripping it from the truck and throwing the boat off where it landed on the grass, a total loss.

Boat Vs. Truck

Usually these stories start with something like, “The truck came out of nowhere and hit my trailer. …” But one fall day on Chesapeake Bay, as the owner of a 28-foot sailboat was coming into the marina to dock, the boat suddenly stopped and the bow rose up and over the top of a sunken pickup truck, bending the rudder in the process. The owner of the truck (probably too embarrassed) never showed up to claim his vehicle, and no one ever knew how the truck got there in the first place.

If your tow vehicle isn’t capable of towing the load, you might end up like this poor guy.

Boat Vs. Truck, Part Two

This one is a little easier to comprehend, but no less interesting. A small SUV had been towing a sailboat (why is it always sailboats that hit trucks?) when the trailer began fishtailing and finally caused it to jackknife. The boat ended up on the roof.

A Man, His Dog, A Girlfriend, A Sponge Diver, The Humane Society, And A Runaway Boat

A couple “lounging” on the swim step of their 30-foot cruiser was suddenly toppled overboard, apparently by a wave. Neither were wearing life jackets, or apparently anything else, as the boat slowly motored toward the horizon while their dog watched them from the stern with a puzzled look. Neither were very good swimmers, and they passed the time by vowing to quit smoking, be kinder to people, become advocates for safer boating, and so on. Twenty-one hours later, the couple was rescued by a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter on a training mission. The boat, however, was now drifting somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico, skippered by a 3-year-old mixed breed with limited boating experience.

A 3-year-old mixed breed dog was rescued after his owners fell overboard and the boat headed out to sea without them.

The Coast Guard dispatched an airplane, boaters in the Gulf were asked to be on the lookout, and the Humane Society sent two airplanes to look for the dog. Meanwhile, back on the boat, the dog consumed two unfinished chicken dinners, and while there was water in a bowl, no one was sure how long a dog could last in the blazing sun of Florida (or Louisiana, or Cuba). Three days later, the drifting boat (now out of fuel) was found by a sponge diver. Soon, a TowBoatUS vessel was dispatched, along with food, water, and a veterinarian. Man, dog, girlfriend, and boat were eventually reunited.

Here’s what can happen when the skipper gets distracted and makes some bad decisions.

Another Runaway Boat

The skipper of a 36-foot cruiser was alone on a sunny afternoon and went aft to secure the swim platform. The boat, meanwhile, continued zipping along at cruising speed. While the skipper was fiddling with the swim ladder, he was bounced over the transom by a passing wake and somersaulted into the water. He was rescued unharmed, but the boat eventually smashed into a seawall. Here’s the scary part: Between the time the guy disappeared over the transom and the time his boat finally came to grief on the seawall, it was zooming around a large body of water without anyone at the controls.

Saved By A Sweatshirt

A man was checking the harbor depth with his dinghy and 10-hp engine when the wind picked up. Trying to turn his dinghy around in a narrow section, the boat got caught up against a seawall and the man was tossed overboard. On his way out of the boat, his hand got caught on the outboard, spun the engine’s tiller and threw it into full power.

As the man was being dragged in circles, his first thought was, “I’ve got a full tank of gas and this might not end well.” At one point, the boat bounced off the seawall, turned around, hit the man, and he was forced into the prop. The good news was that his sweatshirt became fouled in the prop, instantly killing the engine. Actually, that was the bad news, too, because he was still wearing the sweatshirt, which was now holding him almost completely underwater with just enough room to breathe as the boat rose through the short waves.

It’s hard to say whether a sweatshirt caused the problem or saved the person who was wearing it. Either way, he was uninjured. We’ll put that one in the win column.

Unable to move anything except his left arm, he reached into the boat to try to get his cellphone. Finally, he was able to reach the bag that the phone was in, and, with one hand, was able to remove it from its case and call for help, though he couldn’t get the phone up to his ear to see if anyone heard him. Fortunately, someone did.

A police officer who was having lunch only two blocks away rushed to the scene, removed his heavy equipment and jumped into the water. The cop gingerly cut the sweatshirt that was wrapped around the man’s neck and pulled him to safety. The cold water had given him hypothermia, but miraculously, he was otherwise uninjured.

Alfred Hitchcock Nightmare

One fall day, a man went out to investigate a noise in his backyard. What he found were about 50 vultures, many of which were perched on top of his 22-foot center-console. The man grabbed a boathook and started swinging. After the vultures finally left (grudgingly, he said) he surveyed the damage. In a matter of minutes, they had torn holes in the canvas and windshield, ripped out the windshield wipers, and pecked dozens of holes and removed stuffing from the cushions. The birds also splattered giant you-know-what all over the decks.

Port Is Starboard

An insured explained that he’d just installed a steering cable on his boat. It wasn’t easy, he said, hanging the engine from the boat, then lying upside down to feed the cable under the floorboards, loosening the steering mechanism, and feeding the cable through the box behind the console and back to the engine. But he did it and finally launched his boat. As he pushed away from the dock, he discovered, too late, that he’d fed the cable through the box in the opposite direction, which meant that when he turned the wheel to right, the boat turned to the left and when he turned the wheel to the left, the boat turned to the right. Trying to steer the boat backward through a crowded harbor with the steering reversed was not easy, he said, which probably explains why he ran into a pretty little sailboat, engine first.

Not-So-Clever Thieves

A group of several small-time crooks executed what they thought was a pretty slick crime. The place was a public storage warehouse in Washington, full of motor homes, boats, and ATVs. One of the crooks — the “brains,” maybe — talked a friend into renting a small storage unit in the warehouse for him with the understanding that the crook would pay the rental fees.

If you’re planning to steal a boat, remember to look for video cameras.

Chuckling with cleverness and armed with the passcode for the gate, he and a couple of his associates entered the compound late one night and proceeded to strip nearly everything in sight, including a boat insured by BoatUS After loading up a van and a car full of expensive gear like VHF radios, radar sets, fishing gear, and outboard motors, the group left through the gate and headed for their hideout. In just two hours they had stolen more than $20,000 worth of goodies.

As they were leaving the storage unit, they’d neglected to notice the video surveillance cameras located at the gate. They probably never knew that every time the gate was accessed, the renter’s access code was recorded and the cameras clicked. After the storage warehouse manager notified our insured and the police of the theft, the cops reviewed the tapes. After confirming the identity of the thieves with the original renter, a deputy was sent to locate the mastermind. He arrested four people on counts of burglary, theft, and forgery, then rounded up all the loot, some of which was being enjoyed by the thieves.

Thinking they’d broken up a local warehouse crime ring, the police were surprised to learn that the group was also responsible for a number of car thefts in the area. The evidence? A video showing the happy crooks stripping a Corvette they had stolen with a stolen tow truck all on … a stolen video camera.

A Bilge Full Of ‘Oatmeal’

After being gone for a weekend, a boater returned to his 45-foot boat and immediately noticed a soggy carpet in front of the galley sink. The culprit: A leaky faucet fixture that drained the 105-gallon water tank into the bilge. The owner said normally he’d just drain the bilge and wet-vac the carpet before repairing the faucet. But then he remembered that he stored 80 Presto logs in the bilge that he used in his wood-burning stove for chilly nights aboard.

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As he lifted the floorboard he saw that the logs had swelled massively and disintegrated into Presto log oatmeal, completely filling the bilge. The cleanup involved scooping up the mess into large tubs, putting the tubs into a dock cart, and transporting them to a shoreside dumpster. Cleaning the boat required seven tubs filled up four times each.

Winterizing The Wrong Way

A man in Minnesota was planning to spend the weekend hunting. As he was heading out the door with his buddies, his wife asked when he was going to winterize his boat. The man put his arm around her and said, “Honey, I think of it as our boat. Would you do it?” So she drove to the boat, poured kerosene in the bilge, and tossed in a match.

Beware of provoking a spouse when it comes to boat maintenance ­duties. This could be the result.

Two points: The wife’s winterizing “shortcut” created more problems than it solved (insurance didn’t cover the damage), and (shocker) the couple is no longer married.

Charles Fort

Contributing Editor, BoatUS Magazine