Businesses rush to fill insurance gap for Florida boaters

Under the new rules, boat uniforms must prove that they and their boat charterers have valid insurance from Jan. 1 in order to obtain an annual license. Operators and their customers are required to insure at least $1 million per incident and $500,000 each when chartering the vessel.

Boating charter activists claim insurers have not embraced the changes, which could lead to skyrocketing insurance costs and a lack of capacity, ABC and others reported.

Concern is reportedly so strong that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has pledged to take an education rather than enforcement approach within six months.

Still, one insurance professional warned that rental operators still risk getting stuck if they are not insured by the January deadline.

“A lot of companies in Florida now understand that just because the FWC won’t enforce the bill, there’s still going to be a lot of repercussions because the law says they’re supposed to insure their tenants,” said Cam Serigne, founder and CEO of vQuip.

“If they don’t expand coverage or see if their carrier is willing to extend it, they’ll probably stay open for the first six months.”

Serigne urged “communication” between businesses and their agents.

“It’s an ever-changing rental insurance ecosystem and if people don’t realize it, there’s a lot of downside risk,” he said.

Closing the insurance “gap”

In the weeks since activists sounded the alarm, at least two insurance plans have joined to offer coverage, including vQuip and partner One80 intermediaries.

The duo debuted what vQuip called a “first-of-its-kind” personal charterer liability scheme last week, less than three weeks before a key January deadline. This product is available in all 50 states.

Serigne said the company started developing its charter product “about two years ago.”

“The idea was that there was a huge hole in the rental market where businesses themselves could take these large commercial insurance policies and million-dollar limits and insure themselves,” he said.

“What most renters don’t understand is, I would say in most cases, the policy doesn’t extend the coverage to the renter.”

The product originally envisioned a limit of $300,000, but Florida’s requirements led to an upward revision.

“When we look at what happened in Florida, […] We realized we had to come up with a solution, so we teamed up with [our partners] Bringing our policies to a million and providing solutions for Florida renters,” Serigne said.

“The biggest problem is that the state’s markets don’t have much time to react and we’ve been able to help.”

Improving Safety in Florida Waters

The new rules are designed to improve security and reduce rogue operators.

According to the FWC, 2,461 people were injured in boating accidents in Florida in 2021, with renters accounting for 18% of accident boats.

“Prior to this law, renters assumed a significant amount of liability through most rental contracts – and were historically excluded by commercial policies, leaving a gap in coverage,” said Bolt Chief MGA Officer Rob Bauer .

“Injury statistics show chartering is risky. The decision not to insure for any activity is a decision to keep or effectively insure yourself.”

On Tuesday, Markel and Bolt announced the launch of their charterers insurance through Bolt Agency’s Buoy.

“Florida has a vibrant boating culture and a thriving boat rental market, and it’s important to ensure both can continue to thrive while keeping boaters safe,” Ball said.

“This is a focus in Florida, and we are eager to offer Buoy in other states or markets with similar goals.”

Using Technology to Bring Products to Market

Both groups of businesses are looking to technology to secure boat livery and charterers.

One80 and vQuip have made an app for boat uniforms. When creating a new booking, the rental service will be asked to share a link with the tenant so they can fill in their details.

Buoy also uses an app that, in addition to coverage, features check-in and check-out capabilities as well as safety education and compliance.

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