Boat builder's risk insurance for small vessel?

Discussion in 'Boatbuilding' started by socalspearit, May 16, 2024.

  1. socalspearit
    Joined: Apr 2021
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    Location: Los Angeles, CA

    socalspearit Senior Member

    I'm a commercial captain building a small (19.5'), very custom vessel of my own design for use in my business--freediving/spearfishing in Southern California. She's a western red cedar strip plank hull in carbon fiber and S-glass. I'm on to final fairing, etc, and should soon be sea trialing.

    I'm wondering if anyone can recommend a company which currently provides builder's risk insurance for a small business? I'll need to trailer her to my Suzuki dealer for engine fitment and blessing, and then to my harbor for sea trialing. She's intended to have a marine survey done then and live there at my slip. I desperately want her insured on the road since we have high traffic density and lot of people who really just don't know how to drive, and my marina is pretty relaxed but I should have insurance if she's at my slip. I have done some research on builder's risk insurance for boats and am having difficulty finding a company that will still actually do it despite their advertising.


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  2. fallguy
    Joined: Dec 2016
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    Location: usa

    fallguy Senior Member

    You won’t find one.

    The boat insurance market is flooded. Finding an insurer of the vessel will require a survey and appraisal prior to launch.

    Builder’s risk is not going to happen or be affordable for a single vessel.

    I had to install engines at my site and had the boat completed and survey done prior to any transports. The marina will not allow uninsured vessels in..

    I got my home insurer to insure my vessel after 6 weeks of trying many others.
     
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  3. bajansailor
    Joined: Oct 2007
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    Location: Barbados

    bajansailor Marine Surveyor

    Oh dear, you do seem to be in a Catch 22 type of situation.
    But I agree with Fallguy, you really need to have an insurance survey carried on your new boat when she is finished, and before you move her to the marina.
    Try calling some surveyors in your vicinity, and see what they say?
     
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  4. C. Dog
    Joined: May 2022
    Posts: 247
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    Location: Coffs Harbour NSW Australia

    C. Dog Senior Member

    Gee people things have gone downhill in the industry during my long sabbatical. I would have suggested talking to a broker, but it seems a lot more complicated now. Not the news you hoped for our fish spearing colleague?
     
  5. comfisherman
    Joined: Apr 2009
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    Location: Alaska

    comfisherman Senior Member

    On the commercial side there are a few (not many) insurance brokers who do port risk/builders risk insurance. My company did a policy for me, although it was tied in with my other vessels somehow. Don't really remember what the actual mechanism was, just remember the price tag. Would wonder on a small boat if it wouldn't be prohibitively expensive, I'd need to look back a few years but it was maybe 50% more than my normal policy.
     
  6. socalspearit
    Joined: Apr 2021
    Posts: 101
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    Location: Los Angeles, CA

    socalspearit Senior Member

    Thanks, well, I guess I may install the engine and steering myself then get the Suziki dealer to bless it later. I'm not much of a wrench but I have plenty of friends who are well versed in 'regular' boat stuff like that, then I can get a dry marine survey done at my house. I did actually hear back from my commercial insurance company yesterday and they were actually excited about the boat. They've been around for a long time and are kind of boutique, doing a lot of nonstandard dive and dive boat type stuff, and I've been with them since I started my business 7 years ago. The broker said they don't do much builder's risk but have put out some inquiries and have some ideas if that doesn't work out. The boat is titled and registered with the DMV and my broker said just that would help immensely. I used to work in film and so I know it's possible to insure pretty much absolutely ANYTHING but it can cost...!

    She is a small boat but due to the construction method she's very valuable for her size, especially to me because she's so light (so fuel savings add up under commercial taxi mileage). It was a 3 year build so fully rigged I'm pinning her replacement value at about $200k. I have no idea what it would cost to commission a vessel of her specs. She's probably a little bit extra but I wanted learn/experiment with premium build techniques and in my area are some of the original Radon's are still going strong. My slip neighbor is an old commercial lobsterfisherman with a beater looking Radon that he said is like the second one ever built, still going strong in commercial service 60 years later, with a bone dry 3/4" western red cedar core.
     
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  7. socalspearit
    Joined: Apr 2021
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    Location: Los Angeles, CA

    socalspearit Senior Member

    In your experience, if I have a dry marine survey done and the boat is finished but not fully rigged (ie all electronics installed and operational, fuel system done, and engine mounted but steering hydraulics not fully operational, etc), I should be able to get some kind of insurance at least to cover trailering, shouldn't I? Ideally I'd bring her to my Suzuki dealer for the final engine stuff and technically Suzuki requires engines be installed by a licensed Suzuki mechanic for them to be properly warrantied. The shop said in practice it's fine to build it out as far as I want and they just finish it up and/or check it out and sign off on it.

    I spoke to a marine surveyer yesterday and they said for a custom build they would typically do a dry and in-water survey but both could be done at the same time at the harbor which would be a little cheaper. I am quite sure they'd have no trouble though doing a dry survey at my house before traveling her as I'm in LA County and 10 minutes from my home harbor.
     
  8. bajansailor
    Joined: Oct 2007
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    Location: Barbados

    bajansailor Marine Surveyor

    I would certainly hope so - if you were here, that would be easy to arrange. I hope that you will find the same in California.

    I can see why surveyors would want an in-water survey for a complex custom build, to make sure that the vessel floats at her designed waterline, and that her stability meets the minimum requirements.
    But I am sure that you have a pretty accurate estimate of her weight, and when you designed her I presume you would have calculated the displacement at the intended load waterline?
    I think your existing dive boat is a similar size and shape, but it is an inflatable?
    All else being equal, I would think that generally an inflatable with the same length and beam as your boat will have 'better' stability than your hull form.
    Have you done any rough calculations re your stability?
    If I was wearing your surveyor's hat I would want to go on a brief sea trial to see how she behaves, as she is very different from the 'average' 19' long planing motor boat.

    What is the maximum number of divers that you will you be taking out spear fishing? And how will they be arranged in the boat while you are underway?
    When leaving the boat I guess they would tumble backwards over the side in the usual fashion - would they come back on board over the side using a ladder, or over the stern?
    Do you go diving with your clients, or do you always stay on top with the boat while they are underwater?
     

  9. socalspearit
    Joined: Apr 2021
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    Location: Los Angeles, CA

    socalspearit Senior Member

    Yes, I weighed the bare hull at 610lbs, finished with just her 316 hardware/fittings she'll be 625lbs, and then 60hp engine, 18 gallons of gas, batteries, electronics and radar she'll likely weigh 1100lbs. She is very light for a 20' boat with all that but she is going to sit lower than I originally expected. She has a sort of rear well of about 1.5 cubic feet, 6" below her deck with big scuppers, and I now expect her to sit with her scuppers partly below waterline but not her deck. She should sit very level though in the harbor with just a smidge of drop in her rear. For this kind of vessel I'm fine with a swamping deck, it just gets more stable the lower she goes and there's no surprises if she onboards water. Underway she'll rise up and venturi forces should very quickly bail her, plus deck does have a little slope. A lot of the small RIBs now are built to partly swamp under their deck at rest for stability... for divers in wetsuits it's fine for me if the deck itself swamps a bit. It'll be cleaner of suit juice, fish guts and lobster pieces. I expect she'll rise to her chines at about 10-15kts. I built a scale model very early on, with not quite a full bow and no aft airboxes. For the model I most of her weight at her sheerline to create an absurdly high COG and she was okay like that so this'll be fine.

    Yes, my existing inflatable is much smaller but very similar in that it's very long, narrow, and low to the water with high coefficient of waterline plane. A similarly shaped inflatable would possibly have similar or slightly better stability at rest, although her COG is very, very low by design, with fuel tank and batteries under the deck and even partly below the waterline. She isn't designed for standing operation but one thing about her being so narrow is that it's easy to always maintain 3 points of contact when traversing her in a crouch. Hull should have excellent level attitude and stability when underway (much better than an inflatable of this shape). Her chines are mostly 3.5" wide along her entire length, which is quite generous given a 4' beam, so I expect she'll ski firmly on those even at low speeds, and the rear airboxes--on the same plane as her chines--will act as enormous trim tabs without the drag.

    Freedivers don't need to tumble over backwards, that's more of a scuba tanks thing. There's actually deep slots/handholds built into the gunwales on the port aft corner for boarding. If necessary I could drop a ladder into those but I expect it won't be needed--it'll be about a 13" heave and most any of my students being basically swimmers have at least that minimum fitness... In my business most client injuries happen when people are climbing in or out of the boat and small ladders are the worst for that. Either you want a very big boat with an enormous swim step platform at the waterline, or absurdly low sides so nobody can fall far. As for passengers I'm planing on small bean bags. They can be rearranged as best for weight and balance depending on the seas. Again, I need to sea trial her but I designed her for me + 3 passengers if used commercially--one person can very comfortably be fore of the console and two can ride aft... I have to do final calculations between the CAD model and build execution but below her deck she's got about 2000lbs displacement of unbilgeable air/foam and about 50lbs bilgeable, plus about 300lbs above the deckline, sealed airspace but draining to bilge. Electrical is fully sealed to above sheerline. The batteries are housed under the deck in small compartment... there's a secondary bilge pump in there but if any water at all is getting in there hatches were left open or boat is functionally sinking. With human cargo or fish she'll be awfully hard to sink even with a lot more than 4 people. Total hull displacement is roughly 5000lbs. I'm always in the water with students. My anchor systems are unorthodox, but I use a very heavy system and set/check it myself. For paying clients they're well vetted and I'm probably taking them to a spot where I have many hundreds of prior hours so I know the bottom like the back of my hand. This vessel isn't intended for chasing fish in true offshore blue water, at least with paying clients--it's designed to sprint to/from our islands and then anchor for diving.
     
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