One of the tasks we are often asked to do is to inspect vessels for insurance purposes. Several things can trigger this request from an insurer. It can be when a new policy is taken out, change of ownership, or when the vessel reaches a certain age. The insurers seem to be asking for these inspections on a more regular basis, perhaps because of the big claims associated with the Christchurch earthquakes. There is a requirement for you, the owner, to keep the vessel in a safe and seaworthy condition as part of your obligations to the insurer. If your vessel is on a swing mooring it includes making sure your mooring is inspected and in good condition as per the local bylaws. In other words, don’t put your vessel on someone else’s’ mooring without making sure it has been maintained or, if it breaks away and gets damaged, the insurer could very well decline the claim.
One thing to note – these inspections are not a full survey as would be completed if a full pre-purchase inspection by a surveyor was carried out. These inspections are a general check of the vessels’ condition and seaworthiness for its intended purpose.
On undertaking an inspection many interesting things are sometimes found. Some of these things are, to say the least, dangerous. Sometimes the owner is unaware of the problem and sometimes the owner just thinks it will be ok and nothing will happen to them.
Attached are some photos of things discovered during some inspections. Such as gas bottles stored in the bilge next to batteries, valves and fittings that are corroded (to say the least)! Gas bottle lockers that aren’t sealed and which drain into the bilge, or the gas bottle in the cabin under the stove connected by a piece of garden hose. Fire extinguishers with a tag on them that haven’t been serviced for 10 years.
The inspection is carried out with the vessel out of the water so as to be able to look at the hull underwater areas as well as the prop, shaft, rudder etc..
Prior to the inspection the owner should note the following as these items will be closely checked:
- All ball valves/gate valves should always operate freely and have handles on them. If the valves have not been checked for some time, and you suspect the valve may be seized up, DO NOT attempt to operate it when the vessel is afloat as it has been known for these fittings to break off and allow serious ingress of water. Also note whether there are any leaks or corrosion on these fittings.
- All hoses should have hose clips or flat clamps, in good condition, securing the hoses to fittings and valves etc. Please note – I will not accept fittings designed for domestic water supplies being used for sea water connections, unless they have suitable clips securing the hose to the fitting.
- The hoses should be in good condition and suitable for the purpose. (i.e. no garden hose for fuel or gas lines!! Yes – it does happen.
- The toilet set up should have anti-syphon loops, if below the waterline.
- The bilge outlets need to have a loop of hose carried up as high as possible above the level of the skin fitting outlet. If the boat goes ashore and lays over it reduces the risk of back flooding before the vessel refloats. The preferred option is to have an anti-syphon loop fitted into the outlet line as well as the hose loop described above. Non-return valves only, with no loop is not good, as they are known to get either blocked with bilge debris or stuck open and back flooding can occur.
- Batteries should be secure in boxes and, if placed anywhere near loose items, need to be covered to prevent items shorting out the terminals and possibly starting a fire. (It does happen). The batteries should be vented so that when charging takes place during normal operation there is not a build-up of gas to cause an explosion.
- Gas installation. This is a very interesting subject because increasingly there is a requirement for a gas certificate issued by a gas fitter. This includes the gas bottle locker, stove set up etc. Firstly, under the new regs, any boat with a califont inside where people are sleeping will not pass! Most boats have this set up to supply hot water. It’s easy to put it outside in a launch but not so easy in a yacht. The locker for the bottles needs to be gas tight and drained outside so, in the event of a leak, the gas cannot get into the bilge (it’s heavier than air so will automatically want to find the lowest place to settle). The lines need to be of an approved type of hose with approved clips securing them to any connections. Flexible hoses can be used provided they are not through a machinery space where there is a fire risk. A gas detector and shut off solenoid on the supply line is a preferable option that tests for gas when operating, and on system start up.
- Fire extinguishers. Many pleasure boats have extinguishers that have not been serviced for years. Often they have been selected because they were the cheapest at the time with the hope that they are never needed. When there is a fire at sea it can be a traumatic event and everything needs to operate as designed. In the event of a fire and an insurance claim it could well be asked why the extinguishers didn’t work when required to. When it’s discovered they haven’t been serviced for 10 years the insurance company could well tell you they have declined the claim because they haven’t been serviced to the NZ standard as required. The standard requires they are serviced at least annually by a competent person to meet the requirements.
- Navigation lights. There is a requirement under the collision regs for a vessel to display correct Nav lights during the hours of darkness. If you have a collision at night without the correct lights being displayed, whether it’s your fault or not, you could have to pay to repair both your vessel and the other party also. A power vessel has to display port and starboard lights as well as an all-round white light or masthead and stern lights depending on length. A yacht, while sailing displays port, starboard and stern lights as does a vessel being towed. Many yachts have a tri-light on the masthead, which is ok for sailing at night, but then only have a steaming light half way down the mast displayed when under power. This set up is NOT legal. The vessel is required to show the lights of a power vessel when the motor is being used. Under the law you can be stopped and fined for not displaying the correct lights. In simple terms if you are motoring your yacht at night and you have a mast head tri-light set you need to have a second set of lights as well so as to display the correct lights as required by the collision regs.
- Your vessel is to have adequate anchor rope/chain and a suitable anchor as not only a means to anchor when fishing, but also in the event of a breakdown, to stop the vessel drifting ashore and getting wrecked before help arrives. Also by anchoring you have not moved from your position when you called for help so making it easier for people to find you.
- The vessel is to have a suitable bilge pump set up so as to help keep the vessel afloat in the event of an ingress of water through either hitting a submerged object or a leak possible from a number of sources. The pump can be manual, electric or both. YNZ cat inspections for racing yachts only require manual bilge pumps as long as they are adequate.
- The vessel is to have a serviceable marine VHF radio as a means of communication between vessels and also to call for help in time of need.
- Other safety gear. These items are for personal safety: (a) Lifejackets. There is a legal requirement for there to be a life jacket for each person aboard the vessel. This has to be the correct size fitting for each person – i.e. child lifejackets to fit children. A note to remember with PFD’s or inflatable lifejackets – these need to be checked regularly to ensure they work when needed. They can get damaged with use and also the CO2 bottle which inflates corrodes and the gas escapes making them useless when needed. People often don’t realise this fact and see them as an item that needs no maintenance. Not true. The bottom line is, if you are not prepared to look after them, you are better off with an old school type lifejacket. (b) Flares. There should be a selection of current flares in a waterproof container to signal for assistance in case of emergency. The selection of flares will depend on how far the vessel travels from land. (c) An EPIRB is a good safety item to signal for help in time of need. The new units are what’s known as “406” EPIRBs. These are a much better unit than the old 121.5 models as they are monitored by satellite and registered to a known user (to be completed on purchase of the unit). This means that someone is contacted when the unit is activated to ensure it’s not a false alarm before a costly search is launched. The old units are no longer any use as the system is not monitored any more, so useless in the event of emergency. Please dispose of them by deactivating them before dumping them, otherwise an aircraft could be seen circling the local rubbish tip trying to work out where the signal is coming from if by some slim chance the signal is picked up by a passing aircraft. The unit has a battery which requires servicing periodically and should be tested when serviced to ensure it actuality works as it should. If you are buying a vessel with an EPIRB you need to ensure that its registered in your name and contact details. A note of caution !!! Sometimes a unit is either bought into the country by boat or is bought as a cheap deal on the Internet from overseas. Problems arise when trying to register it in NZ and, if activated, the signal is received in the country of origin with no user ID details. Not much good when you are counting on being rescued, all because it seemed a cheap deal at the time of purchase!
- Yachts and rigging. There is an increasing trend with insurers to ask how old the rigging is and when the mast was last out and inspected. In the case of a dismasting and an insurance claim the insurer will ask these questions and could decline all or part of the claim if they consider that the age of the rigging was too old. Something to bear in mind to say the least! It’s amazing how many owners, especially with cruising boats, haven’t got any idea how old the rigging is, when the last time was that anyone checked the rigging or the mast was out of the boat. Please note well – Yachts and racing. You need to discuss with the insurer about racing your boat. Don’t assume your boat is insured. Many insurers have conditions on what sort of racing you are allowed to participate without racing cover, if any at all. People tell me they just won’t tell the insurer about it in the event of an accident. I think it’s pretty safe to say that if you are participating in an organised event you are deemed to be racing. When the assessor shows up and looks at the damage they will be asking what happened. They may well look at the other vessel or vessels involved and ask why the boats concerned were so close together when the collision regs should have been observed, requiring the parties concerned to try and avoid a collision by keeping clear of each other. The net result being no insurance or only partial cover and, if you are in the wrong with no insurance, paying for the other party’s repairs also. Not a good situation to be in!