With 5.5 million recreational boaters, California is home to a large percentage of America’s boating population. And no wonder. California has 840 miles of ocean coastline, thousands of square miles of inland lakes and rivers, and a temperate climate for year-round boating. As locals will attest, California also hosts millions of tourists each year, many of whom come to enjoy the State’s waterways. Whether you’re taking a sailboat out to explore the Channel Islands, or taking a Jet Ski out on Lake Tahoe, your boating opportunities in California are limitless.

California Boat Insurance

So, Are you required to purchase boat insurance in California? It may surprise you, but much like 47 other states, California does not require boat insurance for recreational vessels. The California state government does highly recommend insurance, however. We certainly recommend it too, as Californians suffer more boating accidents per year than any other state except Florida. You may find that you don’t have a choice. Certain establishments tend to require proof of insurance:

  1. Loans: If you purchase a boat in California with a loan, your lender will probably require California boat insurance. In fact, if your lender doesn’t require some proof of insurance, you probably shouldn’t trust that lender. Your lender has a very good reason to require insurance for your boat. They are several thousand (or hundred thousand) dollars in the red until your loan is paid off. If your boat sinks or gets into an accident, they don’t want to lose that money. Your policy will usually list the bank or other lender as the lien-holder. If an accident occurs, your insurance check will then list the lender as the co-payee.
  2. Marinas: Most marinas, yacht clubs, and dockyards throughout California require insurance to dock. Much like lenders, marinas’ reasons are entirely practical. If your boat damages some other boat on their property, they want you to be able to cover it financially. You may be able to get away with a short term mooring without notice. However, a stay of any length will almost certainly prompt interest in your boat’s insurance status.

Small Boat Insurance

Obviously you don’t need to worry about marina requirements if you keep your boat on a trailer or in a garage. If that’s the case, does California boat insurance still make sense for you? It’s a reasonable question. Nearly 11% of Californians use kayaks or canoes. Kayaks are becoming the go-to affordable fishing platforms in much of the U.S., including California. In addition, plenty of people have paid off their pontoon or speed boat, and simply launch them when they go boating. Even in such instances, we highly recommend insurance for everyone. You can read more about pontoon boat insurance here. There are excellent reasons to buy insurance for small boats, even if you don’t strictly need to.

Liability Coverage

The case is easy to make for speed boats. Even if you aren’t worried about your vessel, you absolutely want liability insurance for both property damage and personal liability. Anything that goes fast can go too fast, and accidents on the water can be ruinous. You can generally find liability coverage at an affordable rate, and it can save you thousands. That is especially important for any boat you lend out. If someone injures themselves on your vessel, you can be held liable, even if you were not present. 1/5 of the accidents in California last year involved borrowed boats. In addition, speed boats, Jet Ski’s, and pontoon boats can get expensive very quickly. If your vessel is damaged or sinks, you want a policy to help you recoup the damages.

Self-Propelled Boats

The argument for insurance is strong, even for canoes and kayaks. If you and your family are the only operators, you likely don’t need liability insurance, as you’re unlikely to hit anything hard enough to cause damage. You may still want to insure your kayak itself, however, to protect it from theft or vandalism. Many fishing canoes and kayaks can cost $1-2k. If someone steals it off your car or out of your garage, you want to be able to replace it. For more information on kayak insurance, Click Here

The Stats

Although down from a high of 804 accidents in 2007, California still suffered more boating accidents last year than every single state except Florida. In 2016, their 386 federally reported accidents led to $4.4 million in damages. That’s just over $11,000 per accident, many times what boat insurance costs for most of us. Of course, many of the costs of boating accidents are not measurable in dollars. California also had more boating deaths last year than 47 other states. 40% of those accidents were alcohol-related. It is imperative when you head out on the water that you designate a driver who doesn’t drink.

California Accident Statistics 2016

In addition, you need to protect yourself with insurance. Many of California’s most popular waterways are incredibly busy. The bays and harbors around the major cities see boat traffic from commercial vessels, charters, boat rentals, and recreational boaters. It is far too easy to find yourself in an accident in a busy seaway when people on the water have been drinking. Those are statistics that you don’t want to be a part of.