Although it might not strike the average outsider as a particularly boat-friendly state, Kentucky has a great deal of boat-friendly water. It has the two largest man-made lakes East of the Mississippi, and it has the longest distance of navigable waterways in the contiguous U.S. Despite being only 1.7% water, 3 of Kentucky’s borders are rivers. The Mississippi River runs down Kentucky’s Western border, The Ohio River runs across its North, and the Big Sandy River and the Tug Fork make up its Eastern border.

Even though Kentucky has only 3 major natural lakes, it possesses many man-made lakes that draw water from its extensive river system. All of this means that Kentucky has more miles of navigable water than any state but Alaska. Commercial shipping is therefore vital to Kentucky’s economy. Kentucky sits upon the Mississippi River, the major North-South goods thoroughfare in the United States, and the Ohio River, which transports millions of tons of goods East and West every year.

Kentucky registered 173,881 boats last year. Roughly 25% of Kentucky households participate in recreational boating, and 23% own their own vessel. The boating rate is therefore only a couple points below the national average, but Kentucky’s boat ownership rate is actually several points above it. Most Kentucky boaters use their vessel to fish, as the opportunities around the state are virtually endless. Despite it’s numerous rivers, Kentucky’s landlocked position means that it isn’t exactly a yachting capital. However, it is a paradise for speed boats, pontoon boats, fishing boats, and Kayaks.

Kentucky Boat Insurance

So, does the Kentucky state government require boat insurance? It may not surprise you, but no, it does not. Kentucky is much like most other states and does not require boat insurance on any watercraft. However, you may find that you need to buy Kentucky boat insurance anyway.

  • Loans: If you buy a vessel in Kentucky with a loan, you will need to purchase Kentucky boat insurance. Your lender will require it. In fact, if your lender doesn’t require boat insurance of some sort, you may want to find another lender. Your lender has an excellent incentive to require insurance. It protects their investment as much as it protects yours. Your lender is several thousand dollars in the hole until you pay your loan off. The boat functions as collateral to ensure that you pay. If your boat is in an accident or sinks, your lender doesn’t want to lose that money. Your lender will appear on the insurance policy as the lien-holder. Your insurance check will then list your lender as the co-payee if you need to file a claim.
  • Marinas: Most marinas, yacht clubs, and dockyards in Kentucky require insurance to dock there. Marinas, like lenders, want to shield themselves financially in the case of an accident. If your vessel damages another, the marina doesn’t want any part of it. They would vastly prefer that your respective insurance companies take care of the fallout.

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. Kentucky is landlocked and therefore has fewer marinas and yacht clubs than the states to its East. The vast majority of vessels on its extensive river system are speed boats, pontoon boats, dinghies, Jet Skis, and kayaks. You can often keep your power boat at a local yacht club or marina, but most Kentuckians either dock at home, or keep their boat on a trailer.

So, should you still consider Maine boat insurance? It’s a reasonable question. Almost 10% of Kentucky residents use a canoe or kayak. Now, that’s not a huge percentage, particularly looking at the rest of the country. However, plenty of Kentucky residents have paid off their pontoon or speed boat, and keep them at home. They face no requirement  for insurance from anyone. Even so, we highly recommend insurance without exception, as it can be incredibly important, even on small boats.

Liability Coverage

You should always have insurance on any power boat. Open motorboats are involved in more accidents and fatalities every year than any other boat type. That includes Jet Skis, which people generally perceive as more dangerous. Even if you’ve paid your boat off, you should at least buy property damage and personal injury liability insurance. Any power boat is capable of going too fast, and accidents on the water can be catastrophic. Liability coverage can wind up saving you thousands, and it is is usually affordable.

You need liability insurance especially on any boat you lend out. If someone injures themselves or another person on your boat, you can be held liable, even if you were not present. In addition, speed boats, Jet Ski’s, and pontoon boats are often expensive. If your vessel is involved in an accident, you want a policy that will help you recoup the damages. You can read more about pontoon boat insurance here, and power boat insurance here if you remain unconvinced.

Self-Propelled Boats

You should also think about Kentucky boat insurance for canoes, kayaks, and row boats. Now, we know that it is difficult to paddle a kayak into something hard enough to cause real damage, so you may feel that liability insurance isn’t worth the money. Nevertheless, if you lend your kayak out, you should absolutely still buy liability insurance for the same reasons outlined above. Furthermore, you may find it worthwhile to insure your vessel itself in order to protect it from theft or vandalism. New fishing kayaks and canoes can cost $1-2k.  Hull insurance, by contrast, is likely under $100. If someone steals it out of your garage or off your car, you want to be able to replace it. Click Here for more information on kayak insurance.

 The Stats

Kentucky suffered a 48% spike in boating accidents from 2013 to 2016. Many other states around the country saw similar increases, but few saw as large an increase as Kentucky. Even with the spike, Kentucky still had fewer boating accidents per capita than most other states, but the accidents that occurred were not cheap. In 2016 damages from boating accidents in Kentucky reached $137,065. That’s an average of about $3,000 per accident, with many costing far more.

Kentucky boating accident statistics 2016

Boating Fatalities and Alcohol

Despite the increase in accidents, Kentucky saw a massive decline in boating deaths from 2015-2016. Boating fatalities dropped more than 50% in a single year, with the result that Kentucky was ahead of the national average. Now, any boating death is one too many, but progress like Kentucky’s needs to be encouraged. Boating is inherently risky. Our enjoyment of this nation’s waterways carries a danger every time we leave shore. We therefore need to remain alert and aware any time we are at the helm.

Alcohol greatly increases the chances of severe accidents. In 2016, Accidents related to alcohol only made up 13% of all boating accidents in Kentucky. However, alcohol-related accidents claimed 25% of the boating fatalities that year. Boating is already risky, and alcohol adds an unnecessary element of danger that puts everyone on the water at risk. Please, designate a non-drinking operator any time you leave shore.

We know that insurance isn’t a cure-all. It offers protection only after the fact. It won’t keep you out of a storm, and no one likes paying for something they hope they’ll never use. Even so, it provides financial protection that we cannot recommend highly enough. No one expects to be in an accident, and having insurance can protect you and your family from the financial burden that such accidents place on boaters.