We don’t often think of Montana as a boating capital. Most tourists to the state go to visit Yellowstone or Glacier National Park. Montana abuts no oceans, and no major lakes. It is, however, home to more than 3000 named lakes and reservoirs, as well as the massive Missouri river and numerous smaller rivers and creeks. It may nevertheless surprise you to hear that Montanans enjoy 35% boating participation, far outstripping many states with ocean coastline. Montana may only possess 68,200 registered boats, but that has more to do with the population density of the state, as 38% of households own a boat. So the next time you think about Montana, let images of whitewater rafting and kayak fishing join your mental picture of wild horses and picturesque mountains.

Montana Boat Insurance

So, does Montana require boat insurance? Montana, like most other states, does not require insurance on registered vessels. You may still need to buy Montana boat insurance in certain circumstances, however.

  • Loans: If you purchase your vessel in Montana and plan to keep it there, you will need to purchase Montana boat insurance. In fact, your bank or lender will likely not approve your loan without proof of some insurance. If your lender doesn’t require boat insurance, you may not be dealing with a trustworthy lender. The bank wants to protect their investment, and they see insurance as a key aspect of that protection. The lender is out several thousand (or hundred thousand) dollars until you pay back your loan. The boat is their collateral, so that they can seize it if you fail to pay. If your boat is in an accident or sinks without insurance, that collateral disappears. Therefore, many lenders include specific language in their loan policies to call in the full remaining price of the boat if your insurance lapses. Your lender will probably appear on your insurance policy as the lien-holder. If you need to file a claim, your insurance check will then list your lender as the co-payee.
  • Marinas: Most marinas, yacht clubs, and dockyards in Montana require insurance too. Marinas, like lenders, want to shield themselves financially in the case of an accident. If you collide with another boat in the marina, the establishment doesn’t want to be drawn into any litigation. They would prefer that your respective insurance companies take care of any accident.

Small Boat Insurance

Now you obviously don’t need to worry about marina requirements if you keep your boat on a trailer or in a garage. Compared to the coastal states, Montana is home to very few marinas or yacht clubs on its rivers and lakes. Most Montanans are perfectly happy trailering their speed boats, pontoon boats, Jet Skis, or kayaks to launch ramps across the state.

So, if you don’t own a yacht, should you still consider Montana boat insurance? It’s a reasonable question. Almoste 20% of Montanans use a canoe or kayak as their primary vessel. Plenty of Montana residents have paid off their pontoon or speed boat, and keep them at home. We nevertheless highly recommend insurance for everyone. Boat insurance is still vital for many small boats.

Liability Coverage

Liability insurance on your power boat is basically necessary. Every year, open motorboats cause more boating accidents and fatalities than any other style of boat, including Jet Skis. Even if you have paid off your boat, you should still purchase property damage and personal injury liability insurance. Any boat that drives fast can drive too fast, and accidents on the water can suddenly become tragic. Liability coverage may save you thousands in damages, and it is usually affordable.

You should also buy liability insurance on any boat you lend out, no matter the style. If someone outside of your immediate family injures themselves or another person on your boat, you can absolutely be held liable, even if you were not present. In addition, speed boats, Jet Skis, and pontoon boats can be expensive. If your vessel suffers any sort of accident, you want a policy that will help you buy a new boat, or at least cover repairs. You can read more about pontoon boat insurance here, and power boat insurance here if you remain unconvinced.

Self-Propelled Boats

You should also consider Montana boat insurance, even for canoes and kayaks. Obviously, it’s difficult to paddle a kayak hard enough into another boat to cause real damage, so you may feel that liability insurance isn’t worth it. Even so, if you lend your kayak to anyone, you should absolutely buy liability insurance for the reasons we’ve outlined above. You may also find it worthwhile to insure your kayak itself to protect it from theft or vandalism. Fishing kayaks and canoes can cost $1-2k. Hull insurance, on the other hand, is often under $100. If someone steals your kayak out of your garage or off of your roof rack, you may want the help to replace it. Click Here for more information on kayak insurance.

The Stats

Montanans suffer a high percentage of the nation’s accidents, relative to their share of boats. the 68,000 registered boats in Montana represent .8% of the country’s total. However, Montana saw 3.2% of America’s boating accidents last year. That is a huge difference in percentages without an immediate explanation. Most of Montana’s accidents were collisions between recreational vessels, so one can only assume that boating traffic density played a role. Those accidents cost a hefty chunk of money too. In 2016, damages in boating accidents came to $131,000. That averages to $5,700 per accident, and many of them were significantly more than that. Having Montana boat insurance can help protect your bank account in the event of an accident.

Montana boating accident statistics

The boating fatality rate in Montana was also high, compared to the rest of the nation. Montana saw relatively few fatal accidents, but with so few registered boats, the rate of fatal accidents is high. It is worth noting that the fatality rate did drop 27% from 2015 to 2016. That is an encouraging sign, and we obviously hope that the trend continues. Less encouraging is that 20% of Montana’s 2016 boating deaths were alcohol related. Alcohol use leads to numerous accidents and fatalities every year, all across the country. If you intend to go boating, make sure you have at least one operator who doesn’t drink. It can save your life and the lives of those around you.

Now, obviously insurance can’t protect you from everything. It can’t prevent an accident. Even so, it will absorb much of your financial risk. That is why we strongly recommend insurance on every vessel. It can, at the very least, help protect your family’s finances if an accident occurs.