Pennsylvania is a rare state that both borders a Great Lake, and has a direct connection to the Atlantic Ocean. The Quaker State has 51 miles of shoreline on Lake Erie, and 57 miles along the Delaware River, which runs straight to the Atlantic Ocean. In addition, Pennsylvania has 490 square miles of inland waters. It is perhaps unsurprising, therefore, that Pennsylvanians enjoy their boating.

Last year, Pennsylvania registered 315,503 boats. That’s not quite in the top ten nationally, but only just. 29% of Pennsylvania households report boating recreationally, which is several points higher than the national average. Access to both the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean supports a small community of cruisers, either doing the Great Loop, or sneaking up the Delaware river to avoid Atlantic storms. Philadelphia is a major hub for rowers, as the Schuylkill River provides ample room for nearby college teams. Jet Skis are common on both the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers, and power boats and kayaks utilize the hundreds of inland lakes and rivers across the state.

Pennsylvania Boat Insurance

So, does Pennsylvania require boat insurance? Much like most other states in the U.S., Pennsylvania does not require boat insurance. However, you may still need to buy Pennsylvania boat insurance in certain circumstances.

  • Loans:If you use a loan to buy a boat, and plan to keep it in Pennsylvania, you will need to purchase Pennsylvania boat insurance. Your bank or other lender will require it. If your lender does not oblige you to get boat insurance, you should likely find another lender. The bank wants you to have insurance because it protects their investment much like it protects yours. Your lender is several thousand (or hundred thousand) dollars in the hole until you pay your loan off. Your boat is their collateral. If your boat is in an accident or sinks, your lender doesn’t want to lose that money. As a result, many lenders will include specific language in your loan policy to call in the full remaining price of the boat if you let your insurance lapse. Your bank or other lender should appear on your insurance policy as the lien-holder. Your insurance check will therefore list your lender as the co-payee if you need to file a claim.
  • Marinas: Most marinas, yacht clubs, and dockyards in Pennsylvania require insurance as well. Marinas, like lenders, want to shield themselves financially in the case of an accident. If your vessel collides with another in the marina, the establishment doesn’t want any part of it. They would much rather your respective insurance companies take care of any accident.

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. The Delaware River’s access to the Atlantic Ocean and Lake Erie make marinas and yacht clubs more plentiful than they are in, say Nebraska, but most Pennsylvania residents are perfectly content with their speed boats, pontoon boats, Jet Skis, or kayaks. You may keep your power boat at a local yacht club or marina. If so, you probably already know whether you need insurance. However, many Pennsylvania residents prefer to keep their boat on a trailer, either at home or in a garage.

So, even if you don’t need it, should you still consider Pennsylvania boat insurance? It’s a reasonable question. 15% of Pennsylvania residents primarily use a canoe or kayak. In addition, plenty of Pennsylvania residents have paid off their pontoon or speed boat, and keep them at home. Nevertheless, we highly recommend insurance for everyone. Boat insurance can still be vital for many small boats.

Liability Coverage

Liability insurance on your power boat is an absolute necessity. Open motorboats get into more accidents and cause more fatalities every year than any other boat type. Even if you’ve paid off your boat, you should at least buy property damage and personal injury liability insurance. Any boat with an engine can go too fast, and accidents on the water can be catastrophic. Liability coverage can save you thousands in damages, and it is usually affordable.

You should also buy liability insurance on any boat, of any kind, you lend out. If a person outside of your immediate family 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 suffers any sort of collision, 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 Pennsylvania boat insurance for canoes and kayaks. Now, obviously it’s difficult to paddle a kayak into something hard enough to cause real damage. You may therefore feel that liability insurance isn’t worth it. Nevertheless, if you lend your kayak out, 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, new.  Hull insurance, by contrast, is likely under $100. If someone steals your kayak out of your garage or off your car, you should be able to replace it. Click Here for more information on kayak insurance.

The Stats

Pennsylvania saw a 16% reduction in boating accidents from 2014-2016. Most other states suffered a spike in boating accidents in 2016, so it is encouraging to see that kind of reduction over a couple years. With 2.7% of the nation’s boats, Pennsylvania only saw 1.2% of its accidents. Boating accidents are usually expensive, and that trend holds true in Pennsylvania. Damages from boating accidents in 2016 added up to $204,479. That is an average of $3,700 per accident. Insurance for most of us costs a fraction of that figure, and can save you thousands more than that.

Pennsylvania boating accident statistics

Boating Fatalities and Alcohol

Pennsylvania suffered a significant spike in boating deaths in 2016. Boating fatalities rose nearly 200% from 2015, with no reasonable explanation. Pennsylvania’s fatality rate was still a couple points below the national average, but it is a discouraging trend. Any boating death is one too many. We all assume certain dangers when we head out on the water, and it is always worthwhile to remain aware of them. Alcohol greatly enhances these dangers. 12% of Pennsylvania boating accidents were alcohol-related, but nearly 50% of Pennsylvania boating fatalities were. Please designate a non-drinking operator every time you leave shore. It is one of the most important things you can do to protect yourself, your passengers, and other folks on the water.

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.