Vermont is the second least populous state in the union, but has a surprisingly active boating culture, given how cold it is most of the year.

Vermont boat insurance

Pictured: Vermont in mid-June.

Nevertheless, Vermont has an immensely high boating rate. Vermont may only boast 29,353 registered boats. However, roughly 45% of households participate in recreational boating each year, and 43% own their own vessels. Those are both double the national average. Part of the credit for those statistics must surely be attributed to Lake Champlain. It is the 6th largest body of water in the U.S., 189 miles long, and 89 miles wide at its widest point. Lake Champlain separates Vermont from New York on its west, and runs about 2/3 of its total length. Lake Champlain may garner most of the attention, but Vermont is home to at least 15 other sizable lakes, and numerous rivers (most of which, admittedly, drain into Lake Champlain). The rest of us might find the weather unconducive to boating, but Vermonters have no trouble heading out on the water year after year.

Vermont Boat Insurance

So, are you required to have boat insurance in Vermont? Not according to the state government. Much like the vast majority of other states, Vermont’s government does not require insurance on any watercraft. However, also like most other states, certain circumstances do require Vermont boat insurance.

  • Loans: If you use a loan to buy a vessel in Vermont, your lender will almost certainly require you to buy Vermont boat insurance. In fact, if your lender does not prescribe some level of insurance, you might want to find another lender. From the lender’s perspective, it would be foolish not to require insurance. Until your loan is paid off, your lender is several thousand dollars in the hole. The boat is their collateral on your loan to ensure that you pay. If your boat sinks or is wrecked in an accident, your lender doesn’t want to lose that money. Your insurance policy will list the lender as the lien-holder. If you need to file a claim at any point, your check will list your lender as the co-payee.
  • Marinas: Most marinas, yacht clubs, and dockyards in Vermont will require insurance. Much like lenders, marinas want to shield themselves financially from the actions of their members. If your boat damages another vessel in their waters, they want to avoid litigation. They would much rather 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. Vermont is the only landlocked New England state, and has no coastline. Lake Champlain is large enough for cruising vessels, and has connections to both the Erie Canal and the St. Lawrence Seaway.  As a result, some sizable boats venture through every year on the Great Loop. Nevertheless, very few Vermonters own large fishing vessels or yachts. The vast majority of vessels are speed boats, pontoon boats, Jet Skis, and kayaks. Some people keep their power boat at a local yacht club or marina, but most Vermont residents either dock at home, or keep their boat on a trailer.

So if that’s your situation, does Vermont boat insurance still make sense? It’s a reasonable question. 37% of Vermont households use kayaks or canoes, according to the latest survey. Kayaks have become the go-to affordable fishing platforms in much of the country (primarily the northern parts), and Vermont residents use them at about double the national rate. Kayaks’ shallow drafts allow them access to some incredible fishing locales in smaller lakes and rivers that are inaccessible to larger craft. In addition, many Vermont residents have paid off their pontoon or speed boat, and keep them at home. Many of us only launch our boats when we actually go boating. Even so, we highly recommend insurance for everyone. Boat insurance can be extremely important for small boats, even if you aren’t required to have it.

Liability Coverage

You should absolutely always have insurance for your power boat. In America every year, open motorboats are involved in more accidents and fatalities than any other boat type. Even if your vessel is paid off, you should definitely buy liability insurance for both property damage and personal injury. Any power boat is capable of going too fast, and accidents on the water can become tragedies in the space of a moment. Liability coverage is generally affordable, and it can wind up saving you thousands.

You particularly need liability insurance 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 at least consider Vermont boat insurance for canoes and kayaks. The case for liability insurance is tougher to make for kayaks, as it is hard to paddle into something hard enough to cause real damage. However, the note above about injuries on a borrowed boat still very much applies to any self-propelled boat. I have a cousin who is a walking insurance claim with both feet planted firmly on the ground. I wouldn’t lend him a water toy without liability insurance. You should also consider insuring your kayak itself to protect it from theft or vandalism. Many newer fishing canoes and kayaks can cost $1-2k, and hull insurance is likely under $100. If someone steals it off your car or out of your garage, you want to be able to replace it. Click Here for more information on kayak insurance.

The Stats

Vermont is one of the safest states in the country to boat. last year, the state reported a grand total of 4 accidents. That’s right. 4. Now, Vermont enjoys several advantages that allow it to avoid high accident rates. Generally speaking, population density is low. The fewer boats are in any given place, the less likely accidents become. Vermont’s extremely high kayaking rate is also relevant. While whitewater kayaking can be extremely dangerous, kayaking in a lake or fishing usually is not.

I should note that the accidents that did occur were not inexpensive. With $35,995 total in damages in 2016, each accident averages out to about $9,000 in damages. So before you decide to forego insurance. Consider whether you would want to pay $9k out of pocket.

Vermont boating accident statistics

Boating Fatalities

Vermont’s fatality rate was a couple points below the national average in 2016. One fatality occurred last year. The main concern is that the fatality occurred in only 4 accidents. When you consider that you have a fatality in 25% of accidents, and include damage statistics, you quickly come to the conclusion that accidents in Vermont are rare, but when they occur, they are severe.

Alcohol tends to enhance the risks in any accident. Fortunately, Vermont recorded no accidents or fatalities due to alcohol in 2016. Given that this issue is all across the country, that is quite an achievement. Nevertheless, we consider it good practice to always reiterate: if you head out in a boat, no matter what kind, designate a driver who doesn’t drink. Accidents on the water can become tragedies in moments.

We know that boat insurance can’t protect you from everything. It won’t keep you out of an accident, or keep your boat safe if you’re in one. You may decide to take your chances, given Vermont’s extremely low accident rate. No one enjoys paying for something that they hope they will never use. Nevertheless, we highly recommend insurance for all boats. It is usually inexpensive, and can save you thousands if you wind up needing it.