Sure, Virginia is for Lovers, but Virginia is also for boaters. Virginia has about 112 miles of coastline, and makes up the western shore of the the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. Norfolk, Virginia gets much of the credit for Virginia’s maritime bonafides. Norfolk is home to the largest navy base in the world. If you’re lucky, you may see an aircraft carrier glide serenely by while you’re in town. In addition the Port of Norfolk is one of the largest in the country, bringing in millions of tons of cargo each year.

It isn’t all just commerce and Navy, though.Virginia is about 7% water, with the Chesapeake Bay, the Dismal Swamp, and hundreds of rivers and lakes across the state. Fun Fact: only two of those lakes are naturally-occurring. Virginia had 233,236 registered boats in 2016. State-wide, household boating participation is around 27%. That is several points higher than the national average, and reflects the myriad boating opportunities that Virginia offers. Hunters love the Chesapeake Bay and Virginia’s rivers for fowling. Anglers fish in Virginia’s lakes and streams. Tourists and locals take pontoon or speed boats out on the water to relax or ski. And I can personally attest that cruisers from all over the world easily fall in love with Norfolk and the Dismal Swamp.

Virginia Boat Insurance

So, does Virginia require boat insurance? Nope. Virginia does not require insurance on registered vessels, much like most other states. The state government does highly recommend it, however, and you may still need to buy Virginia boat insurance in certain circumstances.

  • Loans: If you use a loan to buy a boat in Virginia and plan to keep it there, you will need to purchase Virginia boat insurance. Your lender will not approve your loan without it. If your lender allows you to go without boat insurance, you probably aren’t dealing with a very trustworthy lender. Your bank wants to protect their investment, and insurance is 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 Virginia 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. The Outer Banks may get most of the national and international attention, but most Virginia residents are perfectly happy trailering their speed boats, pontoon boats, Jet Skis, or kayaks to launch ramps across the state. Of course, you may keep your power boat at a local yacht club or marina. However, if so, you probably know whether you need insurance already.

So, if you don’t own a yacht, should you still consider Virginia boat insurance? It’s a reasonable question. 16% of Virginia residents use a canoe or kayak as their primary vessel. Plenty of Virginians have paid off their pontoon or speed boat, and keep them at home. We nevertheless highly recommend insurance for everyone. Boat insurance can still be 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. Accidents on the water can quickly turn 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 strongly consider Virginia 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, new. 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

Virginia saw a 38% spike in boating accidents from 2014 to 2016. Those accidents were expensive too. Accidents in Virginia totaled $488,747 in damages. That’s an average of nearly $6,000, and many were thousands more. Insurance for most of us costs a fraction of that figure. No one likes to pay for insurance, but the idea is that it protects you from financial hits like that, which can wipe out your savings.

Virginia boating accident statistics

Boating Fatalities and Alcohol

The fatality rate in Virginia is also concerning. In 2016, 25% of all boating accidents in Virginia were fatal. That is in contrast to the national average of about 14%. Boating fatalities jumped by over 50% from 2015. The boating fatality rate was several points higher than the national average. With only 2% of the nation’s boats, Virginia suffered 3% of America’s boating fatalities. We all take on risks when we go boating. Our enjoyment of this country’s waterways carries inherent dangers. We must remain alert and conscious every time we leave shore.

Alcohol impairs our ability to boat safely. In 2016, 80% of the Virginia boating accidents attributed to alcohol were fatal. That should give pause to anyone who thinks that there is a safe way to “drink and boat”. Please, designate a non-drinking operator any time you leave shore. It is one of the most vital things you can do to ensure your safety and the safety of those around you.

We know insurance can’t protect you from everything. It won’t keep your boat out of an accident, or keep you safe in a storm. It pains us all to spend money on something that we hope we never need to use. Boat insurance is an important protection, nevertheless. It protects you and your family financially in the event of an accident. Boat insurance is usually affordable, (far more affordable than car insurance) and it can save you thousands.