Our First Accident (or What happens if someone wrecks the boat?)

A few months ago one of my boat sharing partners left the following message on my cell phone. “John, can you call me back? I really need to talk to you.” I was having dinner and figured I would call him back later that night. During dinner he called again and left another message. “John, I really need you to call me back – John … It’s really bad.”

After listening to this one I was obviously motivated to call him back right away. He told me that he had been blown sideways while docking and the side of our boat had been scraped by the anchors of two other boats just across from us. He tried to describe the damage to me – which he made sound pretty bad – but I knew it couldn’t be as bad as he was suggesting so I hung up with him and planned to go out and view the damage in the next couple of days.

The next day I got a call from the marina manager who had the sheriff with him asking about some damage that had been done to other boats in the marina. Okay, now the blood pressure started going up. My partner hadn’t said there was any damage to any other boats. What was going on here? I headed out to the marina immediately.

As you can see from the pictures, it wasn’t pretty.
It actually might have been as bad as he said it was … maybe even a little bit worse. What follows is my experiences getting the boat back into the water and dealing with (1) the Marina and the other Tenants, (2) the Insurance Company, (3) the Service Guys who fixed the boat and (4) my other Partners.

As an asside, you may think this looks and sounds pretty scary when thinking about sharing your boat and you’d be right – it does and it is. All I can say is that in over 6 years of sharing my boat this is the first and only time I’ve had to deal with anything like this. Doesn’t mean it won’t happen to you but if you spend some time picking your partners and get a good contract in place, you will be able to ride these storms out and the monetary benefit to sharing your boat will far outweigh the pain of dealing with these occasional fender benders.

(1) First Things First – The Marina and other Tenants

You will need to talk with everyone involved in the accident. Your neighbors in the marina, the marina manager, the police – communicate with everyone. In many situations the marina manager and other tenants will not be immediately accessible. Be persistent. A marina is a very small community and taking some time to get everyone’s version of what happened and sooth any angry feelings is well worth whatever time you have to spend.

If the accident was indeed your partner’s fault, you should assure everyone your insurance will cover their damage and you will help in any way possible to make things right. Most insurance companies will work directly with the other injured parties and you really shouldn’t get in the middle of that transaction. You will need to get all the contact information from the other parties and let them know your insurance company will be in touch with them. You can also prepare them for the reality that they will need to get at least one (probably more) estimates on fixing the damage when your insurance company contacts them.

(2) The Insurance Company

When you call your insurance company to start the claims process, the first thing they are going to ask you is "what happened?" So, it is very important to get these details down on paper and in photographs as quickly as you can after any accident. For this accident, I met my partner out at the dock, walked through what had occurred and took pictures of everything including my boat and any other boats that had been involved as well as the area where the damage occurred.

In talking with the insurance company, I must say that the process was actually much easier and cleaner then I would have imagined. They had me generally describe what had happened as well as send off the pictures of the damage to my boat and the other two boats. The agent asked me to get a couple of estimates and that was that. The whole process only took about 15 minutes. Check out our blog on Insuring your boat in a Partnership for more information on insurance.

(3) The Service Guys or Finding someone to do the repairs.

I called the company we purchased the boat from and asked them if they could give me a quote on fixing the damage. Apparently, when you wreck a big boat in Austin, Texas, there is only one person to call – I don’t want to put his name and phone number here in the wild wild west, but you can contact me and I’ll happily give it to you.To say the man is a perfectionist is the understatement. Not only did he fix the damage that had occurred, he also could not help but fix a couple of dings and dangs that had occurred previous to the accident. The boat came out of his shop as good as when I had purchased it.

If you’re not lucky enough to live in Austin, TX, I would start with the dealer you bought your boat from and move outfrom there. Being friendly with your neighbors and marina folk will come in handy here so if your reading this without the immediacy of an accident as impetus, definitely start cultivating those relationships now, otherwise find someone who has and buy them a beer. Shopping around is important here, so take a bit of time to find the right company.

(4) Dealing with my Partners – Having a Contract is Important, Having a Relationship is Gold

If you read our previous blog about Boat Sharing Contracts, you know that having a contract in place with your partners is critical. This will insure that liability is correctly apportioned, that your boat and other assets are protected, and that your partner pays for any damage or covers your deductible (which ever is greater).

As indicated in that blog, we have a sample boat sharing contract which you can download for free that will get you started in the right direction from a legal mumbo jumbo prospective.
Having said all that, you still need to spend some time with the partner who crashed the boat – as bad as you may be feeling, I can almost gaurantee he or she is feeling worse – and you need to make sure your other partners understand what has happened, how long the boat will be out of the water and where they can send their "you’re an idiot but we love you" cards.

You can contact me directly at jdavis@nauticalmonkey.com with any questions, insights, or additions.

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