Staying afloat off foreign shores
Picture the scene: you are sipping a gin and tonic, watching the sunset aboard your yacht, which is moored in a marina on the shoreline you’ve always dreamed of visiting. Suddenly the tranquillity is shattered by a loud crunch and a violent judder.
A neighbouring boat has crashed into your vessel after its mooring lines frayed. Your holiday has been spoiled. But your problems could be about to get a lot worse if you are unfamiliar with the maritime rules and regulations of the jurisdiction that you are sailing in and if your insurance cover is inadequate.
High and dry
Boat collisions in marinas and during races are fairly common causes of legal disputes, according to Lauren Haas, a travel and holiday claims solicitor at Blake Morgan who was previously a Royal Navy officer and attended Britannia Royal Naval College. Haas highlights major sailing areas such as the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, the US and the English Channel as the collision hotspots.
What should people sailing in foreign climes be wary of? “Firstly, you may not have the infrastructure you’d normally expect in these situations, such as surveyors and repair facilities,” Haas warns. “So you need to quickly inform the insurance company and you need to check your insurance policy.”
When inspecting your policy, things to look out for include whether there are any geographical limitations on your cover – for example, you may only be covered for incidents that occur in the UK and Mediterranean, but even then you should check which parts of the Mediterranean are covered as some policies may exclude African jurisdictions.
If your boat is involved in a collision, it’s vital that you get the details of the incident down in writing otherwise you may be unable to make a claim. “You need to evidence your claim – that is, the damage to the boat and how it was damaged – get an accident report, in some jurisdictions if you don’t have an accident report, the accident is deemed not to have happened,” Haas says.
Written evidence is especially important if you have a large excess on your policy so plan to make a claim directly against the party responsible for the damage. Expert legal advice can help you prepare a claim with the correct evidence but your solicitor needs the particulars in writing. Haas also advises calling on a surveyor to assess the damage – this could cost in the region of £500 to £1,500.
On the radar
Preparation is key before setting out on a sailing trip in foreign waters, according to Haas. She advises sailors to contact the Royal Yachting Association (RYA www.rya.org.uk) to get information about the relevant regulations in the country they will be visiting.
As Haas highlights, the US does not enforce judgments made in foreign jurisdictions – this could create issues in the Caribbean, for example, where many hire boats are insured in the US. It’s also worth considering that, if you suffered a collision in the Caribbean, it would be difficult to bring the case in an English court because a UK resident would have to travel to the US for the court case. And if you own a boat and hire it out to other parties, you may be unable to recover ‘loss of use’ in the US, Haas warns.
Expert legal advice will enable you to get a clear picture of the rules and regulations in the relevant jurisdiction as well as applicable law. Remember that the same rules don’t apply everywhere. One of the most common mistakes UK sailors in foreign waters make is assuming the local regulations are the same as those in Britain, according to Haas. “People expect other jurisdictions to be like the UK,” she says. “There’s a possibility you could get the case tied to the UK jurisdiction, but those decisions about where a case will be heard are made on a case by case basis.”
Top tips for sailing overseas
- Take photographs of the damage – even mobile phone photos will assist you in making a claim
- Get the other party’s details, including their insurance – there is no database for your solicitor to look up information about the other party
- Get the details of any witnesses – witnesses, particularly independent witnesses, will strengthen any claim you make
- Check you have the cover you need – a policy may not cover all types of sailing activity – for example, racing may be excluded or it may not pay for your legal expenses
- Get an estimate for any repairs that are needed – your insurer will ask for it so have an estimate ready to ensure your claim runs smoothly
- If someone is injured, you may need to bring the claim quickly – depending on the jurisdiction, you may need to bring a claim within just a few months