Dealing with BoatUS (part one)

I’ve yet to see a bumper sticker which reads, “I {heart} insurance companies.” Tell anyone you’re in the midst of an insurance brouhaha and you’ll get the slow head nods, the sighs, and the eye rolls. Most of us have been there, and if you haven’t, consider yourself blessed and get ready for it. It’s bound to catch up to you at some point.

On July 24, now over one month ago, my home, the sailing vessel Libby was struck not once, but three times by a thirty foot Norstar powerboat. As I wrote in the post Libby Got Hit (which you can read for more details on the accident itself) no one was hurt, neither Riley nor I were aboard at the time. The operator of the Norstar powerboat was covered by the insurance company BoatUS.

For the love of boats, a post about loving my boat, and how I feel about it.

I do not wish to tantalize or create suspense: eventually matters were settled, a check was delivered, and I got to keep my boat–which was deemed a total loss–as part of the settlement. I didn’t, as many boat owners must, have to buy the boat back in order to keep it. My Islander, as it shall be henceforth known, is mine to do with as I need.

The process, from the time of my boat’s ramming, to receiving and depositing the settlement check, took three weeks. I’m separating the tale into three parts, coinciding with the three weeks it took to get matters settled, thus shortening post length.

In this post, and the ones following it, I will not name the person who rammed my home. That seems like taking the moral high road, doesn’t it? Not naming him doesn’t mean I’ve forgiven and forgotten. The loss of my home has caused great emotional turmoil, and since I haven’t resolved my living situation as of August 26th, and winter in the Northwest is looming, the ramming incident is still forefront in my mind, a problem needing a solution.

Part One: Fun with Claims

The insurance ball began rolling on July 24th at 5 pm, when I was called by Mrs. Rammer. I couldn’t answer the phone as I was discussing the incident with the police officer I’d called out to take the report. The officer had his boat tied to mine, and since Mr. and Mrs. Rammer were aboard their Norstar, anchored at a distance behind me, I’m sure they noticed that I’d called the police.

Mrs. Rammer’s message gave me the phone number and insurance claim number. She told me that their insurance company should give me a call the next morning to get the claim started and processed. In the mean time, I got online and searched. I started threads on sailing forums seeking advice. My boat got hit–now what? And in poured advice, some great, some good, some just personal experiences. All made me feel less alone.

The following morning, July 25th, Riley and I, with my laptop and phone, stationed ourselves in a coffee shop in town, so as to have ample supply of AC power, internet connection, and caffeine. I browsed the threads I’d started the night before, and spoke with a friend who’d had two of his boats hit in the past. His advice was great: call a boatyard to get an actual estimate of the damage. Insist, he said, that the insurance company repair my boat to the condition it was in prior to the ramming. Lastly, always make sure the insurance company understands that this boat is my home. Period.

By 11 am of the day after the ramming, the insurance company had not called me. BoatUS is an East Coast company; I knew their day was winding to a close. I called them. After giving my claim number, I was told who my adjuster was and rolled into her voicemail queue. Naturally I left a message explaining that her insured, Mr. Rammer, hit my home, which now has a hole in it. Call me back.

By that afternoon, the adjuster hadn’t returned my call, so I hailed BoatUS again. I explained that my adjuster wasn’t picking up the phone, and that my boat was not a daysailer, but my house, and it had a hole in it (this is a running theme). I needed the situation addressed now. I was then forwarded onto a different adjuster, who insisted that my official adjuster, let’s call her Patti, was surely behind on phone calls but would get to me soon. Because I’m not going to tantalize you: I’ve never spoken with Patti. She never called me. Ever.

I told the adjuster, not mine, that my boat was my home, and because of BoatUS’s insured, it had a hole in it. I needed it fixed. Now. Thankfully this adjuster seemed to have a sense of humanity, and so she called an insurance surveyor, who would be out that afternoon (July 25th), to assess the boat. And, as promised, the surveyor arrived that afternoon. I dinked into shore, picked him up, and took him out to the boat. To my surprise, the surveyor didn’t pull back the patches on the boat to see the hole, he just removed one patch to take photos of the deck damage. I asked if he wanted to see the damage from the inside of the boat, but he declined. We went back to shore. Once there he explained that he’d file a report to BoatUS, and from there BoatUS would decide what to do next. He then returned to his office.

On July 26, a great guy from CSR Marine in Ballard, the boatyard which had been recommended to me by my friend, came out in the early morning to take a look to the damage to my Islander. Like everyone who’d seen it before, he was stunned. That small photo really doesn’t do it justice, and as he started measuring, tapping out the deck, and going over what needed to be fixed, bent back into shape, replaced and repaired, the sound was cha ching, cha ching, cha ching. I knew that the hole, the most conspicuous problem, wasn’t all there was to it. The Norstar had pulled up a stanchion from the deck, ripping with it the wood core, and lifting the adjacent stanchions and bow pulpit, causing extensive de-lamination. About two thirds of the port side deck was de-laminated. In addition:

  • A bulkhead was shifted in the impact and would need to be rebuilt (structural)
  • Lifelines and stanchions needed replacing
  • Bow pulpit needed to be re-bent or replaced
  • Port light, made by Lewmar (and thus expensive) needed to be replaced
  • The hole needed fiberglassing, smoothing, gel coat matching
  • Then the interior: new headliner, new brightwork

In order for all of that to take place, the boat would need to be hauled out and put on the hard for approximately two weeks. The mast and rigging would need to come down. Great. Just great. I’d have to stay in a hotel while the boat was being worked on. CSR Marine would work up an estimate and let me know.

Since there was a hole in my boat, fiberglass and wood splinters all over my v-berth, which is where I slept, I had to make camp in the main salon. I really cannot emphasize how frustrated I was. I spent many nights tossing and turning, wondering what would happen to my home. I felt displaced, like I wasn’t me.

Hotel accommodations had been mentioned by everyone except BoatUS. Backseat attorneys, neighbors, townsfolk, and people with enough brain power to add one plus one and get two, echoed the same sentiment: BoatUS should pay for my accommodations, since their insured rendered my home uninhabitable. Made sense to me. With that in mind, I contacted the surveyor about the cost of my hotel stay, both now and when the boat was being repaired, and to add it into the report he would submit to BoatUS. He replied the same evening, saying that was not his responsibility, and for me to contact an adjuster at BoatUS. Fine and dandy, so I did.

My adjuster, as we already know, never spoke with me. When I asked to speak with the adjuster who showed human qualities, she was also away for the day. Therefore I spoke with someone new, this time I was in tears of frustration. My home was hit, it had a hole in it. I wanted to sleep somewhere without a hole in it. Surely she, the person I was speaking with, when she went home from work, would go home to a place that had not been rammed three times, and therefore did not have a hole in it. My home had a hole. I told her that I needed to stay in a hotel, in a place that didn’t have a hole in it. I didn’t think I was being unreasonable.

I’ve never stayed in a hotel in all of this. BoatUS never offered to put me in a hotel, and they didn’t agree that they should put me into a hotel while the claim was being settled. BoatUS told me they were not responsible to cover the “loss of use” of my vessel. It didn’t matter how long I explained, rationally or emotionally–BoatUS said they were not responsible for my lodging while my boat had a hole in it.

So the living in a hole continued (and still does).

On Friday of that week, the end of the work week, CSR Marine let me know about the estimate they worked up, the one they’d be sending to the surveyor for the report that would go to BoatUS. When I got the call, I was told to sit down. Parts, labor, taxes, to repair the damage to my Islander would cost, on the outside, over $19,000. It wasn’t looking good.

By Courtney

Courtney Kirchoff is a published novelist, graphic designer, dog and horse lover, and lots of other (hopefully good) things. She lives in the greater Puget Sound area in Washington State with her lovable shelties, Riley and Margo.

15 comments

  1. depending what you signed off on when you “settled” with the insurance company, you may be able to recover you accomidation expenses while the boat is repaired through small claims court from either/both the vessel’s owner or boats us..suggest youname both in the suit!!

  2. additionally $19k still seems excessive..suggest you get more than one good “itemized/broken down/specific..shop around and negotiate!!

  3. Your boat is totaled and you received a check in 3 weeks, count yourself lucky, stop whining and move on… instead of running all over the net and crying about “a hole in my boat” move on and get yourself another boat or move back ashore, Most live-aboards are self sufficient and strong minded, they are doers, not talkers and complainers. Enough already…

    1. Hi Robert,
      Instead of telling me off for explaining my experience with an insurance company (for which many people have asked “What happened?”), an experience that may help others who find themselves in a similar situation, that you go up to the top of your web browser where it says “http://”, or a search engine, and find something else you’d rather read. As far as I’m aware, no one is forcing you to read my blog. There’s a lot of different topics, articles, and even silly cat videos out on the net, all of which you can peruse. Don’t tell me what to write about, don’t tell me what to do, and don’t tell me how I should feel.

      As for getting a check in three weeks being fast: heck yes it is, and all because of the things I did to make it happen. But, for your sake, to spare you of my “whining” I suggest you just wonder about it (or not!) and go read something else instead.

      Happy internet content hunting. I hope you find something you can enjoy.

      1. “As for getting a check in three weeks being fast: heck yes it is, and all because of the things I did to make it happen.”

        good for you..you are young..this is not a give but a take world..never wait or expect to have “it” come to you..if you do you might as well go back to being “daddy’s little princess”..at least that is what I tell my niece!!

  4. I may have mis-read something somewhere, and this is late to the party anyway (very sorry about your boat! Sucks to have a hole in your house. Been there.) so it probably doesn’t do any good to ask, but who is your insurer, and did you involve them at some point?

    The reason I ask is because you can only expect a massive run-around from the counter-party insurer in these cases. They don’t represent you, they represent Mr. Rammer. Unless Boat US is also your insurer, which may have been the part I missed.

    If not, bringing your insurance company into it puts some powerful guns on your side of the debate. They represent you, not Rammer, and have a lot of incentive, and a lot more capacity, to put the fire to Boat US to resolve things quickly and completely, because otherwise they (your insurer) is on the hook for the rest.

    It’s a lot easier to sleep when you have a big company in your back pocket to help fight another big company.

    Best of luck with the repair work!

    Scott

  5. I agree with Scott, you should involve your insurance company. If you are uninsured yourself I’m sorry but chalk this up to a lesson learned the hard way.

    1. This incident happened a month ago. The story is being split into three parts. Sorry, I thought that was clear at the start of the post. Because the boat is also where I live, I felt a great sense of urgency that no insurance party would act upon. I solved the matter two ways, and one was by hiring an attorney.

      Good to hear that you think this is a lesson learned the hard way, because this whole time I was thinking it was no big deal, no hassle, as easy as cutting butter with a warm knife! 😉

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