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Recreational boaters scramble to meet new insurance requirement

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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – The state wants boaters to follow a rule on insurance coverage, but many boaters say the rule is impossible to follow.

Boaters are required to have insurance to moor a boat at any state harbor. But boat owners are now in an uproar over the requirement to get $100,000 in insurance coverage to salvage their vessel if it runs aground, even if the boat is worth less than that.

Many recreational boaters found out just a month ago, when the state Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation sent a letter saying their mooring permits woudln’t be renewed unless they got the coverage specifically for salvage and removal of a grounded vessel.

“It was a surprise to all the boaters, and there’s some barriers to us actually accomplishing what they’re asking us to do,” said boat owner Kate Thompson.

Thompson said her insurer denied her that coverage because her boat isn’t worth $100,000.

Many others are facing the same thing.

“Our boat’s only worth $20,000, so right now the way they’re wanting it is that every boat in the harbor is going to be worth over a hundred thousand dollars, which is not fair for a lot of the boaters,” said boater Jenny Guzik.

DOBOR said the requirement actually took effect in 2019, and last month’s letter was a reminder, because the division has been getting stuck with the bills for underinsured boats.

“Recently, with all the rash of groundings, the vast majority of times the insurance company said they would not cover it,” DOBOR Administrator Ed Underwood said.

Underwood said insurance did cover the West Maui salvage of the luxury yacht Na Koa, along with the removal of a former Navy boat from a Kihei beach. But the owners of smaller vessels, like M.K. Miller, aren’t sure what to do.

“I ream about getting here, worked hard to get here. And now that I’m here I’m trying to follow the rules, and I don’t know what the rules are,” Miller said.

“I talked to mainland companies, and they kind of laughed in my face and told me a lot of the insurance companies right now want to pull out of Hawaii,” said Guzik.

Underwood said the DLNR is now working with insurance companies to find a solution, and lawmakers might need to rewrite the statute to make it work for everyone involved.

“We’re not trying to price anybody out or drive up insurance costs,” he said. “We just want to make sure that if a person’s boat goes aground, that they have the resources to remove it.”

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