What do you do and does your insurance cover the damage?
It’s a day none of us want to see, you spilled oil or fuel into the water, now what? Let’s dive in.
Immediate Response to a Fuel Spill
1. Find the cause, and if possible, stop the leak as quickly as possible.
2. Notify the marina immediately, they should have an emergency procedure for fuel cleanup and have some absorbent pads and booms available.
3. If the fuel is noticeable on the water, contact the U.S. Coast Guard National Response Center at 800-424-8802.
Document and advise them of the…
- Cause of the spill
- Estimated amount spilled
- Weather / Water conditions at the location of the incident
How much am I liable for?
Now that the spill is contained, how does your insurance respond? Well, that depends. Boat and Yacht insurance policies typically cover fuel spills in one of two ways.
1. As part of your property damage liability coverage.
2. With separate liability coverage that meets the OPA 90 standards.
What is OPA 90 and how does it impact recreational boaters?
OPA 90 stands for the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. It states that vessel owners can be liable for fuel/oil spills at certain limits based on the vessel’s tonnage. Your liability can extend to the actual physical damage caused, clean-up costs, environmental loss, and income loss to impacted businesses. The liability amount is reviewed and adjusted every three years to keep up with the Consumer Price Index. The current amount went into effect on March 23rd, 2023, and was increased from $997,100 to $1,076,000.
So you are telling me that I could be held liable for up to $1,076,000 due to fuel spills? Yes!
Insurance Response to Fuel Spills
NOT ALL POLICIES ARE BUILT THE SAME. As we mentioned, boat and yacht insurance typically cover fuel spills in one of two ways. Some policies only include fuel spill coverage up your physical damage liability limit and do not cover up the full OPA 90 limit. If you have a small boat with limited fuel capacity, this coverage may be sufficient, because the amount of fuel that could be spilled is minimal. If you have a larger boat, especially if it’s moored in water at a marina, you need to have a policy that includes coverage up to the OPA 90 limits.
How often do fuel spills happen?
A quick search on Google will provide many recent occurrences of recreational boater fuel spills. One of the more notable occurrences happened early this year off the coast of Hawaii when the Nokao ran aground.
Another notable event occurred in the summer of 2022 when actor Tim Allen had a fuel spill from his vessel while in northern Michigan.
Unfortunately, these events occur. The best thing you can do is be prepared with an emergency action plan and the proper insurance coverage should a fuel spill take place. This is one of the many reasons working with an agency that specializes in marine insurance works to your benefit. If you are not sure how your current policy covers this, give us a call at (513) 653-3800 and we would be happy to review your current coverage.
As always, remember to wear your life jacket and enjoy the water!
Written by Eric Fisher
Owner and Principal Agent of Outdoor AdvINSURE, an insurance agency that specializes in recreational outdoor insurance.