Here in Minnesota lake country, many of us who live on water make a sizable investment in our boat lifts and docks, and of course we want to make sure that they are insured.
First, the good news: Your dock or boat lift which is on your residence premises would be covered by a standard Homeowners policy, either as a structure or as personal property, subject to the policy deductible. However, there are several important caveats; so keep reading.
First, your dock or lift is not going to be covered if damaged by waves. While Homeowners policies cover wind damage, they don’t cover damage caused by water, even if the water is being driven by the wind. So if wind-driven waves knock loose your dock or lift from its moorings, expect to be on your own for the cost of the damage. However, if the force of wind directly causes damage to the dock or lift, that loss should be covered.
Secondly, your dock or lift is also not covered against damage caused by ice. If you leave your dock in the water over the winter and moving ice shelves destroy it during spring thaw, your Homeowners carrier is likely to deny that claim. Or if you leave in your boat lift and the pressure from freezing or thawing of the ice around it causes damage, again, this is most likely not covered.
Beyond these two troublesome exclusions, there are many situations where coverage could hinge on whether your dock or lift is considered a structure or personal property. This can matter because policy coverage provisions for structures and personal property are often quite different. If your dock or lift is permanently set in place and attached to its location, it is almost certainly a structure. However, most Minnesota lake dwellers pull their docks and lifts out of the water in the fall to protect them from ice damage. Is a movable structure still a structure? The answer to this question may depend on which insurance company you ask. (This means you probably do need to ask.)
If your movable dock or boat lift is not considered a structure, then it would be considered personal property and typically covered against loss caused by one of the perils named in the policy. This gives you coverage if it is directly damaged by wind during a storm. It also covers fire, vandalism and falling objects, among other perils. The other good news is that, as personal property, your dock or lift is covered anywhere in the world, even if it’s not located where you live. Finally, as long as your Homeowners policy covers personal property on a Replacement Cost basis, then your dock or lift will be covered for its cost to replace or repair, without a deduction for depreciation (when actually replaced or repaired).
Things can get a bit more complicated if your dock or lift is considered a structure. First of all, most Homeowners policies only cover structures located on your “residence premises”. So if you own a dock or lift located at a resort or on a vacant lake lot and it’s considered a structure, then you are going to need to add special coverage for it. (Many insurance companies offer an option to add coverage for structures located elsewhere; however, if your carrier doesn’t make this option available, it could be more difficult to get it insured.)
Another problem could be that it may not be clear whether your dock or lift is on the “residence premises” or not. Perhaps you have a camper setup at a resort which you insure as a seasonal residence. If your policy includes coverage for Other Structures, will it cover your boat lift located elsewhere in the resort? Or what if you have a dock where you live but your legal boundary stops just short of where it sits?
Standard (ISO) Homeowners policies define your “residence premises” as including the structures and grounds at the location of your insured home. In the case of a dock at the edge of your land but just beyond your property’s legal boundaries, my opinion would be that it’s at the same location of your home and therefore should be covered. However, not everyone agrees with my opinion, leaving some doubt. In the case of the boat lift located across the resort from the lot you occupy, there may still be an argument to be made in favor of coverage, but coverage seems even less certain. Also, be careful here, as some non-standard policies might define “residence premises” even more narrowly.
Just like personal property, a boat lift or dock considered a structure will be covered against direct damage from wind, fire, vandalism, falling objects and more. Unfortunately, if considered a structure, it is probably not going to be covered on a Replacement Cost basis. Standard policies cover “structures which are not buildings” on an Actual Cash Value basis, meaning a deduction will apply for depreciation, based on the age and condition.
It would certainly be nice if coverage for boat lifts and docks wasn’t so complicated. But given the issues that I’ve raised, I recommend contacting your agent to explain your situation (including exactly where your dock or lift is located, whether it is movable, etc.) and to discuss how and whether coverage applies under your policy. If you don’t have a knowledgeable personal agent to call, maybe it’s time to call me!
Ken Cobb is owner of Pine Country Insurance and has been active in the insurance industry for over 15 years. Meet Ken.
Coverage descriptions found in this blog are summaries provided for general educational purposes and cannot fully detail the terms, conditions, limitations or exclusions of a specific insurance policy. Please read your policy carefully.