From the Bridge: by Dorie Cox
From broken bones to the flu, yacht crew are subject to a variety of injuries and illnesses that require medical treatment. In a brief survey of captains and crew on the docks during this year’s Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, almost everyone had experienced a personal or crew member medical incident during his or her career.
The Triton wanted to learn more about how insurance for such events is handled. For this month’s Triton From the Bridge discussion, we gathered a group of yacht captains for lunch on board the M/V Grand Floridian at Bahia Mar Marina during the boat show.
The discussion ranged from medical airlift evacuations to a toe crushed in a hatch cover. And such incidents highlighted the need for some form of insurance. Most of the group said they want personal health, or wellness, insurance, and all want accident insurance coverage for the boat.
“Insurance provides protection for the boss,” one captain said. “That should be considered part of the equation for yacht ownership.”
Individual comments are not attributed to encourage candid discussion; attending captains are identified in the accompanying photograph.
Several in the group said they push for coverage because they are responsible to both the owner and crew.
“If we are out of the country, I tell all owners we need coverage for crew. You leave yourself open to a huge issue if there is an ICU or helicopter incident,” a captain said. “It could run into the millions.”
Most of the yachts in this group are covered by hull insurance for physical damage to the vessel. And most have protection and indemnity insurance, referred to as P&I, to cover legal liabilities – which may include accident coverage for crew. In these cases, coverage is paid for by the yacht owner or owning company. Costs can be kept down with big deductions for catastrophic issue coverage, a captain said.
That part of the conversation was an easy consensus, but we had come to the table to learn more about personal health care coverage. So the discussion turned to how these coverages are handled and who should pay.
Most of this group said they have some sort of coverage, yet each was a different situation. In several cases, the yacht owners pay for such coverage for the captain and crew.
“We all have health insurance, but it gets into a gray area,” a captain said. Their coverage is limited and not available for family members because it is specifically for mariners. Nevertheless, he thinks the coverage is important for all the crew on board.
“It’s good to have personal insurance for the crew, especially if they are foreign,” he said.
One of the captains pays for his own insurance, so if he leaves a boat he does not have to change policies. If a yacht uses the same insurance company, the captain’s policy gets added to the crew list.
“My card changes when I change boats,” the captain said. “I took the policy from the last boat under COBRA, which allows me to extend for 18 months.”
COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act) is a U.S. law that gives employees the right to pay premiums to keep a group health insurance policy they would otherwise lose when changing jobs.
One yacht owner includes personal health care with a monthly allocation, but does not handle the insurance through the boat. Crew must find and manage their own coverage.
“Some owners say here is, say, $600 a month, you go get your own insurance,” a captain said. “Then I decide my risk level.”
On one of the yachts that pays for crew coverage, an insurance company was chosen that offers an online portal for efficient addition and removal in the case of personnel changes.
“If I hire someone today, I can add them now,” a captain said.
But not all the yachts cover the captain’s and crew’s health policies. In one case, the lack of coverage may originate from the captain’s personal beliefs. “I don’t have it personally, it’s not worth it,” that captain said.
While there’s no wellness coverage on his boat, some of the crew have personal plans, he noted. But he prefers to invest in a medical savings account, a U.S. tax-deferred savings program for individuals to save for their own medical expenses. That type of plan received interest and questions from several captains at the table who had never heard of the option.
The discussion revealed a trend for more interest in insurance coverage with age.
“Most young people don’t think they need it,” a captain said. “They are invincible.”
“When you’re young, you’re bulletproof. Until you’re not,” another captain said.
As they thought back on insurance during their careers, several captains recalled not being covered, especially on fishing and diving boats. Those with military or commercial work typically had coverage included. Since many of the captains had worked without health insurance coverage in the past, they see more value in having such coverage now. And they see a trend toward more coverage for crew being included in benefits.
“All the young kids should have insurance,” a captain said. “No one should be in the United States without it. If you have one incident, you can end up with long-term effects.”
“I didn’t think I needed insurance; now that I’m older, I definitely do,” a captain said.
Sometimes crew think they have insurance, but they don’t, a captain said.
“But the captain should explain that to each crew,” another captain said.
Several captains had been penalized for not having coverage under the U.S. Affordable Care Act laws.
“I got fined one year for not having it,” one captain said.
Several captains and crew who have personal health insurance policies pay the premiums and then are reimbursed by the yacht owner.
“I use my own insurance and then show the owner my bill,” one of these captains said. When there is an incident, the captain has to pay for deductibles or payments out-of-pocket until he is reimbursed.
Whether insured or not, everyone has to pay for services rendered when away from their home country, a captain said. “If you’re in a foreign port, you need to pay up front.”
This can present challenges for captains or crew unable to pay on demand. And it can be difficult to ask an owner for money in this situation.
“I need the money now, and then tell the boss that he will be reimbursed?” a captain said. “That does not work.”
And if the payment for services is later covered by an insurance plan, the check is sent to the injured or sick person.
“Then what happens is they will reimburse the employee, not the captain or owner,” another captain said. Then the crew is supposed to pay that back, which they may or may not do, he said.
Another option for some is the health care provided in their home country, a captain said.
“Crew from the U.K. can go back there, then the U.K. covers it,” he said.
No one anticipates an industry standard or requirement for yachting to cover personal health insurance in the future, although several said such benefits would be good for everyone.
“An industry standard won’t happen – there are too many nationalities,” a captain said. Differing flag states, governing bodies, legal systems and laws make it challenging to create a single industry standard.
It just comes down to each boat’s owner and policies, a captain said. “It’s case-by-case and boss-by-boss.”
Dorie Cox is editor of The Triton. Captains who make their living running someone else’s yacht are welcome to join in the conversation. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for an invitation to our monthly From the Bridge discussion. Comments on this story are welcome below.