Cover Your Back

A Guide to Insurance for Paddlers

First Published in Canoe Kayak UK magazine, September 2002

Spend money, feel good. Spending your hard-earned wages on a piece of shiny new paddling gear is one of the less trumpeted pleasures of our sport. As a retail therapy addict, you won't be sated until you've also blown next month's paycheque in advance on petrol and accommodation for paddling trips or - for the true connoisseur of debt - a plane ticket to someplace with warmer water. But, nobody gets a thrill from shelling out for insurancewould it surprise you that the population of the UK each spend an average of 900 a year on this? This year you will have surrendered a hefty amount to keep your car covered, and you may also have your house and furniture insured. How about those objects nearest and dearest to you? Are they covered? We are talking of course, about your paddling kit and you yourself whilst using it

Personal Liability Insurance ('Third Party')

The BCU River Advisors for England's finest whitewater river have recently been forced to accept a major change in the Access agreement; henceforth only BCU members are able to enjoy the river. The reasons for this? The Riparian owners of the land around the river are concerned about being held responsible for any mishaps which may occur on their land. BCU members have personal liability insurance and hence provide the landowners with indemnity. Whatever your feelings about this (will dog walkers on the Dart have to get insurance?), it is a fair reflection of the times we live in.

Ours can be a risk sport and in a growing culture of litigation, our unwelcome new buzzword is, 'liability'. Manufacturers and managers have had to cover themselves for the possibility of you suing them. Buoyancy aids have disclaimers sewn onto them. Paddlers have to sign disclaimers before getting onto artificial whitewater courses. Likewise, it is now essential that the individual paddler gets insurance cover against being sued. You don't intend to cause injury by colliding with a fellow paddler on a future sea trip. You aren't be planning to cause a barge to swerve into the bank on the canal, nor will you set out to leave a gate open and set sheep loose during your next river portage. But all these things are possible; as is, you being held personally liable.

This is a worrying trend, but the good news is that personal liability insurance is relatively easy and cheap to obtain. The British Canoe Union, Welsh Canoe Association and Scottish Canoe Association all offer liability insurance as a benefit of full membership. This is provided by Perkins Slade, providing worldwide indemnity to a maximum of five million pounds. Crucially, this also covers Coaches and coaching activity, even if you are receiving payment from your students. The only exemption is for a named coaching business. Reason alone for membership of your sport's governing body?

Equipment Insurance

Statistics indicate that an average keen paddler will spend more on boating gear in one month than he/ she will spend on a decade of partner's birthday presents. Protecting your precious hoard of paddling toys is thus imperative. Before we consider equipment insurance, it's worth remembering that prevention is better than cure. Is your playboat chained to the roofrack outside with a rackguard cable? Your sea kayak locked in the garage - is it hanging out of harm's way? How do you secure your open boat whilst camping overnight?

Equipment insurance is designed to cover your equipment against loss or damage, whether as a result of carelessness, theft or Act of God. Before weighing up policies, accurately assess the value of your paddling gear. It will almost certainly be worth more than you imagine! Then, check the small print in any policy; how much of that value will be reimbursed? Will it be 'new for old'? Many insurance companies who offer household insurance have policies covering sporting equipment as part of general house contents. Many policies have an upper limit on the value of unspecified items covered. For example, The Woolwich covers individual items up to 1500 in value replaced as new without the need for separate cover. They will cover 'hand-propelled' watercraft (we assume that's us!) but not whilst 'in use'. Lloyds on the other hand exclude all forms of boats in their Home insurance policy.

Those who paddle regularly will want to consider specific boat insurance. Unsurprisingly, this is cheapest for covering your boat whilst stored at home, and most expensive for coverage whilst flinging your boat off gnarly waterfalls. Perhaps the best policy is from NW Brown who offer coverage for Fire and Theft from the place of storage, Damage and Theft in Transit and Loss or Damage whilst in use. NW Brown offered us some representative quotes:

Quotes are for a canoe of value 1000 and equipment of 200 value


Quote 1

Fire and Theft from storage at home (Double kayaks, sea kayaks and open canoes automatically get extension for theft from vehicle roof rack)

Quote 2

Fire and Theft from storage at home plus extension for theft from vehicle roof rack

Quote 3

Loss or damage whilst in use on placid waters (damage in transit is included automatically in this comprehensive policy)

Quote 4

Loss or damage whilst in use on grade 4 whitewater. (damage in transit is included automatically in this comprehensive policy)

New for Old Policy - available on canoes and equipment up to 5 years old.

Standard Indemnity Policy - makes a deduction of 10% each year for wear and tear up to a maximum deduction of 50% after 5 years





















A discount of 15% is available for 3 or more boats on the same policy

A discount of 10% is available to all BCU members

Travel Insurance

Travel brings out the worst paddler in all of us, and anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. We cannot emphasise strongly enough that if you venture abroad to boat, you should be covered as comprehensively and appropriately as possible. UK paddlers overseas have found their travel insurance required to cover everything from broken paddle replacement to astronomical hospital bills and wilderness helicopter evacuationand in a more than a few cases, they have found their policy disastrously lacking.

This boat didn't look great after recycling in the stopper of the upper drop for a few hours...

Most folk will know that finding the right travel policy for personal health and/ or baggage is a minefield even before you take paddling into consideration! Many standard baggage insurance policies simply do not cover sports equipment of any real value, let alone whilst in use. Many health insurance policies seem at face value to accept paddling within their remit. Beware of being told what you wish to hear! In practice the understanding of an insurance broker of what canoeing actually involves is confused, as is that of those who write the small print; all aspects of paddlesport are often excluded under the irritating labels of 'dangerous' or 'extreme'. Do not assume that the salesperson will be familiar with, or forthcoming about, the small print! Once again, check for yourself.

We recommend that you opt for an insurer who shows both clear understanding of our sport and of what is involved in the different disciplines, and who also shows awareness of the real risk level of our sport. We found one policy which had kayaking excluded alongside base-jumping off cliffs! Thankfully, a number of companies have realistically assessed paddler's needs alongside real risk levels. NW Brown, Dogtag and Snowcard all offer coverage based on the type of paddling and risk undertaken. Snowcard come recommended by many paddlers; they have a range of policies priced to your real risk level; comparing the relative risk of various sports on their website makes enlightening reading. All of the named insurers also offer annual Multi-Trip policies. These can be excellent value for paddlers who make frequent trips abroad. There are snags; for example, Snowcard's policy does not cover trips made in the UK unless there is pre-booked accommodation; no kipping in the van then. In addition, no single trip can be longer than a month. Snowcard offered some representative quotes:

  Sixteen day trip Annual Multi-Trip
Medical coverage Medical and Baggage/ Equipment Medical coverage Medical and baggage/ equipment
Sea kayaking in Europe 22.75 27.62 49.00 59.55
Sea kayaking worldwide, including the USA 38.50 46.75 59.50 85.00
Whitewater kayaking in Europe 27.30 33.15 59.50 72.25
Whitewater kayaking
worldwide, including the USA
46.20 56.10 84.00 102.00

Even thinking about insurance makes our heads hurt, and this may be why so many paddlers, "haven't gotten round to that yet". Don't get caught out! Check that you and your gear are properly covered and if not, start looking for policies which will suit you. The Internet does a lot of the hard work here; try some of the websites listed. If you are in any doubt, go and take a loving look at your boat(s) right now. Surely they are worth it?

Rackguards available from

Insurance providers named above: (Lloyds)

Comparative insurance quotes:

National Governing Bodies :

By Mark Rainsley.