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Seneca Lake boaters, do you have enough liability insurance?

State could soon require motorboat owners to take safety course.

By Jim Reed
Managing partner
Ziff Law Firm, Elmira

Boaters are shaking off our cold and wet spring and heading out on Seneca Lake, a sure sign of summer's arrival in Schuyler County.

Before boaters and personal watercraft users leave the dock, though, they should check their boaters insurance policy -- which all boaters on the Finger Lakes should have -- to be sure they are protected.

Insurance isn't required in New York State, but most boaters and personal watercraft users I know get insurance to protect their cherished (and often expensive) investments. Many people think their homeowners' insurance policy covers their boat or personal watercraft, but it doesn't. If it does, the coverage is limited to smaller vessels like canoes and small sailboats.

In my experience, most boaters spend more money protecting their boats than the people on their boats. Peter Wallin of Wallin Insurance in Elmira agrees.

"Most people don't have enough liability insurance on their boats or personal watercraft," Peter said. "God forbid someone trips and falls on your boat, or worse, there is a crash with injuries. The boat owner could get sued. Liability coverage is the most important coverage boaters can have."

So how much should they have? Without hesitation, Peter said, "They need $1 million in liability coverage."

It sounds like a lot, but for those who can afford boats and personal watercraft, it's important to make that investment. You are protecting the people who are on your boat, your family and friends, and protecting yourself if there are injuries on your boat or a crash with another boat, a dock, a bridge or something else.

Boating is great fun, but it can be dangerous, too. Alcohol flows freely on many boats. Maybe not on your boat, but how about the boat approaching you and going too fast?

Years ago, I represented a young boy from Watkins Glen who was nearly killed when he was run over by another boat while waterskiing. This little boy suffered horrible injuries and his family faced massive medical bills. Thankfully, the boat that hit him was well-insured and the insurance carrier for the boat, rather than the negligent boat driver out of his own pocket, paid a very substantial settlement to the boy.

That case brought home to me the very real importance of carrying high liability insurance limits on any boat or jet ski. No one wants to see anyone hurt, but when these collisions occur, the costs can be huge.

For more information on boating safety, go here.

Brianna's Law

One more important note about summer boating season: New York State lawmakers in Albany may soon reach agreement on a new law that will require all owners of motorized boats -- from small boats with outboard motors to the big cabin cruisers -- to take a safe boating course, regardless of how long they have owned and operated a boat.

The new law, Brianna's Law, was created in memory of Brianna Lieneck, an 11-year-old killed in 2005 when another boat smashed into her family's cabin cruiser off the coast of Long Island.

The New York State Senate approved the law in May and the state Assembly is expected to review it soon. Both houses are controlled by Democrats, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo is a Democrat, so passage is expected. The new law, once approved, will likely take effect on Jan. 1, 2020.

Certified safety classes can be taken online or in a classroom, the state said. Costs can range from $10 to $60, state officials said.

A state law approved in 2014 said that anyone born after May 1, 1996 has to successfully complete a state-approved boater education course before operating a motorized boat. The new law removes that date and will require anyone of any age who owns a boat with a motor to take a class.

Thanks for reading,


Photo in text: Attorney Jim Reed.


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© The Odessa File 2019
Charles Haeffner
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869