Protect Your Boat and Your Family While Enjoying the Water this Summer

How quickly a relaxing afternoon on the water can go bad when an accident happens and your boat is damaged or somebody is injured. In Minnesota and Wisconsin combined, boating accidents increased 25% from 2014 to 2015, according to the U.S. Coast Guard, due to more crowded waterways and other factors. Each year, hundreds of lives are lost, thousands are injured and millions of dollars of property damage occurs because of preventable boating accidents.

Safety first

One of the best boating safety resources available is the Coast Guard’s safety page. You can also access the Coast Guard’s mobile app from the app store for iPhone or Android to find boating regulations and information for your area, file a float plan, receive the latest weather reports in your area, contact the closest Coast Guard command center with an emergency assistance button, request a vessel safety check and do other safety-related tasks.

Errors account for 70% of boating accidents. At the very least, boaters should know the basics about the following before launching their vessels:

  • Filing a float plan. It often makes sense to file a float plan because there are too many facts that need to be accurately remembered and ultimately conveyed in an emergency situation. You can quickly file a float plan with your cell phone if you use the Coast Guard’s mobile app.
  • Boating under the influence (BUI). The risk is high and the consequences severe if you drive a boat after having too much to drink. The penalties for BUI can include large fines, revocation of operator privileges and serious jail terms. If you want to make alcohol part of your day’s entertainment, consider choosing a location where you’ll have time between the fun and getting back into your car or boat.
  • Vessel safety check. A vessel safety check, which is available from the Coast Guard, can help you navigate through problem situations. There is no charge and no consequences if your boat doesn’t pass. The Coast Guard can typically perform the check wherever your boat is located. Fill out their brief form to schedule a safety check.
  • Life jacket safety. Accidents happen with terrifying speed on the water and there’s rarely time to reach stowed life jackets. Your boat must have a life jacket for each person aboard, and boats 16 feet and over must have at least one throwable device as well.
  • Carbon monoxide. You can’t see or smell carbon monoxide, and it can make you sick in seconds inside or outside your boat. This exhaust gas can be trapped in enclosed places, by blocked exhaust outlets, from a boat docked next to yours and from back drafting at slow speeds while idling or stopped. Be sure to maintain fresh air circulation throughout the boat at all times.

Documenting and reporting an accident

Boating accidents, as with auto accidents, should be reported to the authorities right away so an investigation can be conducted. The exact circumstances that require a filed report vary from state to state. The Coast Guard’s boating safety app can help you familiarize yourself with the local regulations where you are boating so that you know when to contact authorities. Also, be sure to notify your insurance consultant in a timely manner.

You should document the damage by taking photos of it with a smartphone or camera. If your boat has struck another vessel, also document the damage to the other vessel, and remember to obtain the other party’s contact and insurance information and hull identification number.

Make sure you’re covered

If you’re new to boating, you may be under the impression that your homeowners insurance will cover your boat. Unfortunately, in most cases it won’t. Many homeowners policies will have a minimal amount of coverage for small boats with either no engine or a small engine. If you’re buying a boat that exceeds these very limited parameters, your homeowners policy is not going to cover you for what you need.

Like auto insurance, boat coverage typically includes coverage for bodily injury that your boat inflicts on others, property damage your boat inflicts on docks and other boats, and physical damage to your boat should you hit something or run aground. You can also purchase comprehensive coverage against theft, vandalism, fire and flood, personal property coverage for your fishing gear, uninsured boater insurance and even roadside assistance in the event you need a tow.

Unlike a standard auto policy, insurance claims for your boat can be complex, so it’s important to include your insurance consultant at the earliest stage of the claim.

Dangers of Hands-free Devices

It’s commonly believed that hands-free accessories are a safe way to use cellphones while driving. However, more than 30 studies show that they are actually no safer than handheld devices.

Though hands-free devices are marketed as a way to keep a driver’s hands on the wheel, they present other dangers. For example, many of these devices require a driver to take his or her eyes off of the road—such as to navigate through an infotainment system or to ensure the accuracy of a voice-to-text system. In fact, new studies from the National Safety Council (NSC) show that drivers are more distracted by voice-to-text systems than typing a text message by hand.

Another study, released by the American Automobile Association (AAA), found that even when a driver’s eyes are on the road, the distractions from a hands-free device cause significant impairments. These include, but are not limited to, decreased awareness of surrounding traffic, a sense of tunnel vision and increased reaction time.

It’s always safest to drive with your mind clear of distractions, eyes focused on what’s in front of you and both hands on the wheel.

Home Ventilation Maintenance

Lighting a fire on a cold night or turning on the furnace is a great way to stay warm. And, although these appliances can provide ambiance and relaxation, you may not be thinking about how your home’s chimney can expose you to the risks of carbon monoxide buildup and fire.

Usually, only fireplaces are associated with chimneys. However, other common appliances—such as furnaces and water heaters—also require outdoor chimneys, which are commonly called vents. All of these chimneys function similarly, and they require regular maintenance so that smoke and flue gases are ventilated properly.

Without regular maintenance, your chimneys can become damaged or obstructed by a buildup of creosote—an oily, black residue that is highly combustible and can block ventilation. Your chimneys should be inspected every year, preferably before winter sets in:

  • Make sure that your appliances are connected to separate flues or ducts to prevent a buildup of carbon monoxide.
  • Ensure that the interior metal liners of chimneys are in good condition and don’t have any cracks that could release carbon monoxide into your living areas.
  • Inspect the upper openings of your chimneys, if possible. Make sure that the openings are clear of debris, such as leaves and nests.
  • Have your chimneys cleaned to reduce the buildup of creosote.
  • Contact a certified specialist to repair, replace and clean your chimneys. If chimneys aren’t maintained properly, they could become an even larger threat to your home.

Chimneys might seem like a low-tech aspect of your home, but ignoring chimney maintenance can cause catastrophic damage.

6 Tips for Safe Winter Driving

Every day, about 90 drivers are killed in motor vehicle accidents, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. And, with inclement winter weather making driving conditions more hazardous, that number could worsen. For that reason, be sure to follow these six tips whenever you drive this winter:

  1. Have your vehicle serviced: The cold can have an adverse effect on your vehicle. Before the temperature drops, take your vehicle to an auto repair shop to have the battery, tire treads, coolant hoses and wiper blades inspected.
  2. Assemble a winter emergency kit: In case you get stranded on the side of the road, you will want to have an emergency kit on hand. Your kit should include the following:
    • An electric flashlight, spare batteries and flares
    • Hand warmers and a thick, heavy blanket (ideally wool)
    • A shovel and ice scraper
    • Jumper cables
  3. Plan ahead: Before you get behind the wheel, check the weather forecast. If possible, prepare an alternate route in case of inclement weather or poor road conditions.
  4. Know your vehicle: Each vehicle handles winter weather conditions differently. Consequently, you should be aware of your vehicle’s capabilities—such as its ability to stop as well as how it handles driving on snow, ice or wet roadways.
  5. Tidy up: Before you get behind the wheel, be sure to clean off any snow or ice that may have accumulated on your vehicle—especially on the headlights and taillights as well as the side mirrors.
  6. Drive smart: Driving in winter weather requires you to adjust certain rules of the road. Some tips to keep in mind:
    • Speed limits are for dry, clear driving conditions. So, it is okay to drive slower than the posted limit.
    • With suspect road conditions, it is advisable to at least double the standard following distance.
    • To help ensure that other motorists are able to see your vehicle, keep your headlights turned on—even during the day.

By following these tips, you should be prepared for driving in any winter weather conditions.

Halloween Safety

During all the fun of Halloween, it is important to remember that this holiday requires some extra safety precautions. Most Halloween-related injuries can be prevented if parents supervise their children’s activities.

Trick-or-Treating Safety

  • Remind children to walk only on sidewalks, and to look both left and right before crossing at corners or crosswalks.
  • Never let a child enter a home to receive candy or a treat unless accompanied by a parent.
  • Instruct your child to visit only well-lit houses.
  • Never allow children under the age of 12 to trick-or-treat alone. Older children should plan their route ahead of time so parents know where they are.
  • Instruct children to never approach a car, or accept treats from a person in a car.
  • Remind children to stay alert for house pets and strangers.
  • Inspect your children’s candy before they eat it. Wrapped treats are safest. Dispose of fresh fruit, unwrapped or homemade treats or anything that looks remotely suspicious.
  • Check for choking hazards, such as hard candy, gum, peanuts, or small toys before letting a small child eat his or her treats.

Costume Safety

  • Think safety when selecting your child’s costume; avoid long, baggy or loose-fitting costumes and shoes that may be difficult to walk in.
  • Choose costumes, wigs and accessories made from fire-retardant materials.
  • Select costume colors and materials that are highly visible to motorists.
  • Opt for facial makeup instead of a mask that may limit a child’s vision or breathing.
  • Buy makeup labeled “FDA- Approved” or “Non-toxic”, and remove makeup promptly to avoid allergies or adverse reactions.
  • Make sure costume accessories such as swords or magic wands are made of flexible materials.
  • Add strips of reflective tape to costumes and trick-or-treat bags to make children more visible.

Pumpkin Carving Safety

  • Carve pumpkins on a flat surface with good lighting.
  • Consider using a pumpkin-carving kit that includes special, easy-to-use cutting tools.
  • Have children ages 5 and younger draw on the pumpkin’s face – then you do the carving.
  • Light pumpkins using votive-style candles.
  • Place lighted pumpkins away from flammable objects, such as curtains.
  • Never leave lit pumpkins unattended.

Insuring Your College Student

Sending a child off to college is a significant milestone that represents the culmination of years of planning and hard work. As you prepare for the start of the semester, you should consider how your insurance needs may change with your son or daughter away at school.

Protecting Your Student’s Belongings

It is crucial that you are aware of the rules and limitations of your coverage when it comes to your son or daughter’s dorm room. Many homeowners policies consider a dorm room as an extension of your home, so items your child keeps there may be covered to some extent. However, if your child has lots of expensive electronic equipment or furniture, you may want to consider purchasing additional coverage.

If your child lives off campus, his or her possessions may not be covered by your homeowners’ policy. In that case, you may want to consider renter’s insurance, which the National Association of Insurance Commissioners says ranges from $15 to $30 per month. Renter’s Insurance will cover possessions in the student’s off-campus apartment or house as well as provide liability coverage if anyone is injured in the residence.

Changing Auto Coverage

If your son or daughter moves more than 100 miles away from home to attend school and does not keep a vehicle there, your car insurance premiums could decrease by as much as 30 percent.

Keeping Your Child Healthy While On Campus

Many students can stay on their parents’ health plans during college, but usually they must be full-time students, taking 12 hours or more in a semester. However, these restrictions vary greatly by state, and coverage could become even more complicated if your child is attending an out-of-state school.

For example, if you have a managed care plan, you probably have geographical limits and should consider whether your child will be able to access an in-network health care provider nearby. Your student also may not be covered if injured while playing intercollegiate athletics, so be sure to check your policy and the school’s policy on coverage for athletes.

If you find your child does not have coverage under your plan for any reason, you have a few options. Most universities have their own health plans, but some policies have high deductibles and low coverage maximums. A few do not offer any coverage for any conditions present before entering the university, so purchase carefully. Otherwise, you may consider an individual policy for your student.

Ensure Smooth Sailing Ahead

You purchased a boat to provide years of personal enjoyment—ensure your pleasure by choosing the right insurance protection.

Coverage Basics

A typical boat owner’s insurance policy is designed to protect your boat, motor, equipment and passengers. It affords similar coverages to those you typically have for your car including:

  • Theft, loss or damage to the boat and attached equipment
  • Bodily injury coverage, if someone else is injured
  • Damage caused to someone else’s property by your boat or watercraft
  • Liability coverage for your passengers, which would include family and guests
  • Medical payment coverage for injuries to the occupants of the boat

Physical Damage: Physical damage coverage insures your boat, motor, boat trailer, boat equipment and other personal property against accidental loss or damages. Physical damage also helps safeguard your boat equipment, such as anchors, oars, fuel tanks, life jackets, dinghies, tools and canopies.

Liability: Two principal liability coverages are included:

  1.  Personal Liability – A boatowners insurance policy provides protection for legal liability and pays, up to the limit of your policy, the legal obligations imposed upon you due to an accident resulting from the ownership, maintenance, or use of your watercraft, including bodily injury, property damage and legal defense.
  2.  Medical Payments– This pays medical expenses, up to the limits in the policy, including the insured’s boating-related medical expenses from an accident arising out of the ownership, maintenance or use of the boat. Expenses include hospital, medical, ambulance, etc.

Additional Coverage Options

For added protection, consider the following additional coverage options:

Reasonable Repairs: Covers repairs incurred to protect covered property from further damage.

Emergency Service:  Pays for reasonable costs that you incur resulting from specified emergency service to your boat, motor or boat trailer.

Wreck Removal: Pays the reasonable expenses you incur for any attempted or actual raising, removal or destruction of the wreck of your watercraft when damage is caused by an insured loss and removal or destruction is required by law.

Umbrella Liability: Provides additional boat insurance coverage across the board for home, auto and watercraft.

Controlling Flooding Due to Surface Water

The primary reason your basement and home can flood during a rainstorm is due to poor or blocked drainage. See below for precautionary measures you can take to protect your home and its belongings from flooding due to surface water.

Simple Prevention Steps

  • Since leaves are the biggest contributor to clogged gutters, clean the gutters and the drainage downspouts attached to your roof at least twice a year.
  • Make sure that the ground area within 10 feet of your home slopes away from your home’s foundation.
  • Extend downspouts at least 10 feet from your home.
  • Direct water flow from downspouts away from your home, being careful not to discharge the water too close to adjacent property.
  • Have your roof carefully inspected at least once a year by a capable person to check the roof thoroughly for missing shingles, degraded roof components, separation of the roof from chimneys and exhaust pipes, and other roof problems.
  • If your house or commercial lot is at risk of flooding from a higher neighboring property, consider building a solid wall masonry fence on the water-vulnerable boundaries of your property.
  • Preventative landscaping can also help reduce the chance of a mudslide or flooding.
  • Be vigilant for warning signs of an impending water flood problem. This includes water stains and mold growth on ceilings and walls, the underside of attic roof sheathing, and mold water pooling, water dripping, water leaks, or mold growth anywhere inside your home or business.

Lastly, plan ahead! If flooding occurs, be familiar with how to shut off electricity, gas and water at main switches and valves. Knowing how to do this ahead of time will help you to react quickly and minimize potential damages.

ATVs and Personal Safety

All-terrain vehicles (ATVs) can be a great source of fun for adventure seekers. These four-wheeled machines are designed for riding on uneven surfaces on off-road paths, and are useful for carrying loads and supplies. Though they are fun to ride and make carrying loads easier, ATVs are also dangerous. In fact, accidents tend to occur when young riders (generally males under age 16) fail to wear the right protective equipment while riding. To remain safe while operating an ATV, don’t forget these safety tips.

Safety Guidelines

  • Attend ATV instruction courses to learn more about operating your vehicle.
  • Read the owner’s manual carefully before attempting to ride, and ensure that all riders understand how to remain safe.
  • Never allow others to ride on an ATV with you.
  • Do not carry attachments or loads unless you are trained on how to properly drive the vehicle while carrying cargo.
  • Never operate an ATV while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.
  • Do not ride on a public road or at night when motorists cannot see you well.

Because injuries sustained on ATVs can be severe, it is critical that you and your family abide by the manufacturer’s recommendations regarding who is eligible to ride. Generally, no one under age 16 should ride an ATV with an engine larger than 90CC. Children under age 12 should ride ATVs with engine sizes between 70 and 90CC, and children under age 6 should ride ATVs with engines 70CCs or smaller.

  • Wear a helmet that is designed specifically for riding an ATV. Helmets designed for cycling, skateboarding or rollerblading will not provide the necessary protection from falls because they cannot absorb enough of the impact when you hit the ground. A proper helmet should also resist blows from sharp objects, stay in place as you ride and allow you to use your peripheral vision.
  • Wear appropriate eye protection if your helmet does not have a face shield.
  • Wear gloves to improve your grip on the controls and reduce the pressure from holding onto the handlebars.
  • Wear boots to protect your feet and legs from debris and to maintain your footing. This will also help maintain your balance and control.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants to protect your skin from cuts and scrapes.
  • Scan ahead to identify hazards such as rocks, fallen branches, fences, wires and unstable surfaces.
  • Be on guard for unexpected hazards, such as wildlife and other riders.
  • Drive at a moderate speed, and take weather conditions and the terrain into account.
  • Shift your weight when making turns and riding up and down hills.

Summer Swimming Pool Safety

If you own a pool, relaxing in the backyard during the summer months is a fun and enjoyable way to beat the summer heat. Though splashing and diving is carefree fun, owning a backyard pool comes with serious responsibilities, too. From poolside party safety tips to supervision, there are many general safety precautions you can take to make sure your friends and family enjoy your pool safely.

Swimming Safety Precautions

General Recommendations:

  • Install a fence with self-locking and closing gates to completely isolate your pool from your house and the areas around it. The fence should be at least 5 feet high so that people who are not supposed to be swimming do not have access without your permission and supervision.
  • Do not leave your children or guests alone in the event that they would need assistance. As the homeowner, you are ultimately liable for the safety of others in the pool on your property.
  • Remove toys from the pool when they are not in use.
  • Do not swim alone in case you suffer a health problem such as a muscle cramp or heart attack and consequently cannot swim to the side safely without assistance.
  • Teach pool rules to your children and guests and post them in a highly visible location.
  • Lock and cover spas when they are not in use.
  • Do not stick your fingers in grates and filters.
  • Do not swim for at least 30 minutes if you hear thunder or see lightening. When you see or hear thunder and lightning again, wait an additional 30 minutes before going into the pool.

Safety Training:

  • For homeowners with a pool, it is wise to take lifeguard, first aid and CPR courses in case anyone needs assistance while on your property. Once old enough, your children should receive this same training.
  • Enroll your children in swimming classes led by a qualified swim instructor.

Rescue Contacts:

  • Keep rescue equipment and a telephone to call 911 close to the pool area.
  • Place emergency numbers and CPR instructions close to the pool.