Personal Liability for Loaned Boats?

If you loaned a boat to someone who got hurt or worse while paddling your boat would you be personally liable?

one of the first things they teach you
in law school is don’t bother bringing suit against somebody unless they have enough money to pay a judgement(actually that’s the second thing they teach you, the first is get your fee upfront.) Whether you would be liable or not, you probably won’t get sued unless you are rich or have insurance that would cover you. Most homeowners policies probably would not cover suits involving a borrowed boat.

All that said, to answer your original question–“probably not” but it all depends on the circumstances. If you lent a boat that you knew or should have known was defective in someway(for instance had a leak) and didn’t tell the person borrowing it you may well be liable. If on the other the boat is in good shape, you are probably off the hook so long as you tell the person that paddling can be dangerous and that they should only go out in good weather no further than they can swim and avoid strong currents, including WW and to wear a PFD. Having done that, you have discharged your duty.

You should note that renting a boat commercially would hold you to a higher standard–you should have a commercial renters insurance policy that covers your ass.

Impossible question to answer as posed
Though I’m sure many will try

Just asking.
It is a broad stroke question and I am just asking for a broad stroke answer: Could I be held liable?

A yes or no would suffice.

Broad stroke answer: Yes

watercraft endorsement
you ask a good question. You are obviously concerned about it, and you are wise to be.

These days lawsuits arise from anything. Even people of modest means are hit with large suits which cause them to lose their homes, their savings, retirement funds,etc. You don’t have to be wealthy to have those kinds of assets.

Middle class people are even more vulnerable than the wealthy since we don’t have a lot of liquid assets nor the means to retain a high priced attorney in what could be a long drawn out case with medical experts, etc.

When you are insured, the insurer will defend you in a lawsuit should one occur from loaning your boat(s).

I purchased a watercraft endorsement which is part of my homeowner’s coverage. It specifically states that I, the insured, and anyone who uses my watercraft with my consent, are covered in the event of property damage, loss and bodily injury. Included are costs of legal defense, loss of earnings, premiums of any required bonds in court cases, etc.

Exemptions include intoxication & insanity (insert jokes here). As noted above, coverage will not apply if boats are loaned or rented for a fee.

If someone uses (steals) a boat without my consent, I am still covered. The person(s) who took the boat are not.

In additional to liability, the policy provides property damage protection which extends to all 3 kayaks, ALL my gear from pump to paddle to drysuit, my rack system. It covers all property in storage, in transport or in any locale in the continental U.S. and Canada (worldwide coverage is available for an additional premium)

Cost: $75.70 per year. A little over $6 a month.

Of course you’re liable.
It’s the main reason I don’t loan out kayaks and power tools. Think of it this way… if someone gets hurt in your kayak, they will be very hurt or dead. The survivors will come after you full tilt, no holds bared and look to take everything you are worth. I’m a very trusting person but will not loan out a kayak except for a very tiny group and then it would be if they had their boats stolen. I will not lend a kayak to someone who wants to take out a friend. Let them get their own like everyone else did.

but then again
How do you plan on starting off a buddy or friend?

You make them buy their own boat to try it out.

Get real!

You know who you can lend them to and who not to.

Boat,paddle,life jacket,and good lessons and warning.

just a little legal advice
and remember its worth exactly what you pay for it. Assuming the policy is similar to an automobile policy, the person who you lend the boat to is a covered insured. This will provide coverage for suits brought by third parties against you and your buddies who borrow your boat. It may not provide coverage for you should one of the other “covered insureds” decide to bring an action directly against you alleging negligence on your part in maintaining or lending the boat.

The situation is similar to one where you let your son drive your car. He has a passenger in the car. They have an accident due to ill maintained brakes. Your son and the passenger are both injured. The passenger can sue your son(and you too) and your policy would cover both of you. Your son, however, would not be covered under the policy if he sued you for his own injuries alleging negligent maintenance of the vehicle—most policies specifically say they do not provide coverage for injuries sustaing by a listed or covered insured—they only indemnify against actions by third parties.

To be really safe you should get a letter from your insurance agent stating in writing that coverage is provided for suits brought against you by bailees of the boat–ie people who you lend it to. That way when the underwriter denies coverage, you can get it through the agents E&O policy.


– Last Updated: Apr-29-08 11:34 AM EST –

You can help someone start paddling by letting them use a boat and accessories while under your personal, direct guidance under relatively safe paddling conditions. For starters this might include a pool session or clinic where you have trainers or certified people helping beginners. There is a big difference between this and letting them take your equipment where ever without your direct involvement which is what my question was intended to address (OK, I am adding some to the broad stroke here).

Won’t lend, but will sell designs?

– Last Updated: Apr-29-08 11:55 AM EST –

So I assume Jay, that you are properly insured for whatever liability may be associated with boats built to your designs?

Now you are "teaching"
There is a whole other set of potential liabilities associated with “teaching”.

Getting sued
"by letting them use a boat and accessories while under your personal, direct guidance under relatively safe paddling conditions."

At last a question on this board I am definitely highly qualified to answer. If you undertake to loan the boat AND supervise the activity, you will almost surely be sued if something bad happens. You will be charged with negligent supervision among the charges.

If you only loan the boat, you would probably be sued for failure to warn of whatever happened, or an expert could be obtained who would testify that the accident was the result of defective equipment.

No matter what you do, if you have some involvement and assets or insurance, there is a chance you could be liable. Nobody can assure you that you won’t, even if the person who gets the boat signs a full release in advance.

liable in-fact vs. sued for liability
There is nothing to stop anyone from suing you for anything at any time. Whether you are actually liable or not, the process will be financially painful and a royal pita.

Bottom line:

If you are concerned about this, hire a lawyer to review your insurance policies.

Asking a bunch of paddlers for legal advice is a waste of your time.

advice appreciated

– Last Updated: Apr-29-08 12:24 PM EST –

and I agree, it's worth what we pay for it ;-)

this is a special watercraft endorsement which I specifically requested as an endorsement to my homeowner's policy. Have to ask for it, it is not included.

Has nothing to do with an automotive policy. That coverage is not comparable nor applicable. People who depend on their automotive policies for these kinds of potential risk (either this specific case, or if their boats and gear are damaged or stolen) are in for a rude and expensive awakening.

As to people who pooh-pooh the risk of letting a buddy or acquaintance borrow a boat - I truly hope nothing seriously wrong ever comes of it. But when things do go seriously wrong, things go downhill fast, there can be enormous loss and cost, and some friendships are tested. Friends or their families do file suits.

Sure we are "just paddlers" but some of us have professional experience in different fields. Anyone who wants to use this as a stepping stone (which is what it is) can have their own situation evaluated w. their insurance agent. Or they can do nothing.

I know that for $6.31 a month I am happier than if I did nothing. YMMV

Why put yourself in the position of
possibly getting sued? Even if the suit is completely worthless and eventually thrown out of court, it will make your life a misery until then. There are too many people who hear “kajing” when anything happens that has the least chance of a law suit.

I take non-paddlers out all the time.
At least I can make my own safety judgments and I do it a lot.

‘Teaching’ only a liability IF…
you charge a fee for the ‘lesson’

To quote a very wise person…

– Last Updated: Apr-29-08 2:25 PM EST –

"There is nothing to stop anyone from suing you for anything at any time. Whether you are actually liable or not, the process will be financially painful and a royal pita."

You can live in total fear of everything and do nothing and live in a cocoon. You make your best decisions to pass safety knowledge, warnings and care in what you do and trust that the world is a good place to be not one where people live to screw someone over for money. If you pay for legal advice you will get the quote I reprinted above and you'll be charged for it. You can incorporate to protect yourself but as far as protecting yourself from a suit - you can't. You also have the choice of never doing anything just to be safe.

Watercraft endorsement
Friendlyfire has the right idea. The sail club I used to belong to looked at this issue and talked to an attorney. The boats at issue are non-motorized but owners do lend them out or have friends aboard. The consensus was that you can’t cover or plan for everything but having a watercraft endorsement to pay for expenses in the event that your guest/invitee is injured could head off a potential law suit. Most members had the extra coverage added to their policies for a nominal cost. Some found that their insurance companies didn’t offer this and had to change carriers to get the extra.

Now, as to your liability for lending a boat, there is a standard of what’s reasonable and prudent. I might lend a boat to someone with experience or who needs it to take a class but not to someone going out alone with no training.