Bristol to consider boater's insurance mandate


To the dismay of commercial fishermen who attended Monday night’s meeting of the Bristol Harbor Commission, Dom Franco, commission chairman, opened debate as to whether the town should mandate that all vessels carry insurance. Currently, there is no requirement that boaters have insurance.

Mr. Franco said the issue was brought to him after a commercial fishing vessel struck and damaged a wooden ladder on the newly refurbished State Street dock. Although the boat owner allegedly told other fishermen that he would repair the damage, nothing has yet been done to repair or pay for the damages.

“One boat broke a ladder, now the town has to replace it,” Mr. Franco said.

Bristol Harbormaster Gregg Marsilli also noted that in instances when a boat sinks, it costs the town a minimum of $25,000 to get a boat unsubmerged.

“Whose liability is that,” he asked.

Commercial fishermen and other commission members did not want to act in haste.

“If it’s a liability issue, you have to take that up with the town,” said Dave Eagan, a town lobsterman. “If it’s a safety issue, get the Coast Guard involved for inspections. It’s a sticky issue.”

While Mr. Eagan appealed to the reason for considering insurance, Bob Morris, owner of two commercial trawlers, appealed to the economics.

“You’re not helping the industry out here,” he said. “If you want to get commercial fishermen out, that’s the way to do it. No one does this. This town wants to do it.”

Mr. Eagan agreed, saying that insurance premiums typically amount to 10 percent of the hull value.

“You’ve got to remember, that’s going to be astronomical to a commercial guy,” he said.

Before any action is taken, fishermen and the harbor commission decided that more information is needed.

“I think there’s a lot of gray area that has to be decided,” said commission member Scott Medeiros. “What is the town’s liability? What does that cover?”

Until a committee looks into the town’s current liability with regard to docks and conducts a survey to learn how other town’s with maritime interests handle such issues, the discussion was put on hold.

Mr. Eagan, who does have insurance on his vessel, supported safety and responsible seamanship over liability.

“I’d rather have a well maintained boat without insurance dock next to me than a guy who writes a check and slams into the dock,” he said.


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Having spent 30 years as a commercial fisherman, and survived, now an owner of a marine insurance company I feel for both sides. But I must clarify that to get proper hull insurance and pollution coverage to meet the needs of Bristol, RI its about 2%, not 10%, of hull value.

I enjoy helping out fisherman anyway I can to make sure they have proper coverages and get them through tough times.

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