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From the Front Lines: Marine

"Seek out an agent that specializes in personal marine insurance and learn the business," says independent agent Roger Beale. "In a marine policy, one line removed out of the policy can change the coverage."
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From the Front Lines: Roger Beale Roger Beale 

President

Beale Marine & Casualty Inc.  

Jacksonville, Florida

How did you get started at your agency? 

I worked for another marine insurance agency in 1980, but in 1986 I decided I could do this on my own. I had $500 to my name and 99 clients with a total premium volume of $200,000. I decided to jump out and do it. I did not take a paycheck for two years.

Why personal marine?

My father's side of the family were sea captains. I grew up around the marine business—boats and stevedoring. One day, I was on an airplane and a gentleman was talking about taking his children to either a University of Florida football game or the mountains for the Labor Day weekend. Myself and three of my brothers attended Florida State University, so I spoke up and said, “Why take your kids to that place? Take them to the mountains!" That gentleman, who owned an agency, called me later, we met up, and he offered me a job selling marine insurance.

Changes in the personal marine market?

Underwriters used to be underwriters. But now, for private pleasure vessels, people simply plug the information in and the computer spits out the premium, regardless of the risk.

As for coverages, there are broader, larger deductibles and larger windstorm deductibles. Boat values are higher but so are rates, which they should be with the new technology on boats. A lightning strike claim on a sportfishing vessel could easily be $200,000.

Challenges?

Individuals who are your friends think nothing of hiring an attorney should they get hurt on your boat. I believe the pendulum will swing back the other way, and we will get back to common sense underwriting, with direct writers writing themselves out of the business.

The one thing that needs to be addressed is the speed new boats can travel. It used to be that if you went 40 mph you were fast—now it is not uncommon to see boats running 60-70 mph. Everything is risk score rated, and it will only get more restrictive.

Advice for a fellow agent?

Seek out an agent that specializes in personal marine insurance and learn the business. In a marine policy, one line removed out of the policy can change the coverage.

It is a very small industry, so it is helpful to know the individuals who sell boats, surveyors, builders and engine shops. Also, be careful what you tell your insured or you could end up with an errors & omissions claim.

Favorite success story?

Years ago, an insured reached out to our agency after receiving a quote from another agent. We found several gaps in the coverage they offered. The largest gap was glaring—it excluded windstorm. We walked the insured through the quote provided by the other agent and compared it to a quote we had received. The insured could not understand the difference in the premiums. After several discussions, he allowed us to place the coverages on his behalf. The client's boat was in the Florida Keys when Hurricane Irma hit. His claim was covered and paid.

Olivia Overman is IA content editor.