Hurricane Preparedness Best Practices

It’s only May, and the southeastern United States has
already experienced two named storms.

Hurricanes are destructive and potentially deadly storms
that can cause a tremendous amount of property damage and, occasionally, people’s
lives. Longtime residents of coastal Florida, the Carolinas, Texas,
Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana are familiar with the drill – but there are
always new people and always procrastinators every year. Hurricane preparedness
takes time! Don’t leave it to the last minute. Here are some things to keep in

Hurricane season is normally June through November. But that
doesn’t mean the occasional storm can’t come early or late. Don’t get

  • Maintain situational awareness. Keep an eye and
    ear on national and local media, and monitor developing weather systems.
  • Track the projected path of storms, using
    websites like National Hurricane Center (www.nhc.noaa.gov).
  • Do a risk assessment for your home. Assess
    vulnerability to storm surge, wind damage, and flooding. A Category 5 hurricane
    could result in storm surge of 30 feet above ground level in some areas. You
    can find a storm surge risk map at https://www.nhc.noaa.gov/surge/risk/.
  • Plan on at least a three-day wait before substantial
    government assistance is in place. FEMA can’t put its trucks and trailers in
    the direct path of the storm. It takes at least three days for state and FEMA
    resources to be put in place.
  • Cut down large trees overhanging your house
    and garage. The tree could fall, taking out part of your house.
  • Expect a run on hurricane supplies in the last
    48 hours before the storm. Buy your batteries, bottled water, fuel cans,
    generators and other supplies before you need them.
  • Invest in hardened windows, shutters and doors.
  • Failing that, buy your plywood well ahead of
    time, along with a drill and screws to board up your windows.
  • Obey evacuation orders. If you receive an
    evacuation order, you are getting it because the authorities know they will not
    be able to reach you in an emergency. Many people in coastal communities are
    killed by hurricanes – or vanish forever – when they ignore orders to evacuate.
  • Keep your homeowners or renters coverage updated
    with the current replacement value of your home and belongings.
  • Inventory your belongings. You can use sites like:
    Lockboxer.com, Knowyourstuff.org (a creation of the Insurance Information
    Institute) and Stuffsafe.com. These
    resources are free or very low cost, and will facilitate compensation from your
    insurance company if your home is damaged or destroyed by a weather event.
  • Fill your gas tank. Many times, gas stations
    run out of fuel in the day or so before a storm. If you can’t fuel your
    vehicle, you can’t evacuate. And you may not be able to function.
  • Get a battery-operated radio. Don’t
    count on cell phones working for a number of days after a storm.
  • You may be without power for as long as two
    weeks and sometimes longer. Keep nonperishables, batteries and flashlights.
  • Keep your generator outdoors. Every year, people
    die from carbon monoxide poisoning because they moved their generator indoors
    to protect it from theft.
  • Understand your generator’s capacity. Generators
    have a limited load. This is especially important to know when you start up
    electrical items connected to the generator, because startups cause a spike in
    electrical demand.
  • Know your neighbors. Your neighbors may have a
    harder time preparing or evacuating from storms than you do, because of
    frailty, disability, young children, poverty or lack of reliable
  • Look out for family members of emergency
    responders. Police, fire department, National Guard members and medical
    personnel often have to concentrate on preparing for the mission, and have less
    time to attend to their own homes and families.
  • Know your community emergency management contacts.
    You can find an online listing at https://www.ready.gov/community-state-info
  • Don’t underestimate tropical storms. Just
    because it’s not a hurricane doesn’t mean it can’t do a lot of damage locally.
    Tropical storms can dump as much rain as a hurricane.

By understanding these guidelines, you can be an asset to
your community in the event of a hurricane, instead of a drain on emergency
resources. You will also have an easier time getting reimbursed by your
insurance company for any damage done, and be doing your part to keep overall
hurricane insurance premiums down.

Boating and Your Money

When it comes to boating, the only surprises you want are unexpected whale sightings. But we all know the unexpected happens – and that’s why we have boating insurance. But boating insurance doesn’t – and shouldn’t – protect you from everything. To avoid getting hit with unexpected bills and expenses, you have got to take initiative and understand your boat and your policy.

  • Keep policies current. That means you need to update your boat insurance policy to account for any refitting or major upgrades. The rule of thumb: If your upgrade or refit materially changes the market value of the boat, you need to upgrade your policy to reflect the replacement value of the boat. If you lost the whole boat, and everything in it, what’s the true replacement value?  Tip: Insurers take account of depreciation. Unless you keep careful records documenting every new upgrade or piece of personal property on the boat, they will assume everything is the same age as the boat itself. That’s tough when you just put a brand new engine on a 20-year old boat. They’ll pay for a 20 year old engine – and you won’t be made whole in the event of a total loss.

For example: Many yacht owners have taken to installing high end home theater or AV systems in their boats. These installations can run tens of thousands of dollars and more – and are a frequent target for thieves. If you install an A/V system into your boat, and it gets ripped off, you will get a check for the verifiable damage to the boat – but not for the stolen A/V equipment, unless you get your policy adjusted so that the new system is covered.

  • Take care of the boat. Maintenance is a part of boat ownership. Maintenance costs, including periodic trips to drydock for a thorough hull scraping, should be figured into your overall cost projections. As they say, a stitch in time saves nine.

You’d think people shouldn’t have to be told anymore, but boat owners frequently ask things of their boat engines that they’d never expect their cars to do. Like operate leak free even though the seals have dried out from weeks or months of disuse. Basic maintenance tasks like changing engine oil once in a while, and being sure to crank that motor up on a regular basis to keep fluids moving through the hoses and around the metal parts go a long way to reducing overall boat ownership costs, and preventing major repairs and the replacement of entire engines.

  • Store the boat properly. When you pull the boat out of the water, tilt the bow upwards a little, and remove the drain plug to allow any water that gets past your covers, if any, to drain right out of the boat.
  • Don’t forget your fishing gear. Many fishermen – professional and recreational – will buy a boat, insure it, and then spend thousands on tackle, mounts, swivels, chairs and the latest gee-whiz sonar fish locator system. If something happens to the boat, and you don’t contact the carrier and add that gear to your policy, it’s not covered.
  • Keep an inventory. Create a list of everything of value on the boat, by serial number. Photograph everything.  Keep your receipts. Hint: Don’t keep your receipts and inventory on the boat.
  • Document incidents. Take photos of any damage at the scene, as soon as possible.

Remember, boat insurance is structured differently than auto insurance. Where auto insurance is designed to pay the full replacement value of a given make and model car, with a given amount of miles on it, boating insurance is much more variable. There’s nothing as reliable as a Blue Book to guide boat insurance adjusters, and the market is much less liquid. As a result, documentation is even more important for boat insurance than it is for auto insurance. Read and understand the policy, what it covers, what it doesn’t cover, and ensure any changes to your boat’s value or any additional property on the boat is documented. 

Is Your Home’s Chimney Ready for Winter?

Some of the smoke that flows up your chimney condenses and becomes creosote that sticks to the flue. Creosote is a hard tar-like substance that builds up over time. As the coat of creosote thickens, it increases the chance of a fire breaking out in the chimney. 

When a chimney fire burns, extremely high temperatures are created that can cause cracks to form in the flue. These cracks can pose a serious health threat to your family because they allow carbon monoxide that would normally vent up the chimney to be drawn back into the home. Carbon monoxide is an odorless colorless gas that can be lethal.

To prevent chimney problems, you should have your chimney professionally inspected and cleaned yearly. The National Fire Protection Association has adopted these levels of inspection to create code NFPA 211, Standard for Chimneys, Fireplaces, Vents and Solid Fuel Burning Appliances. This is the standard that certified chimney sweeps use when cleaning chimneys:

·   Level I Inspection: Recommended when the chimney is easily accessible and the homeowner is planning to maintain it as is. In this inspection, a certified chimney sweep verifies that the chimney structure is sound and that the chimney is free of obstructions and combustible deposits such as creosote.

·   Level II Inspection: If the homeowner has added a new home heating appliance or changed the type of fuel being burned, the chimney requires a Level II inspection. This inspection level may also be required after the sale of a property or an event that is likely to have caused damage to the chimney. This inspection includes the Level I inspection plus the inspection of accessible portions of the attics, crawl spaces and basements. It may also include a performance test, such as a smoke or a pressure test, and an interior chimney video inspection if recommended.

·   Level III Inspection: When a Level I or Level II inspection suggests a hidden hazard and the evaluation cannot be performed without access to concealed areas, a Level III inspection is recommended. This type of inspection confirms the proper construction and condition of concealed portions of the chimney structure and the flue. Level III inspections are also necessary when investigating an incident that caused damage to a chimney or building.

In addition to yearly inspections, you may also want to consider a metal chimney liner. They protect the chimney from corrosion as a result of the byproducts released during combustion. Liners are made from stainless steel or aluminum and can be used to repair existing chimneys. They are U.L. tested, and if properly installed and maintained, they are safe and durable. Stainless steel is used in chimneys for wood burning, gas, or oil applications. Aluminum is only used for certain medium efficiency gas applications. High temperature insulation is required to be used in conjunction with the liners to ensure safety.

Spring into the New Season with a Flood Insurance Check

The Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) is reminding homeowners that warmer temperatures not only signal the coming of spring, but they also contribute to snowmelts, which increases the risk of flooding in some parts of the country.  Hence, there is no better time than now to review your flood insurance to ensure you are adequately covered against flood-related damage.

No region of the U.S. is immune from floods, including inland flooding, flash floods and seasonal storms. In fact, over 20 percent of all flood insurance claims are filed in low-to-moderate flood-risk areas. However, specific parts of nine U.S. states are especially vulnerable to flooding in the spring of 2007, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) weather service. In these geographic areas there is either a high soil moisture level or an above normal snowfall over the winter months that is now melting. These regions include:

·            Southeastern Colorado

·            Northern Illinois

·            Eastern Iowa

·            Southeastern Minnesota

·            Southwestern New York

·            Northeastern Ohio

·            Northwestern Pennsylvania

·            Eastern South Dakota

·            Southern Wisconsin

The I.I.I. is advising residents in these areas to be especially vigilant about their flood insurance coverage. It is also recommending that even if you don’t live in one of these locations, you should still consider purchasing flood insurance because 90 percent of all natural disasters in the U.S. involve some type of flooding. There is a 30-day waiting period for flood insurance policies to take effect, so it is imperative to apply before the season gets under way.

The agency has established the following points for homeowners to consider if they are thinking about buying flood insurance:

§ Standard homeowner’s and renter’s insurance does not cover flood damage: Only a flood insurance policy, available to homeowners and renters through the federal government, will cover flood-related losses.

§ Flood insurance is easy to purchase: Federal flood insurance policies can be purchased directly from an insurance agent, and are available to communities that participate in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Nearly 100 insurance companies write and service NFIP policies.

§ Flood insurance is affordable: The annual premium for a residential NFIP policy starts at $112 per year, according to FEMA, and increases according to the level of flood risk and amount of coverage needed. The maximum coverage amount is $250,000 for the structure of the home and $100,000 for its contents.

§ It is easy to assess your flood risk: More than 20,000 communities in all 50 U.S. states and territories voluntarily participate in the NFIP, encompassing nearly all properties in the nation’s high-risk flood zones. Enter your address at https://www.floodsmart.gov/floodsmart/pages/riskassesment/findpropertyform.jsp to determine your level of flood risk.

§ Excess flood insurance policies add an extra layer of coverage: A growing number of private insurers have begun offering excess flood policies, intended to provide water damage protection to homeowners over and above the limits provided by the NFIP policies.

§ Without insurance, relief from floods primarily comes in the form of loans: If your community is declared a disaster area, no-interest or low-interest loans are usually made available by the federal government as part of the recovery effort. These loans are just that—loans—and must be paid back. Obtaining a flood insurance policy is the only way to protect yourself fully from the cost of flooding.

Learn to Safely Navigate Winter’s Driving Conditions

The hazards of the road increase in winter, as the weather becomes less predictable. To avoid these conditions, you might be able to cut down on your driving, but you probably can’t eliminate it altogether…and maybe you wouldn’t want to. Therefore, it’s essential that you take steps to lessen your risk.

As with many things in life, preparation is the key to managing winter driving hazards. The following tips can help to keep you safe on the road, regardless of the weather:

  • Check tire pressure monthly. Keep your vehicle’s tires inflated at the manufacturer’s recommended pressure for maximum performance on icy roads. It’s important that you perform a pressure check monthly because a change in temperature of 10 degrees Fahrenheit changes the tire pressure about one pound per square inch. Added benefits of keeping tires properly inflated include better gas mileage and increased tire life.
  • Have your battery checked. Cold slows down the chemical reaction in a car’s battery, which decreases its power output. In fact, starting power drops dramatically below 77 degrees Fahrenheit. Be sure your car’s battery is fully charged to compensate for the drop in output.
  • Know what your car is capable of handling. Your vehicle may have all-wheel drive, anti-lock brakes and all-weather tires. However, don’t be fooled into thinking that these features are a panacea for all the problems associated with winter driving. Becoming too complacent about the car’s ability to handle tough road conditions is a sure fire way to find yourself in a bad situation.
  • Learn to stay focused. When you drive, focus all of your attention on the road so you can anticipate hazards. Keeping your mind on the road ahead allows you to plan for areas that usually remain icy even when roads are clear, like bridges, overpasses and heavily shaded spots. The more aware you are, the better your ability to respond.
  • Exercise extra caution when necessary. Intersections with stoplights or stop signs can become deceptively treacherous when the weather is bad. Because so much traffic slides to a halt in the same location, the snow tends to become packed, and develops a slick icy surface. Drivers who spin their tires when starting up from a stopped position compound the problem. To compensate for these conditions, begin braking sooner when approaching an intersection. This will allow you more time to make necessary adjustments.
  • Plan when and how you will travel. Travel during daylight hours and wear sunglasses that provide UV protection to shield your eyes from snow and ice glare. Take the most direct route possible to your destination, and allow extra travel time in case you encounter unexpected problems.

Keep your vehicle stocked for an emergency. Be sure to have blankets and snacks in your car or truck to tide you over if you are stranded or stopped by bad road conditions.

Excessive Holiday Drinking and Driving Don’t Mix

The weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day include the most important entertaining season on many people’s social calendars. While these festivities are a wonderful part of the holiday season, they do bring with them a very serious problem-partygoers who drink too much and then get behind the wheel of a car.

Many people downplay the issue, but statistics prove how serious it is. According to the Community Alcohol Information Program (CAIP), a non-profit agency that provides alcohol education, assessment and evaluation services to persons convicted of alcohol-related offenses in New Hampshire, two million alcohol-impaired driving collisions occur each year in this country. Accidents caused by alcohol-impaired drivers are the most frequently committed violent crimes in America today.

CAIP offers these other sobering statistics about drinking and driving:

  • The average alcohol-impaired driver arrested on the highway has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .20%, more than double the level for presumed intoxication in most states. This level represents 14 drinks of 86-proof liquor (or 14 beers) in a four-hour period for a man weighing 180 lbs.
  • Between 7 p.m. and 3 a.m. on weekends, in some parts of the country, 10% of all drivers are legally impaired. Most Americans drink alcohol, and more than 80% admit to driving after drinking.
  • When drinkers are at the presumed level of intoxication, the risk of their causing an accident is six times greater than for non-drinking drivers.

Some people persist in drinking and driving based on myths about how the body reacts to alcohol and its ability to overcome alcohol’s effects. Scientific studies supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) provide important information that belies two commonly held beliefs about drinking and driving:

  • Myth: You can drive as long as you aren’t slurring words or acting erratically. Fact: The skills and coordination needed for driving are compromised long before the obvious signs of intoxication are visible. In addition, the sedative effects of alcohol, combined with late night hours, place you at much greater risk of nodding off or losing attention behind the wheel.
  • Myth: Drink coffee because caffeine will sober you up. Fact: Caffeine may help with drowsiness, but it doesn’t counteract the effects of alcohol on decision-making or coordination. The body needs time to metabolize (break down) alcohol and even more time to return to normal. There are no quick cures.

Alcohol affects the brain and body long after you stop drinking. Any alcohol that remains in the stomach and intestine continues to enter the bloodstream and circulate through the body. That means judgment and coordination can be affected for hours after you’ve taken that last drink. Also keep in mind that alcohol heightens feelings of stress or anxiety, which can lead to violent behavior.

Does this mean you can’t have a few drinks at a holiday party? No, but what it does mean is that you need to be responsible if you do drink. Here are a few tips to remember:

  • Know your limits and never drink more than you can safely handle.
  • Don’t get behind the wheel if you drink. Ask a sober driver to escort you home.
  • Don’t drink if there is someone at the gathering with whom you have a grievance.
  • Offer to be a designated driver for a friend.
  • Call law enforcement if you see someone driving erratically.

Keeping these tips in mind can help avoid tragedy during the holiday season.

Make Christmastime Safety Time

One of the most anticipated activities of the holiday season is the decorating. The smell of a fresh tree, the glistening garland hanging from its branches, and the glow of candles all are synonymous with Christmas. However, trees and other holiday decorations can pose safety hazards if used improperly. Remember the following tips to keep your Christmas decorating merry:

·   Trees-If you buy a fresh tree, choose one with green needles that are hard to pull from the branch and that bend without breaking. The base of the tree should be sticky to the touch. Place the tree a safe distance away from fireplaces, radiators and other heat sources, and keep it away from high traffic areas and doorways. Mount the tree in a sturdy stand; fasten a large tree to the wall or ceiling with thin guy wires. Keep the tree stand full of water at all times.

·   Lights-Use lights that have the “UL” label. Check all lights for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections. Outdoor lights should be weatherproof, and fastened securely. Use no more than three sets of lights per extension cord. Don’t use lights on a metallic tree because the tree can become charged with electricity if the lights are faulty. Always turn off all lights when you go to bed or leave the house.

·   Candles-Never use lighted candles on a fresh tree, or near other evergreens. Stand candles in nonflammable holders and place the holders where they can’t be knocked over.

·   Trimmings-Use flame-retardant decorations. Choose tinsel or artificial icicles made from plastic or nonleaded metals because materials containing lead are poisonous if ingested by children or pets. Spun glass “angel hair” is flameproof; however, if nonflammable artificial snow is sprayed on it, the combination burns rapidly.

Also make safety a holiday priority in your gift giving, when selecting children’s toys. Recent recalls of toys with lead paint or other defects highlight just some of the issues to keep in mind about toy safety. The Consumer Product Safety Commission offers more guidelines to keep the kids on your holiday shopping list safe:

·   Don’t buy toy chests without safety hinges on the lids. Those that can slam shut have been blamed for 21 deaths during the past 10 years.

·   Select toys appropriate for the skills, abilities and interests of a child. Federal safety requirements concerning sharp points apply to all toys for children under age 8.

·   Make sure all instructions are clear to you and, when appropriate, to the child.

·   Toys with long strings or cords are not recommended for infants and very young children because they can cause strangulation. Never hang toys with long strings, cords, loops or ribbons in cribs or playpens where children can become entangled.

·   Discard plastic wrapping on toys immediately before it becomes a deadly plaything.

·   Check toys periodically for breakage and potential hazards.

Have a safe and happy holiday season!

Be Proactive to Keep Your Pipes from Freezing

As the temperature drops, pipes that are exposed to the cold are prone to freeze. This is especially true if they are located in unheated areas like basements, crawl spaces, attics and garages. Pipes that run along poorly insulated exterior walls can also be affected by the extremes in temperature.

The continued freezing and then thawing of these pipes can cause the metal to become weakened and break. Water damage caused by burst pipes can result in toxic mold. If the damage isn’t repaired correctly, or isn’t repaired soon enough, it can cause a build-up of mold inside the walls that can make a house uninhabitable. Keep in mind that your homeowner’s policy covers damage from burst pipes, but most likely not related damage from mold.

The best way to keep from being in this situation is to be proactive and prevent pipes from freezing:

·   Install adequate insulation in outside walls that have pipes running along side them, under the floors above the basement, and above the attic ceiling.

·   Disconnect the garden hose before the cold weather begins.

·   Wrap exposed pipes with insulating sleeves.

·   Seal foundation cracks in crawlspaces that could let cold air in that will cause pipes to freeze.

·   Open the cabinet doors under your sinks during extreme cold weather to allow warm air to get in.

·   Run a small trickle of water through cold and hot water faucets attached to pipes that could potentially freeze.

If you turn on a faucet and only a trickle of water comes out, the pipe is probably frozen. There are some things you can do to thaw the pipe safely. Here are some guidelines recommended by the American Red Cross:

·   Keep the faucet open. As you treat the frozen pipe and the frozen area begins to melt, water will begin to flow through the frozen area. Running water through the pipe will help melt more ice in the pipe.

·   Apply heat to the section of the pipe that is frozen by using either an electric heating pad that is wrapped around the pipe, an electric hair dryer, a portable electric space heater, or by wrapping the pipe in towels that have been soaked in hot water. Do not use a blowtorch, kerosene or propane heater, charcoal stove, or other open flame device. A blowtorch can make water in a frozen pipe boil and cause it to explode. Open flames present serious fire danger, as well as risk of exposure to carbon monoxide.

·   Apply heat until full water pressure is restored. If you are unable to locate the frozen area, if the frozen area is inaccessible, or if you cannot thaw the frozen area, call a licensed plumber.

·   Check all other faucets in your home to find out if you have additional frozen pipes. If one pipe freezes, others may too.

If you would like more information about protecting your pipes from freezing, you can access the American Red Cross’ Fact Sheet: Preventing and Thawing Frozen Pipes by logging on to https://www.redcross.org/static/file_cont338_lang0_155.pdf

Protect Yourself from Identity Theft This Tax Season

With tax season upon us your personal information is floating around everywhere and identity thieves are working overtime to steal it.  From social security numbers to employer and income information, it’s an identity theft nightmare waiting to happen. Unless, of course, you’re a thief. Then it’s identity theft paradise.

Don’t think it can happen to you?  According to Javelin Strategy and Research, 8.4 million U.S. adults were victims of identity fraud in 2007.

Here are some tips to help you stay safe this tax season:

  • Choose your tax preparer carefully. Ask for referrals from friends and coworkers.
  • Beware of unsolicited emails claiming to be from the IRS. Such emails often contain links that automatically download software designed to steal your passwords and account information.
  • Protect your Social Security number. Don’t give out your Social Security number if it’s not necessary.
  • Guard your mailbox. Your mailbox is a treasure chest for crooks this time of year. If someone gets a hold of your tax forms they’ll know your social security number, your employer and how much money you made last year. If you don’t yet have a locking mailbox, now would be the perfect time to get one.
  • Watch the websites you visit. If you use online tax services, just be sure you are dealing with a legitimate site. Clone websites can be easily set up by scammers with the sole purpose of harvesting your personal information.

Tax season is ripe for identity theft, but you don’t have to be a victim. By keeping the above tips in mind, you can get through tax season without putting yourself at an increased risk of identity theft.

Ensure Your Boating Experience Is a Real Pleasure Cruise

Published reports from the U.S. Coast Guard show that boating deaths and injuries increased for the second consecutive year in 2006. Aside from the disturbing trend in boating deaths, the biggest change was actually in the amount of property damage, $43 million in 2006 as compared with $38 million in 2005.

These statistics should serve as a powerful reminder to all watercraft owners to review their insurance coverage. Owners of canoes, small sailboats, and small engine powerboats generally have limited coverage for physical damage included with their homeowner’s insurance policy, but liability coverage has to be added as a policy endorsement. Physical damage coverage is typically equal to 10 percent or less of their home’s property value. If you find the coverage limits offered by your homeowner’s policy to be insufficient, you’ll likely need a separate boat insurance policy.

Since no coverage exists under a homeowner’s policy for larger boats, yachts, jet skis and wave runners, a separate boat insurance policy is a must. Coverage for physical damage includes the hull, machinery, fittings, furnishings and permanently attached equipment up to pre-determined amount. Such policies also provide additional protection for:

  • Injuries to another person
  • Damage to someone else’s property
  • Legal expenses incurred by someone using the boat with the owner’s permission
  • Injuries to the boat owner and other passengers

Even though you may have solid insurance coverage, the Insurance Information Institute (III) offers the following suggestions to help you avoid having to file a claim:

    1. Check weather forecasts before heading out.
    2. Let someone know where you’re going and when you expect to return.
    3. Check engine, fuel, electrical and steering systems, especially for exhaust-system leaks.
    4. Carry one or more fire extinguishers, matched to the size and type of boat. Keep them readily accessible and in condition for immediate use.
    5. Equip the vessel with required navigation lights and with a whistle, horn or bell.
    6. Don’t overload. Distribute weight evenly.
    7. Don’t stand up or shift weight suddenly in a small boat; and don’t permit riding on the bow, seatbacks or gunwales.
    8. Be sure you bring paddles or oars, a first-aid kit, a supply of fresh water, a tool kit and spare parts, a flashlight, flares and a radio.
    9. Make sure that every person on board wears a life jacket.
    10. Never operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

U.S. Coast Guard Safety Initiative Asks You to Boat Responsibly

As boating season approaches, the U.S. Coast Guard is once again expressing concern over the continuing increase in boating fatalities and injuries, and plans to step up its safety education for boaters. Statistics show that for the second consecutive year boating fatalities increased (710 deaths in 2006) as did the number of reported injuries. The reports also reveal some other disturbing facts:


  • Two-thirds of all fatalities were due to drowning and 90 percent of the victims were not wearing a life jacket. Simply put, over 50% of boating deaths could have been prevented if the victims had worn a life jacket.
  • Alcohol was the leading contributing factor in approximately one-fifth of all boating fatalities.
  • About 70 percent of all boating fatalities occurred on boats where the operator had not received boating safety instruction.
  • The most reported type of accident was a collision with another vessel. However, capsizing and falls overboard are the most reported types of fatal accidents and accounted for the vast majority (59 percent) of all boating fatalities.
  • Overall, operator inattention, carelessness/reckless operation, excessive speed and passenger/skier behavior are the leading contributing factors of all reported accidents.


Here are some simple tips boat owners and their passengers can take to insure their safety while enjoying recreational boating:

Wear your life jacket – As evidenced above, wearing a life jacket is the single most important thing you can do to ensure your safety on the water. And it doesn’t matter how great of a swimmer you are, you should still wear a life jacket!

Take boating safety courses – Boat owners, operators and passengers should complete courses offered by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and others. The Coast Guard Auxiliary encourages everyone who might be put in a position of having to take command due to incapacity of the owner/operator to take a basic safety course.

America’s Boating Course (ABC) is a new electronic, basic boating course produced through a partnership between the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and the United States Power Squadrons®. It’s available online at www.AmericasBoatingCourse.com and on CD-ROM.

Get a free Vessel Safety Check – Boat owners are encouraged to take advantage of free safety checks offered by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. It’s your best way to learn about potential problems that might put you in violation of state or federal laws, or — worse — create danger for you or your passengers on the water.

Vessel Examiners issue no citations. And there are no penalties for not successfully completing a Vessel Safety Check.

Don’t drink and boat – In the marine environment — motion, vibration, engine noise, sun, wind, and spray intensify the effect of alcohol and drugs. These “stressors” cause fatigue — and dramatically affect a boat operator’s coordination, judgment, vision, and reaction time.

Levels of blood alcohol or medications that would have little impact on land can potentially cause a much greater degree of impairment for the operator of a boat. So never boat under the influence!

The complete 2006 Boating Statistics report is available from the U.S. Coast Guard Office of Auxiliary and Boating at https://www.uscgboating.org/statistics/boating_statistics_2006.pdf.

A Winning Game Plan for Tailgating Season

As Fall quickly approaches, the air grows cooler and the leaves begin to turn, many sports fans look forward to their favorite time of year—tailgating season. For some fans, tailgating simply means sitting on the bumper of their car with friends, enjoying a few snacks and drinks before the game. But for the more devoted tailgaters, football season calls for elaborate, well-organized tailgating events that often include a dedicated tailgating vehicle.

If you’re thinking about joining the ranks of these enthusiastic tailgaters and purchasing a tailgating vehicle of your own, here are a few tips you may want to keep in mind:

Buy wisely

Even if you plan to buy a relatively inexpensive tailgating vehicle to be used only on game days, you should still make smart choices about your purchase. Some vehicles may seem like an incredible deal, but oftentimes there’s a catch—such as no car title. You should never buy a vehicle if the seller does not possess the title. This could be a sign that the car was stolen, badly damaged or even declared a total loss.

To make sure you don’t get stuck with a lemon, you should consider requesting a CARFAX Vehicle History Report on the vehicle. These handy reports include an abundance of valuable information, such as title information, flood damage history, lemon history, odometer readings, lien activity, vehicle use and total loss history. After reviewing the report, you may discover that the vehicle you’re considering isn’t worth the expense—even if it does seem like a bargain.

Tailgating vehicle alternatives

While RV’s are always a popular choice for many tailgaters, some fans opt for another type of large tailgating vehicle, like a school or church bus. While these giant vehicles are a great way to transport all your friends, family and supplies to the game, there are a few things you should know before purchasing one.

First and foremost, you’ll have to apply for a Commercial Driver’s License with your local DMV office if you want to buy and drive a bus. (Nothing more than a normal driver’s license is required to drive an RV.) You should also contact the manufacturer of your bus or other large vehicle and find out how many people can safely fit in the vehicle.

Additionally, take your bus or other tailgating vehicle to professional who can ensure that all the seat belts, the air brake system, airbags and tires are in proper working condition. This will ensure that your friends, family members and any other passengers make it to the game safely.

Play it safe

Although tailgating is all about having fun, you’ll want to take a few precautions to make sure you and your guests are completely safe throughout the event. In particular, you should be extremely cautious when it comes to transporting your tailgating equipment to and from the game.

If you plan to tow items behind your vehicle, make sure that the weight is distributed evenly throughout your trailer. Secure or tie down all of the cargo to ensure that nothing falls out of the trailer during the trip. Make sure that all of your trailer’s tires are the same size and type, and check the pressure on each tire before your trip. Also ensure that your trailer brake lights are functioning properly.

Each state has different towing laws, so be sure to check with your DMV about the requirements in your area. You may need to obtain a special permit or license depending on the size and weight of your trailer. Additionally, you should call your insurance company to make sure you have enough coverage for your trailer and any expensive tailgating equipment you are towing.

Of course, you should also take measures to make sure everyone is safe during the actual tailgating event. Be sure to pack a first aid kit, a fire extinguisher and plenty of water in your tailgating vehicle. If you plan to serve alcohol to friends during the tailgating event, make sure that no one tries to drive home if they’ve had too much to drink. Call a cab or ask another friend to drive them home.

Get it insured

With countless vehicles coming and going from a big sporting event, accidents are bound to happen. That’s why it’s so important to insure your tailgating vehicle. Even though you may drive your tailgating vehicle just a few times a year, comprehensive auto insurance is well worth the cost. If your vehicle is severely damaged or totaled, insurance coverage could prove to be priceless.

Don’t Let Your Hard Work Get Washed Away

Just because you don’t live anywhere near a body of water doesn’t mean you don’t need flood insurance. No one’s home is flood-proof. In fact, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) says that 25 percent of all flood insurance claims are paid to homeowners in low or moderate risk areas. That’s because it doesn’t take a body of water, or even a major storm, to cause a flood. Anything from a broken sewer line to a slow moving rainstorm can be a culprit.

Flood damage isn’t covered under your homeowner’s policy, so you must purchase a separate flood insurance policy. FEMA is the only provider of this type of coverage; however, they make it available to the public through insurance companies. That means you can purchase a policy from the same insurance agent that wrote your homeowner’s insurance.

There are two types of coverage:

  • Standard Flood Insurance Policies – If your home is in a high-risk zone, you need this policy. The cost starts at about $500 a year but can run to almost $1,500, depending on a number of factors.
  • Preferred Risk Policies – If your home is in a low or moderate risk zone, your may qualify for a low-cost Preferred Risk Policy. Premiums start at just under $119 a year.

To get specific information about premiums, you can log on to the FEMA web site at https://www.floodsmart.gov/floodsmart/.

Flood insurance policies provide two types of coverage: one for the structure and another for its contents. They can be purchased separately or together, and the FEMA website will show the premiums if you buy them individually or in combination. There is a 30-day waiting period before both of the coverages take effect.

The structural coverage is “replacement cost” coverage, which means the insurer will pay what it costs to replace or repair the structure with materials similar in type and quality to what was originally used when the structure was built, without deducting for depreciation. The maximum amount of structural coverage available for one-to-four family homes is $250,000.

Contents coverage is “actual cash value,” which means the insurer will pay what the item is worth after it has deducted depreciation. The maximum amount of contents coverage is $100,000. Renters can also purchase contents coverage.

In addition to purchasing flood insurance to protect the contents of your home, you can also protect your valuables by taking individual photos of each item, or by taking a video of your home and zooming in on everything of value. This is extremely important if you need to provide your insurer with a detailed list of your possessions.

Keep the photos or video, along with any receipts you may have for the merchandise, in a safe location outside of your home, like a bank safe deposit box. This will ensure that your documentation isn’t lost if a flood or other natural disaster destroys your home.

Practice Safe Winter Driving Techniques

In case you haven’t noticed, winter has arrived and with it comes ice, snow, slippery roads, and poor visibility. Winter driving is necessary and nothing can be done to avoid it.

While the best advice is to not drive at all, that’s not an option for most of us.  If you must drive, here are some simple precautions you can take to minimize the risk of accidents and injuries:

  • Decrease your speed and leave yourself plenty of room to stop. You should allow at least three times more space than usual between you and the car in front of you.
  • Brake gently to avoid skidding. If your wheels start to lock up, ease off the brake.
  • Turn on your lights to increase your visibility to other motorists.
  • Keep your lights and windshield clean.
  • Use low gears to keep traction, especially on hills.
  • Don’t use cruise control or overdrive on icy roads.
  • Be especially careful on bridges, overpasses and infrequently traveled roads, which will freeze first. Even at temperatures above freezing, if the conditions are wet, you might encounter ice in shady areas or on exposed roadways like bridges.
  • Don’t pass snow plows and sanding trucks. The drivers have limited visibility, and you’re likely to find the road in front of them worse than the road behind.
  • Don’t assume your vehicle can handle all conditions. Even four-wheel and front-wheel drive vehicles can encounter trouble on winter roads.

If you should lose traction:

  • Take your foot off the accelerator.
  • Steer in the direction you want the front wheels to go. If your rear wheels are sliding left, steer left. If they’re sliding right, steer right.
  • If your rear wheels start sliding the other way as you recover, ease the steering wheel toward that side. You might have to steer left and right a few times to get your vehicle completely under control.
  • If you have standard brakes, pump them gently.
  • If you have anti-lock brakes (ABS), do not pump the brakes. Apply steady pressure to the brakes. You will feel the brakes pulse — this is normal.

If you should get stuck:

  • Do not spin your wheels. This will only dig you in deeper.
  • Turn your wheels from side to side a few times to push snow out of the way.
  • Use a light touch on the gas, to ease your car out.
  • Use a shovel to clear snow away from the wheels and the underside of the car.
  • Pour sand, kitty litter, gravel or salt in the path of the wheels, to help get traction.
  • Try rocking the vehicle by shifting from forward to reverse, and back again. Each time you’re in gear, give a light touch on the gas until the vehicle gets going.

The Big Freeze: How to Prevent Freezing Pipes

Imagine waking up on a frigid winter morning, throwing on your bathrobe and stumbling down the stairs to make a pot of coffee—only to find your kitchen is filled with water. Each winter, about a quarter of a million families find themselves in scenarios like this all because of water pipes that freeze and burst.

Not only can a pipe eruption ruin your day, but it can also cause thousands of dollars of damage to your home. Your furniture, carpet, photos and floors could be completely water-logged and even ruined from a single bursting pipe. As a matter of fact, just a three millimeter crack in a pipe can dump up to 250 gallons of water in your house in a single day. Whether your home is outfitted with copper or plastic PVC pipes, no one is immune to pipe bursts—both of these pipes can rupture.

Fortunately, you can take a few precautions to protect your pipes and avoid the hassle of a messy, expensive pipe burst. If you want to steer clear of the rising flood waters, follow these simple steps: 

Bundle up those pipes: Before winter arrives, take time to insulate all the exposed pipes in your crawl spaces, garage and attic. Because these pipes are open to the elements, they are more vulnerable to freezing. Don’t be shy with the insulation—the more you use, the less likely your pipes will freeze and burst.

Use heat tape or thermostatically-controlled heat cables to wrap your high-risk pipes. Make sure the product is approved by an independent testing organization, such as Underwriters Laboratories, Inc. Use exterior tape for outside pipes and interior tape for indoor pipes, and carefully follow all the installation instructions.

Seal the cracks: Look for air leaks near your pipes. If arctic air seeps through even a tiny crack, your pipes can quickly freeze and burst. To keep the cold out and the heat in, seal up every leak with caulk or insulation.

Put the garden hose away: Before the temperature plummets below freezing, disconnect your garden hose and shut off the indoor valve.

Bump up the thermostat: Never set your thermostat below 65 degrees in the winter. The temperature inside the walls and attic, where your pipes are located, is much colder than the inside of your house. If you let the indoor temperature drop below 65 degrees, your exterior wall pipes are at high risk of freezing and bursting.

Let the water trickle: Turn on one faucet in your home and let warm water drip throughout the night. Even a tiny trickle of water can help prevent your pipes from freezing. If possible, use a faucet on an outside wall.

Protect your home when you’re gone: If you’re going out of town, ask a friend or neighbor to check your house each day. Tell them to look for any signs of a burst pipe and make sure it’s warm enough to prevent pipes from freezing.

If you don’t have anyone who can check your home, consider shutting off and draining your water system before you leave. Keep in mind that if you have a fire protection sprinkler system in your house, it will be disabled when you shut off the water.

Know the signs of a pipe freeze: If you turn on your faucet and no water comes out, this could be a sign that your pipe is frozen. Leave the faucet on and call a plumber.

You may be able to thaw the frozen pipe yourself with a hair dryer. Start warming the pipe as close to the faucet as possible, working toward the coldest part of the pipe. Never try to thaw pipe with a torch or open flame.

Deal with the pipe burst: If your pipes freeze and burst, turn off your water at the main shut-off valve and leave the water faucets on. Call a plumber right away.

You should also call your insurance agent or company as soon as possible. Although your insurance adjuster doesn’t need to see the spill before you clean it up, you should at least inform them of your situation.

Move electronics, furniture, carpet and other items away from the water. Start mopping up the water and try to make temporary repairs to protect your home from further damage. Be sure to save all of your receipts for any money you spend related to the pipe burst. Your insurance company may be able to reimburse you for temporary repairs. Try to avoid making expensive permanent repairs until your insurance adjuster has a chance to assess the damage.

Obviously, no one wants to deal with the costly and messy aggravation of a pipe burst. To avoid this nightmare, take the proper measures to protect your pipes and your home. However, it’s also important to ensure your family is prepared to act swiftly and smartly if a pipe does rupture.

Above Average Hurricane Activity Expected This Year – Check Your Insurance Coverages Now

According to the latest forecast from researchers at Colorado State University, the U.S. coastline has an above-average chance of getting hit by at least one major hurricane this season. Researchers estimated the likelihood of at least one hurricane with a category of 3, 4 or 5 making landfall this season at 63%, above the average for the last century of 52%.

The official Atlantic hurricane season runs June 1st through November 30th. Once a storm is within range of land it is too late to change or add coverage. Therefore, it is imperative that homeowners review their insurance policies now.

Make sure your homeowners’ policy reflects your needs in the following areas related to hurricane coverage:

Hurricane Deductible – Some states have implemented separate deductibles for hurricanes based on a percentage of the home’s insured value. Note that wind damage caused by non-hurricane storms is subject to your policy’s general deductible not the hurricane deductible.

Flood Insurance – Flood damage is not covered under a standard homeowners’ policy, but flood insurance is essential in high risk areas.

Replacement Cost vs. Actual Cash Value – Replacement Cost policies cover the amount needed to replace or repair a home without a deduction for depreciation. These policies generally cost about 10 percent more, but they provide much more comprehensive coverage than Actual Cash Value policies.

Guaranteed or Extended Replacement Cost – Provides additional coverage if widespread damage inflates the cost of building materials and labor.

Inflation Guard – Automatically adjusts policy limits to reflect changes in construction costs so you do not have to increase your limits each year.

Building Code Upgrades – If your home is severely damaged, it will need to be rebuilt to comply with current building code standards that could add increased building costs. Law and ordinance coverage ensures these extra costs are covered.

Additional Living Expenses – Covers the costs of living elsewhere while your home is being rebuilt or repaired.

To protect your assets in the event of a hurricane, also:

  • Inventory, photograph or video tape all household items. Keep receipts, inventory lists, copies of your insurance policy and insurance company contacts in a safe place that can be accessed in the event of a storm.
  • To minimize losses, take steps to protect your property when a hurricane is imminent, such as covering your windows with shutters, siding or plywood.
  • Keep materials such as plywood and plastic on hand in case you need to make temporary repairs after a storm. Keep receipts as repairs are made, as they may be reimbursable by your insurance company.

Be wary of rushing into a contract or placing a hefty deposit with a company for repairs. Unfortunately, fraudulent contractors often flock to natural disaster sites, so it is important to consult your insurance agent before hiring anyone.

Check Coverage Before Hitting the Road in Your RV This Summer

Whether you drive 600 miles a year in your RV (recreational vehicle) or 6,000, you need to have suitable insurance protection before hitting the road. Because insurance policies tailored to the needs posed by motor homes, recreational vehicles, fifth-wheels and/or travel trailers vary from state-to-state and policy-to-policy, it is important to insure your RV with at least the basics.

Most insurance specialists agree that comprehensive coverage is, indeed, a must as it covers most direct, sudden, and accidental losses including those caused by collision, theft, vandalism, fire, smoke, landslide, windstorm, lightning and hail. You may also want coverage for RV awnings, satellite dishes, and other accessories. There are even policies that cover emergency expenses including lodging or travel expenses home if the RV is damaged or destroyed by a covered loss while more than 50 miles away from home.

Look for an insurance policy that provides adequate campsite/vacation liability, coverage for when the RV is parked, and for when you are using the RV as a temporary residence. Because it protects the RV from costly depreciation, total loss replacement coverage may also prove to be useful and is well worth the minimal added cost.. With total loss replacement coverage, the RV owner gets a new RV of similar kind and quality if the vehicle is destroyed within its first five model years. This is unlike standard automobile policies that only pay the actual cash value of the RV at the time it is destroyed. Add replacement cost coverage on personal belongings that are stolen from the RV or destroyed while in the RV and you can rest assured you will be adequately protected.

RV owners should also consider buying a special stationary policy that offers extensive comprehensive and contents coverage if the RV is used as a seasonal or permanent residence. This includes coverage for liability, medical payments to others, and property damage claims caused by an accident for which RV owners may be held liable . Your homeowners or auto insurance policies may not cover exposures related to the use of your RV as a residence – even if just seasonal.

Because such special coverage policies vary from one state to the next and some coverages aren’t offered in all states, it is important to do your homework, or better yet, your “RVwork,” and find a policy that suits your travel needs.

Insure Your Boat In and Out of the Water

Millions of Americans take to the water each year during boating season, traveling the coastlines, rivers, lakes and canals all over the country. The watercraft range from simple rowboats to jet skis to small motorboats to luxury yachts. Boat owners spend significant amounts of money buying and maintaining their boats. The need for insurance protection when the boat is on the water is obvious, but many boat owners question the need for it during the off-season. However, insurance is just as important when the boat is in storage as when the owner is using it.

A typical boat insurance policy provides a package of coverages, including:

* Damage to the boat, motor, and trailer;

* Damage to portable property used in the maintenance and operation of the boat, including things like anchors, life jackets, oars, tools, skis and surfboards, lights, and fire extinguishers;

* Damage to other types of property, including sports equipment, clothing, and other personal effects;

* Damage to equipment on shore, such as boat covers;

* The cost of recovering a sunk or stranded boat;

* The cost of emergency service and towing;

* Damage to non-owned or substitute boats;

* Loss of fishing tackle;

* Liability coverage for injuries or damages for which the boat owner is legally responsible; and

* Coverage for injuries the boat owner or others on the boat suffer in an accident with an uninsured watercraft.

A boat owner will need these coverages if her boat gets into a collision with another boat, or if thieves steal scuba gear from it, or if fire damages the motor. However, losses are still possible while the boat is out of the water. Progressive Insurance reports that nearly two out of every 10 boat claims it receives from northern states occur between Labor Day and Memorial Day, when most owners are not using their boats much. Some examples of losses that could occur:

* The storage building housing the boat over the winter burns to the ground.

* Vandals damage the boat in the middle of the night while it’s in the owner’s driveway.

* A neighbor’s child, playing in the owner’s yard, runs into the boat stored there and injures his head.

* Someone steals the boat and its trailer from the yard at a repair shop.

* While the boat is stored in the yard, heavy snow melt causes a flash flood that damages the boat’s interior, including the mechanical system and the radio.

Some insurance companies offer “disappearing deductibles,” where the deductibles for collision and damage losses from other causes decrease by a certain amount for every claim-free year the policyholder has. Those companies will grant this benefit only to boat owners who keep their insurance continuously in force with them.

A professional insurance agent can provide advice on the types and amounts of coverage a boat owner needs. She can also recommend insurance companies that have expertise in boating, good claims-paying practices, and reasonable prices. Insuring a boat all year round can be expensive, but compared to the cost of a large uninsured loss, it may well be worth the cost.

Take Steps to Winterize Your Home Now

When preparing for winter’s arrival, most people immediately think of snow tires and protection from wet and icy roads.  But what about your home?  Although you may take great care in winterizing your car with snow-tires, anti-freeze, wiper fluid, flashlights and blankets, what kind of prevention have you taken regarding your house?  If your home is not properly winterized, it can easily become a source of both property and liability claims. Take steps to bring your home up to par before the first snowflake falls.

First, make sure your coverage is adequate to minimize the risk of a wintertime claim:

Winter Insurance Checklist

  • ·  Is your homeowner’s coverage sufficient?  If your house was recently upgraded, it may not be.
  • ·  Is your vacation property coverage adequate?  What if someone uses the property in your absence and is injured?  Will your coverage pay for damage that may occur while it is unattended all winter?
  • ·  Do you own a snowmobile?  Many high-end snowmobiles require insurance above and beyond what most homeowners think about.
  • ·  Are you planning a winter vacation that requires expensive items such as fine jewelry for a trip to France, or snow skis and equipment for Vail?  Be sure your personal property endorsements measure up.
  • ·  How about your college student?  Is he renting an off-campus town home?  If so, you should think about liability insurance for that dwelling, as well as all the winter hazards that apply to the family home.

Next, think about minimizing wintertime hassles, and avoiding needless claims that can be easily avoided.

Winterizing Checklist for Your Home

  • ·  Take time to clean or replace heating filters before turning the systems on.  Make sure your units have been professionally serviced.  If you don’t have smoke alarms, install them now. You may also want to consider carbon monoxide alarms.
  • ·  Inspect storm doors and windows.  Cracked gaskets or cracked glass?  Make the repairs.
  • ·  Remove or cover and seal window air conditioning units until spring.
  • ·  Examine the sidewalk in front of your house and all walkways and handrails to make certain they are in good repair. Maneuvering through snow and ice is hard enough without having to step gingerly on broken pavement or to remember not to grasp shaky handrails.  Also, having everything in good repair may help limit your liability in the event of a mishap.
  • ·  Is your snow blower and other snow removal equipment in good working order?  Hire neighborhood help to clear your walkways if you are unable to do it yourself.  Keeping walkways clear will help ensure that no one is seriously injured on your property by winter weather conditions.
  • ·  Check around doors and windows for cracks.  If you find small gaps, fill them in with caulk. Consider hiring a contractor if bigger problems surface.
  • ·  Remove leaves, acorns, sticks and other debris from gutters before the first freeze. This will ensure that heavy winter rains and snow melt can flow freely and not damage your roof or walls. You may also wish to install gutter guards to keep all that debris from getting into the gutters next year.
  • ·  Survey your plantings.  If snow covered branches would endanger any part of your house or cars, trim them back. Consider the walkway, too, so pedestrians will not risk injury while walking in front of your house during or after a storm. 
  • ·  Examine the insulation in attics, crawl spaces, and basements.  If too much heat is escaping, it can cause ice and snow to melt too quickly to be properly carried away.  If the melt off seeps into the roofing, it can cause significant damage or even collapse. If the insulation in your basement or crawl space is sufficient for your climate, you can avoid the inconvenience and damage of frozen or burst pipes.  In unfinished spaces with pipes running through them, such as garages, wrap the pipes with heating tape.
  • ·  During the winter, set interior temperatures to at least 65 degrees.  Letting indoor temperatures drop below 65 degrees could risk pipes freezing behind the walls.
  • ·  Learn where shut-off valves are for all plumbing.  Include both the valves within each room and the main valve.  If your pipes do freeze, the more quickly you turn off the water, the less chance of pipes bursting.
  • ·  And last but not least, take similar precautions with your vacation home. Make sure all pipes are drained and the toilet empty so expanding ice cannot crack the porcelain.

Where winterizing your home is concerned, the effort to prevent problems before they occur is well worth the expense! 

Insure Your New Boat with Proper Coverage

Before you go out and purchase that new boat you have been dreaming about all winter, consider the importance of also purchasing the proper watercraft coverage that you will need for your new toy.

Many people mistakenly believe that their boat will be covered under either their personal auto policy (PAP) or  homeowner’s policy. Auto policies do not provide liability coverage or coverage for damage on boats. Homeowner’s policies may cover only boats that have low value or are low-powered. So before going out and purchasing a boat, contact us to discuss the proper watercraft coverage that you will need.

Here are some considerations to make when it comes to figuring out if you will need separate watercraft coverage for your boat. These types of boats will require a separate insurance policy:

  • Any boat valued over $1,500
  • A sailboat that is over 26 feet long
  • Powerboats that have motors exceeding 25 horsepower

Insurance companies will often deny coverage for particular types of watercraft. These types of watercraft may be denied coverage:

  • Watercraft such as jet skis or wave runners, due to the high number of accidents with them.
  • Houseboats, homemade or kit boats, competition bass boats and speedboats.
  • Boats that are over 15 to 20 years of age due to a higher loss frequency (Note: It is also wise to order a marine survey or inspection of an older boat before purchasing, which can point out deficiencies in the boat that could cause you to reconsider the purchase or renegotiate the price).

Finally, when it comes to purchasing the proper watercraft coverage needed for your new boat, also consider purchasing a personal umbrella policy. This policy would be in addition to a watercraft policy and is especially beneficial if you are going to purchase a speedboat, one designed for skiing or any other type of craft that has a higher potential for loss of life or damage. Umbrella policies are relatively inexpensive and will provide additional coverage above the liability coverage found in a watercraft policy.

If you purchase a personal umbrella policy, use the same insurance company that provides your homeowner’s policy or personal auto policy.

Tips for Weathering Hurricane Season

Experts are predicting a 51 percent chance that a major hurricane will hit the East Coast before the hurricane season ends in December. Similarly, the chance of a major hurricane hitting the Gulf Coast between the Florida Panhandle and Brownsville, Texas, is predicted at 50 percent. Both predictions are well above long-term averages, which signals a potentially active hurricane season.

The Colorado State University’s Department of Atmospheric Science expects ten Atlantic Ocean hurricanes this year, five of which they say will be intense, ranging from Category 3 (111 mph) to Category 5 (sustained winds of 156 mph or more).

While 2009 was a below average year, it was just a few years ago that hurricanes Katrina and Rita physically devastated the Gulf Coast. Some areas still have not fully recovered.

Imagine how you would feel realizing the day after a hurricane tears through your neighborhood that you don’t have wind or flood insurance, which together provide the bulk of coverage against hurricane damage.

Review Your Policy

If you live in a coastal area, your homeowners’ insurance policy probably doesn’t provide wind coverage, let alone hurricane coverage. Flood insurance is also not included in your typical homeowners’ policy. Consider that many homes in Mississippi affected by Hurricane Katrina’s flooding were not in designated flood zones and were uninsured. In fact, 25% of all flood insurance claims are paid on homes in low to moderate risk areas.

A separate policy protecting your home against flood damage is a wise, relatively inexpensive investment. The federal government by way of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) backs flood coverage. You should also be sure you are covered for wind damage.

Here are some hurricane season tips from the National Hurricane Center:

Secure Your Home

-Protect areas where wind and water can enter your home.

-One of the best ways to protect a home from windstorm damage is to install impact-resistant shutters over all large windows and glass doors to protect the doors and windows from wind-borne objects. They may also reduce damage caused by sudden pressure changes when a window or door is broken.

Family Disaster Plan

-Discuss the types of hazards that could affect your family.

-Locate the safest area to be in your home within your community.

-Have predetermined escape routes and places to meet.

-Have an out-of-state friend as a family contact so all your family members have a single point of reference.

-Have a pet plan in the event you need to evacuate.

-Post emergency phone numbers and be sure children know how to use the 911 system.

-Buy a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration radio and replace the batteries every six months.

-Take First Aid, CPR and disaster preparedness classes.

-Keep stock of nonperishable emergency supplies and have a disaster supply kit that includes:

1.   One gallon of water daily per person for three to seven days.

2.   Enough nonperishable food and juices for three to seven days.

3.   Cooking tools (including a non-electric can opener), fuel, paper plates and utensils.

4.   Pet care items including proper identification, immunization records, medication, an ample supply of food and water, a carrier or kennel and a muzzle and leash.

5.   Blankets and pillows.

6.   Medication/prescriptions.

7.   Cash (an ATM will not work without power).

8.   Important documents (keep in a waterproof container).

9.   Toys, books and games.

Stay Afloat with Proper Boater’s Insurance

There are many hidden costs associated with owning a boat; dock fees, general maintenance, and winter storage, just to name a few. One cost boat owners should never skimp on is purchasing the best available insurance policy for their watercraft.

Since buying a boat is a huge investment, owners should protect their boat with comprehensive insurance coverage. Plans are often based on the type and size of the boat. Many homeowner’s and renter’s insurance policies provide limited coverage for property damage if the boat’s engine is less than 25 mph horsepower or if it is a small sailboat, but without additional insurance, no liability coverage is included.

Owners of larger, more powerful boats and yachts will need to purchase a separate insurance policy for their boat. The insurance company will take into account the size and type of boat, its value, and where the boat sails when drawing up the conditions and cost of the policy.

Separate boat and watercraft insurance policies provide much more coverage to the owner. These policies generally include loss and damage coverage to the boat’s hull, machinery, furnishings, fittings, and any permanently attached equipment, like a navigation system. Liability coverage is extended to:

  • Bodily injury to other persons
  • Damage to other’s property
  • Legal expenses associated with non-consensual operation of the boat
  • Medical costs for injuries to the owner and passengers
  • Boat theft

Policyholders can choose the liability limits of their plan, ranging anywhere from $15,000 up to $300,000. The deductible cost for property damage is $250, and it ranges between $500 and $1,000 for theft and medical expenses. Of course, policies can be individualized based on the boat owner’s needs. Other endorsements and coverages can be added to the policy to cover the boat’s trailer, fishing gear kept aboard the boat, and any other accessories. Also, make sure to ask whether or not the policy covers the boat while it is being towed.

Just as car insurance providers offer discounts to their policyholders, discounts for watercraft policies apply in certain cases. For example, insurance companies favor diesel-powered engines over gasoline ones because diesel fuel is more stable, making the engine safer to operate.

Other discounts are related to safety equipment kept on the boat. Having items like fire extinguishers approved by the U.S. Coast Guard and ship-to-shore radio equipment could reduce the amount of the premium. Also, completing a boater’s safety course offered by the Coast Guard Auxiliary, the American Red Cross, or the U.S. Power Squadrons can gain some favor with the insurance company.

Maintaining a clean boating record is just as important as being accident-free on the roadways, when it comes to lowering insurance rates. Premiums are usually discounted for every two years the boater goes without an accident or filing a claim. Bundling your watercraft insurance with homeowner’s and vehicle policies is another good way to save money on coverage costs.

A solid insurance policy gives boaters the peace of mind needed to set sail and enjoy the open waters. Nothing is more relaxing than knowing your investment is covered. 

Keep Your Home Safe During Holiday Travel Time

Whether you’re planning a Caribbean vacation getaway, or a trip to visit relatives this holiday season, keep in mind that an empty house is a tempting target for a burglar. But with a little common sense and some careful planning, you can reduce the possibility that your home will be broken into while you’re gone.

* Prepare your first line of defense – Use sturdy locks on all doors and windows and secure before you leave. Repair any broken windows or locks. Never operate under the assumption that a burglar won’t find the one that’s faulty.

* Enlist the help of a trusted neighbor – Tell one neighbor your itinerary and your estimated time of arrival and return. That person should have a key to your front door to periodically check on the house, and a telephone number where you can be reached in an emergency.

* Don’t broadcast your plans – Especially in the era of social media, never post your travel plans on Facebook or Twitter. According to a recent article in the New York Times, tech-savvy thieves are taking advantage of the detailed information provided by unsuspecting social media users.

* Never let the house appear empty from the street – Stop your newspaper delivery, and have your neighbor pick up your mail and any packages left on the front porch. Arrange for someone to mow the lawn, rake leaves and clean the yard if you’ll be away for an extended period. Ask your neighbor to place garbage cans at the curb on normal pickup days and put them back after the garbage pickup. If you leave your car at home, park it where you normally would. However, be sure your neighbor moves it occasionally so that it appears the car is being driven. If you’re driving your car, have your neighbor periodically park in your driveway or in front of your house.

* Your home shouldn’t seem empty on the inside either – Plug in timers to turn lights and even a television on and off at appropriate times. Turn the ringer on your telephone down. If a burglar is around, and hears a call that goes unanswered, they’ll know you’re away. Don’t leave a message on your answering machine notifying everyone you’re on vacation. Leave your blinds, shades and curtains in a normal position. Don’t close them unless you would normally do so while at home.

* Don’t give thieves alternate ways to enter your home – Lock garage doors and windows. You should also secure storage sheds, attic entrances and yard gates.

* Don’t leave valuables in plain sight – Consider locking valuables in a bank safety deposit box. If you do leave valuables at home, make sure they are engraved. This simple precaution will allow stolen property to be easily identified and returned to you if recovered later.

Five Tips to Keep Your Most Precious Cargo Safe on a Summer Road Trip

As the warmer summer months arrive, many families blow the dust off their suitcases and hit the road for a much-needed vacation. Of course, you should go through the normal checklist for your vehicle, such as checking your oil levels and air in your tires. But, for those traveling with babies and children, there may be some additional precautions to take before heading out on vacation.

Most parents are accustomed to the usual disturbances and distractions caused by children crying, spilling snacks, and fighting with their siblings in the backseat. Such incidents may be unavoidable, especially during lengthy road trips that test a child’s ability to sit still. However, there are a few tips to help you keep your focus on the road and ensure your family safely arrives at the destination. Add the following to your pre-takeoff checklist:

1. Check all child seats in the vehicle.

Even if you feel certain that your child’s safety or booster seat has been properly installed, double check it. You might have unknowingly made a mistake during the installation or after quickly moving it from one vehicle to another. According to the National Safety Belt Coalition, incorrectly installed car seats and misuse are responsible for the serious injuries and deaths of children in car accidents everyday. You may even consider taking your vehicle to an expert that can show you the correct way to use and install a booster or child safety seat. You can find a listing of certified child passenger safety technicians in your area at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) website.

2. Invest in a child safety mirror.

Such mirrors have become popular with parents that find themselves frequently traveling with their children. Most of these special mirrors are inexpensive. They are also easy to install; you just attach it to your rear view mirror. Now, you can occasionally see what your children are doing in the backseat without actually turning around and taking your eyes off the road. Your children will be less likely to get into mischief when they see that your mirror is essentially like having eyes in the back of your head.

For smaller children and infants in rear-facing car seats, you can use an infant mirror that attaches to the back seat’s headrest or rear window. It will be positioned so that you can see the baby when you look into your rear view mirror. Plus, your baby may be less fussy along the trip if he’s preoccupied with the entertainment of his/her own reflection.

3. Get some road trip entertainment for the kids.

Any parent knows that a bored child is typically much more likely to act up and get into trouble. This is a distraction that can be alleviated by packing your kids some new, fun activities to keep them entertained and out of trouble. Think about what your child may enjoy – books, games, puzzles, coloring books, a travel diary, movies, video games, and so forth. If your vehicle doesn’t have a DVD player, you may consider purchasing a portable one.

4. Give the kids frequent breaks.

Whether it be at a restaurant, rest stop, park, or even a local attraction, try to stop every two or three hours for a break. Pit stops may extend your overall travel time, but letting your kids burn off some energy and stretch their legs will be well worth it during long road trips.

5. Reassess your insurance needs and coverage.

About two weeks before your travel date, assess your auto insurance policy to make sure it’s congruent with your needs and offers sufficient financial protection. Most parents, especially new ones, don’t think about reviewing their auto insurance plan before they head out on vacation with a child in the backseat. However, raising a child is a huge financial responsibility that could prompt an increase to property damage or liability coverage.

Learn Safe Boating Rules and Requirements

Every year, the U.S. Coast Guard reports thousands of accidents and hundreds of deaths resulting from recreational boating. Four leading causes of these tragic accidents are speeding, recklessness, inattention, and operator inexperience. These four problems magnify themselves, especially when combined with other safety concerns and issues.

Utilize and Maintain Safety Equipment

Having the right safety equipment on-board and in good working order can mean the difference between life and death on the water.

*Fire extinguishers – Boats with false floors or enclosed compartments require a Coast Guard approved fire extinguisher to be on board at all times. Be sure to keep it charged, and in a handy location.

*Life jackets and Personal Flotation devices – Each person on board needs to have a U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket. Boats that are more than 16 feet long need to have a PFD that can be thrown to a person who has fallen overboard.

*Boat lights – Test your lights before you leave the dock. Be sure to carry extra batteries as well.

*Anchor – Not only do you need to have an anchor, but you also need to know how to use it. Each year improper anchoring is a cause of fatal and non-fatal accidents.

*Emergency supplies – Keep a first aid kit on board along with maps, flares, and matches. It is wise to keep your emergency supplies in a floating pouch.

Leave the Alcoholic Beverages Onshore

*Never operate a boat when under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The effects of alcohol can be increased by exposure to wind and sun, as well as noise and vibration.

*Most years, about a third of all boating deaths are drug or alcohol related. Don’t become a grim statistic. Stay sober and alive.

Loading and Unloading Your Boat

*Know your boat’s weight capacity and abide by it. Overloading your boat can spell trouble.

*Practice good boat launch etiquette and safety. Load equipment into your boat before you arrive at the ramp. Ask someone to hold the bow line and to help out in boat handling at the pier. Be courteous and cooperative with other boaters upon launching and upon your return.

Use Good Judgment and Common Sense

*Tell a close friend or family member where you are going and when you will return.

*Read and understand local and federal boating regulations before entering the water.

*Do not allow passengers to ride on seatbacks or on gunwales, and ask them to stay inside of protective railings.

*Watch your speed and follow all boat traffic rules.

When it comes to boating, take steps to prevent accidents before they happen.

Until You Know It’s Protected, Keep Your Boat on Dry Land

Americans love the sense of freedom and adventure that comes from boating. But boating can have a dark side, too. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, there were 4,730 boating accidents that involved 736 deaths in 2009. The price tag of these recreational boating accidents is high: about $36 million dollars per year.  And these figures are probably only the tip of the iceberg since the Coast Guard believes that more than 80 percent of all boating accidents go unreported.

Given this level of risk for accidents, it would make sense that boat owners would look for a way to protect themselves, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. A study conducted by Progressive Insurance revealed that nearly one third of U.S. boat owners don’t own a separate watercraft policy. That’s probably because boat owners assume that their craft is covered by their personal auto policy or their homeowner’s policy. This is a mistake that can cost them big time.

The standard auto policy covers the boat trailer for liability with the option to add coverage for physical damage. The boat itself, however, is not covered for liability or damage.

Some homeowner’s policies offer coverage for physical damage for boats, but only for smaller vessels. The typical homeowner’s policy contains a special property limit of $1,500 on watercraft, which doesn’t begin to equal the dollar value of most boats. In addition, the covered perils specific to the boat are also greatly restricted.

There is also liability coverage available for boats under the majority of homeowner’s policies, but once again, it is only applicable to smaller watercraft. The only exception is a boat with an outboard motor. That means that any type of boat you own that is powered by an inboard or inboard-outboard motor is excluded from liability coverage under the homeowner’s policy.

Because most boat owners are unaware how large a property and liability loss they expose themselves to without proper insurance, the Institutional Risk Management Institute (IRMI) has created a list of loss scenarios that demonstrate the need for specialized boat owners coverage:

·  Your cruiser collides with a speedboat whose operator fails to yield the right of way, causing extensive damage to your boat. The owner of the speedboat does not have any insurance coverage.

·  An expensive fishing boat you just purchased is stolen from your home.

·  Your 27-foot-long sailboat is damaged by a hailstorm and high winds while docked at the marina.

·  Your sport fishing boat is struck by lightning, incapacitating its electrical system.

·  Your daughter’s friend is water skiing behind your boat and  falls into the lake, injuring herself, due to the excessive speed of the boat.

·  You negligently cause another boat to overturn to avoid a collision.

·  Your outboard motor explodes, seriously injuring your next-door neighbor.

These scenarios illustrate the need to factor insurance costs into the equation when buying a boat.  If you fail to insure your boat properly, your boat loan may become the smallest of your financial worries.