Les Imoca sur le Défi Azimut 2020

Vendée Globe: how are the boats insured?

During the last Défi Azimut, two boats, Fabrice Amedeo’s Newrest-Art & Fenêtres and Louis Burton’s Bureau Vallée were unable to start racing because of a problem with the renewal of their insurance. And so, in light of that, Tip & Shaft took an interest and questioned most of the teams to learn how the Vendée Globe Imocas are insured.

The 33 sailors who will start the ninth Vendée Globe on November 8 are all required to have civil liability insurance covering any damage caused to third parties (NoR rule 19 ‘to a value of over €3m’), but they are not obliged to insure their boat. Tip & Shaft could not reach all 33 teams but out of the 26 who responded, only three did not use an insurer for their boat: L’Occitane (Armel Tripon), PRB (Kevin Escoffier) and Campagne de France (Miranda Merron).

The reasons are all related to the costs of insurance premiums and high excess costs. “It costs too much and the boat is now ten years old, so it is already amortised (written off as an asset)”, we were told by PRB. Halvard Mabire, team manager of Campagne de France, explains: “The solutions we are offered just were not acceptable: we have a boat of which the insured value is 400,000 euros and it costs us 50,000 euros in premiums with an excess of 150,000 euros which is calculated on the total loss of the boat which did not exist before.”

For Michel de Franssu, team manager of L’Occitane, one of the eight new Imoca of the 2020 Vendée Globe, the question is not yet completely settled: “We are waiting for a new proposal which, from what I understand , could be revised downwards if we equip the boat with Oscar [the detection system for warning of unidentified floating objects, see our article]”. But the feeling is not to insure the 60 footer of Armel Tripon, even if its value is estimated at more than 5 million euros.

“Right now the insurance premium is equivalent to 10% of the value of the boat and then the excess is around 500,000 euros and for that it is knowing that the cost is based on total loss of the boat only, not the cost of  the sails, the mast, appendages, electronics… It is only in the event of a total loss that it is worthwhile to be insured.” Suggests Michel de Franssu. “However, when we look at the statistics of total loss on the last editions of the Vendée Globe, the probability is still quite low. So in the end, the cover offered is poor compared to the cost. ”

Apart from these three exceptions all the other teams that Tip & Shaft spoke to chose to insure their 60 footers. Most of them go through a broker who advise the Imoca class, the Belgian broker and risk managers Tolrip, who act as the intermediary to another broker, the German Pantaenius Insurance Broker – a subsidiary of Pantaenius Group (which have 100,000 boats insured around the world) – which, according to Lars Troeppner, who is in charge of the Imoca portfolio, provides cover for “85% of the Vendée Globe fleet“. It is up to him to bring together a pool of insurers, and not a single insurer, who share the risks and who then take their share the premiums.These annual premiums are calculated pro rata on the declared value of the boat and typically range from 5-6% for an Imoca which is already well amortized and considered to be robust and reliable to 10-12% for the latest generation foilers. And so, typically this makes a team or a skipper say: “The insurance premium for new boats now exceeds 500,000 euros, that is the equivalent of the total budget of a small team.”

And on top of that this amount changes from one year to the next, making budgeting projections complicated: “When you start a four-year cycle, you don’t know in advance what you are going to be asked for for in the Vendée Globe year, you always have an element of uncertainty in predicting the costs of the premiums and the excesses”, confirms Louis Burton. Excesses (the initial amount borne by the insured party) vary mainly between 150,000 to 500,000 euros.
“Considering the excess costs then you ultimately only insure the total loss. So, for example on a dismasting you are below the excess level on a new boat”, notes Greg Evrard who is team manager of Corum L’Epargne (Nicolas Troussel) .

Not many know better than Stéphane Le Diraison who was victim of a dismasting on the last Vendée Globe 2016, “I paid a lot (in terms of premiums) to have nothing (back). What is very embarrassing is that from an objective, philosophical point of view is that if I had called for help and left the boat – knowing that my life was potentially in danger because my mast was down on the deck and cutting into the hull and with a force 9 wind pushing me towards Antarctica – I would have been reimbursed 100% for what would then have been a total loss. But, doing everything to bring the boat back to port, perhaps even risking my life, I fell into the ‘box’ where I was not actually entitled to anything. ”

According to many then the fact that today there is really only one player in the Vendée Globe boat insurance market (also servicing other ocean racing classes such as the Ultimes, the Multi50 and the Class40) makes it hard to hold down the costs, especially the excesses, “A few years ago, there were a Russian company, Pantaenius and Hiscox, the English group. The Russians withdrew first and then two years later Hiscox had to quit because of the uncertainties over Brexit. Suddenly Pantaenius finds itself on their own in the market and that is not super healthy, “confirms Louis Burton. He is studying a proposal from Hiscox who seem to want to return to the game (Maxime Sorel chose this option, with a premium twice as expensive, but an excess five times lower than his Pantaneius quote, according to him).”The lack of competition means that premiums and excesses soar, while the guarantees decrease. Today insurance is one of the most important costs on an operational budget almost equivalent to the payroll”, notes Xavier Bourhis the broker based in Lorient, in charge of lots of Figaros. At Pantaenius, Lars Toeppner recognizes that premiums and excesses have increased but he thinks it’s wrong to put that down to the absence of competition in the market: “The problem or better the reason for this is, that this is high risk in the sailing yacht sector and in this sector are not enough yachts for the insurers to have a homogeneous risk balance. In addition, there are unfortunately not many insurers who are willing to underwrite this risk. ”

And of course insurers are in reality quite cautious to enter this niche market, one which is deemed risky, especially when capsizes make the headlines of the television news. “The real blow was the disaster that befell (the Ultime) Banque Populaire on the Route du Rhum 2018. We are all paying for that”, says one skipper sharing a feeling held by others, but not by Antoine Mermod, president of the Imoca class: “This is nothing compared to the hurricane in Saint-Barth which destroyed 150 boats worth several million euros all covered by the same insurer. We have to think more about the whole sailing boat ecosystem in total.”

Lars Troeppner adds: “The insurers do not only look at the loss ratios of the individual sailing classes, but also on the whole water sports sector and in this sector the total loss figures are not so positive for the insurer since years. In recent years, there has been an increase in major losses, due to hall fires, storm damage in marinas, hurricane damage in the USA and the Caribbean, etc.

The fact remains and all recognize it, without Pantaenius it would be almost impossible to insure the boats, especially considering for the  purchase of a good number of the boats the banks financing them require an insurance contract in proper form. But within the Imoca class, they are looking for solutions to reassure the insurers: “We make sure that the one-design masts have much higher safety coefficients. We push the teams to do tests on the hulls and the keels. Over the years, we bring experts to Brazil after the Transat Jacques Vabre to check that the boats are in good shape do the return delivery… We want to show insurers that everything is done to avoid claims as much as possible, “continues Antoine Mermod.Some think that it is increasingly important to limit the technological and therefore financial escalation, which ultimately is borne across the entire fleet. “I believe that the entire insured fleet has gone from 25 to 40 million euros from one Vendée Globe to another, the system has come to a halt, we must perhaps calm down on the new boats because insurers no longer want to be active in the market, especially in the current economic climate, “said a skipper. This analysis is shared by Damien Seguin: “We have boats that are too expensive, so in terms of risks we cannot all pay to cover the entire fleet We are also victims of our own choices we must be honest about say that this responsibility is not only with the insurers. ”

And Halvard Mabire agrees: “We took technological risks and as (things happened) insurance paid out and we continued. Today, we are paying a bit for this, and we are in a field of prototypes, where it is necessary to know how to measure and how to take on the risks. ” That makes one individual in the insurance world sum up: “My feeling is that these boats should not be insured. They are racing boats, and the principle of competition is to always go for the limit. ”

Photo: Anne Beaugé / Défi Azimut

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