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Four years ago, the sport of rowing saw a resurgence in the U.S., with clubs and high school programs popping up all over the country. In 2016, the U.S. Rowing Club National Championships registered a record 1,500 crews.

Rowing continues to be a popular sport thanks to the scholarship opportunities it offers to young athletes and the sense of camaraderie that permeates the tight-knit crew community.

That’s why AXA XL’s Marine team partnered with Leonard Insurance Group, which has been providing insurance to the rowing community for over 60 years and is helmed by a third-generation rower and Dad Vail board member, John Leonard. John has also held several positions at his rowing club including secretary, vice president, and president.

Rowing insurance coverage starts with physical damage to specialized rowing vessels, called “shells”. Insurance programs can be expanded to include third-party watercraft liability, property coverage for buildings, general liability for rowing organizations, coverage for regattas, and even auto coverage!

John’s niche expertise is especially critical for newer clubs unsure of how much coverage they need. He understands the value of the equipment, as well as a club’s unique exposures and budget constraints, and can help to construct a package with adequate coverage and affordable premium and deductible structures.

Whether a fledgling club or nationally renowned program, every crew team needs insurance to get back on the water when accidents happen.

Here are key policies every rowing club needs, and the types of loss they protect against:

1. Property Insurance for Physical Damage to Shells
For most clubs or teams, a property policy covering physical damage to shells and equipment is the most essential. Rowing shells can be worth anywhere from $1,000 to over $60,000, depending on their size and material. Large or prestigious clubs with big fleets may have more than $500,000 worth of shells sitting in their boathouse. There may also be other equipment like oars, boat trailers, storage and transport racks, slings, tools and furniture that all need to be covered.

Common types of physical damage include holes, dents and cracks caused by collisions in the water with other boats, undetected logs or rocks, bridges, docks, or even wildlife. In the worst cases, crashes can completely snap a bow and render a boat unusable.

Damage to shells is costly to repair in both dollars and time. Whether a boat is made from wood, fiberglass, or carbon fiber, fixing a dent, crack or hole requires craftsmanship and access to high-quality materials. Since it is not feasible for a crew to purchase a new boat while a damaged one is out of commission, damaged shells can mean lost practice time and, in some cases, withdrawal from competition.

Even when the shells are not out on the water they are still exposed to loss. Failure to properly secure a shell on a storage rack will send it tumbling to the ground, potentially taking out other boats on its way. The improper securing of a shell can be even more devastating when shells are on a trailer being transported. Unfortunately, many crews have seen their boats come loose and bounce around on the highway.

Natural hazards, like falling tree branches and flash floods, increasingly pose a threat as well. With heavy rain and flooding growing both more frequent and severe, clubs’ exposure to flood-related losses has increased significantly. With little time to move boats to a safer location, some crews have lost entire fleets to flash floods, suffering six-figure losses. While a falling tree branch may not take out an entire fleet, they do pose a significant threat to shells stored on outdoor racks.

There are so many unique exposures to these watercraft, so Leonard Insurance Group and AXA XL worked together to create a specialized physical damage policy – Rowing Equipment Coverage Solutions – just for them! 

There are so many unique exposures to these watercraft, so Leonard Insurance Group and AXA XL worked together to create a specialized physical damage policy – Rowing Equipment Coverage Solutions.

2. Watercraft Liability Policies for Damages to a Third Party
In cases of collision with other boats there’s more at stake than just the shell. Personal injury and serious damage to another party’s property are also consequences of these mishaps. 
A watercraft liability policy covers medical expenses arising from a crash, as well as any repairs needed for a third party’s boat or other damaged property, whether the event was purely accidental or the result of negligence.

Bad accidents are relatively uncommon in the sport of rowing, but when they do happen, the impact can be severe. An eight-person crew can reach a top speed of 15 miles-per hour in the water – enough to topple another boat, cause lacerations and even break bones. Claims can get very expensive very quickly, especially in the increasingly litigious world we live in.

Rowing clubs should not have to take on these financial burdens without support. That is why Leonard Insurance Group and AXA XL offer watercraft liability. This coverage addresses the expense of care – whether it’s physical therapy for a sprained back or life-long treatment for a traumatic brain injury – as well as the costs to repair or replace damaged property. One bad accident should not bankrupt a rowing club.

3. Package Policies Providing Complete Coverage
After a club has secured coverage for the shells, they could still need a package policy to cover damage to the boathouse, general liability for the club (including “slip and fall” coverage), and an auto policy covering physical damage to any club-owned autos and liability arising out of their use. Leonard Insurance Group and AXA XL offer comprehensive property policies and general liability policies tailored to rowing programs and can offer auto coverage as well.

These policies have been expanded to include coverage for shells owned by club members or regatta competitors while they are at the boathouse. They also follow the insured rowing club when they travel for regattas. We can even offer expanded coverage for clubs that host large events, including liquor liability.

Remember the example of a shell coming loose on the highway? Our auto policies include coverage for trailers in tow, so if an errant shell flies off there is coverage for the shell and for any resulting third-party damage.

Leonard Insurance Group reviews every club individually and can help navigate the tricky world of insurance coverage. Through the partnership with AXA XL, there is a way to cover just about any exposure a rowing organization may have.

The Value of Rowing Expertise and Ease of Doing Business
An insurance carrier is only as good as its claims department. In straightforward physical damage losses, filing a claim is as easy as sending photos of the damage to Leonard Insurance Group with a description of the event provided via an emailed claim form. Assuming the claim is approved, the insured can choose where they’d like to get their boat fixed, send the bill to Leonard Insurance Group, and receive payment in a matter of days. John can also recommend different repair and salvage companies nationwide!

More complex claims require a degree of expertise. That is why this rowing program is supported by the full strength of the AXA XL Marine Claims Department. These claims handlers have experience handling difficult boat, property and liability claims, making their knowledge a tremendous asset to this kind of specialized coverage.

As rowing continues to grow, new clubs will emerge, existing clubs will expand, and their ever-changing insurance needs will be addressed by the experts at Leonard Insurance Group and AXA XL. 

About the Authors
John Leonard is President of Leonard Insurance Group. He can be reached at  Allison Jolls is an underwriter on AXA XL’s North America Marine team. She can be reached at

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Global Asset Protection Services, LLC, and its affiliates (“AXA XL Risk Consulting”) provides risk assessment reports and other loss prevention services, as requested. In this respect, our property loss prevention publications, services, and surveys do not address life safety or third party liability issues. This document shall not be construed as indicating the existence or availability under any policy of coverage for any particular type of loss or damage. The provision of any service does not imply that every possible hazard has been identified at a facility or that no other hazards exist. AXA XL Risk Consulting does not assume, and shall have no liability for the control, correction, continuation or modification of any existing conditions or operations. We specifically disclaim any warranty or representation that compliance with any advice or recommendation in any document or other communication will make a facility or operation safe or healthful, or put it in compliance with any standard, code, law, rule or regulation. Save where expressly agreed in writing, AXA XL Risk Consulting and its related and affiliated companies disclaim all liability for loss or damage suffered by any party arising out of or in connection with our services, including indirect or consequential loss or damage, howsoever arising. Any party who chooses to rely in any way on the contents of this document does so at their own risk.

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