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From the BoatUS Claims Department: Hurricane Disaster Recovery Q & A with CAT Team Director Rick Wilson

Rick Wilson grew up around boats, spent his teenage years teaching kids to sail at a Y camp, is a young father with a beautiful wife and two smart children -- all-American to be sure. But he takes his passion for boating and helping others so seriously that he leaves it all behind when a hurricane strikes to help BoatUS insureds in their time of need…

What are your primary responsibilities as director of the BoatUS Catastrophe (CAT) Field Team?
Usually within a day or two after a major hurricane, BoatUS mobilizes a team of claims personnel and independent marine surveyors to head to the affected region to help recover boats, adjust damage and settle claims. Our goal is to be finished within 30 days, depending on the severity and the number of boats involved.

I oversee the CAT team operation which includes managing storage/salvage strategy for insured Member boats – some are not easy to find and therefore must be stored in a secure place for repair or salvage sale. I act as the public relations liaison for local media, manage operational expenses, make manpower decisions and most importantly, look out for the team’s health and morale. 

What’s a typical day like “in the field”?
I lead daily meetings with staff both in the field and at the home office to coordinate boats we need to salvage, transport and store, review the damage appraisals and assign new cases for adjustment. I make myself available for surveyors when in the field, as a resource for problem-solving and relationship building. And at the end of the day, I provide reports on the team’s activities and progress to BoatUS management.                                                                      

What is some of the worst Hurricane devastation you’ve ever seen?
Hurricane Katrina in 2005 had probably the most devastating damage over the broadest area, although the four Florida storms of 2004 (Charley, Frances, Jeanne and Ivan) provided us with a major logistical challenge due to the need for concurrent teams in separate locations throughout the state.  But every storm is devastating in its own way to the people directly affected by it. I try not to forget the “big picture”. Comparing one storm to another really doesn’t matter to someone whose home, business, property or boat has been severely damaged. 
Where is the most unusual place you’ve ever located a policyholder’s boat after a storm? How did you get it out?
When boats break loose during the violence of a hurricane they can end up almost anywhere. We have found them on the water, under the water or out of the water; in parking lots, driveways, swamps, bayous, and yards; on roads, highways and train tracks; by themselves or in a pile with many other boats. As Doctor Seuss once said “From there to here, from here to there, funny things are everywhere”. 

I do remember the Cat Team having to engage helicopters following Hurricane Bob in 1991, to retrieve several boats that landed in environmentally sensitive areas.
What are some of the unusual conditions or hazards you’ve encountered while deployed?
We’ve encountered all sorts of wildlife -- alligators, snakes, scorpions, fire ants. Remember, they’ve all been displaced, too. Our living conditions are less than ideal and include living in trailers or in motels/hotels with no power or water. We have to travel significant distances each day to find services and restaurants that are operational. And long lines for fuel, food, water, etc. can also tax the process of managing time and resources.

How does a catastrophe claim differ from a regular claim?
Probably the biggest difference is in the sheer volume of claims we see in a single area after a catastrophe. It creates a tremendous demand for resources. Through our experiences, we have found that the best organized efforts will result in the earliest possible resolution of the Member’s claim.   

The BoatUS Catastrophe Team is renowned in the marine industry for its organization and execution of salvage and claims management (if I may say so myself).
What should boaters do immediately following a catastrophe if their boat has been damaged?
Boat owners should contact their insurance carrier and report the claim as quickly as they are safely able to do so. They should take whatever action they can safely take to protect the boat from further loss. This might include retying lines, removing equipment that might be a target for thieves or vandals, or covering damaged areas with tarps or plastic sheeting.   

However, if they cannot safely approach or board the boat they should not attempt to do so, please do not take unnecessary risks.  The damage to property can be fixed, injuries or deaths often cannot.

Boat owners should not contract for the salvage recovery of their boat without prior approval from their insurance company.  (In the case of Members insured with BoatUS, we will coordinate the salvage recovery for them.)

Does an insurance policy provide coverage during a Hurricane or Named-Storm?
Every boat owner whose boat is stored in a region that is prone to hurricanes should read their policy to get a full understanding of what coverage is and is not being provided. If you have any questions, contact your carrier and ask them to explain it. Many companies (including BoatUS) increase the deductible for damage incurred in a Named Storm state. However, BoatUS policies also provide for reimbursement for hurricane prep and haul-out – the steps you, as an owner, take to mitigate the damage before the storm. (Call or check our policy for details.)
Based on your years of experience, what steps can boaters take before a Hurricane to avoid or minimize damage to their boat?
Having a plan in place well ahead of time is probably the most important thing.  The time to think about storm preparation is not when Jim Cantore from the Weather Channel  begins reporting from your front yard. Develop your plan ahead of time and execute it well in advance of the storm.   

Any other advice you’d like to share with our Members?
The best Hurricane Preparation information that I am aware of can be found at our own BoatUS Hurricane Resource Center.  Members should visit this site the minute a storm is “Named” for access to tracking tools and other valuable resources for getting their boat out of harm’s way.     

Lastly, while the CAT team is here and always ready to act in the event of a Hurricane, I wish I had more opportunity to meet our Members under less stressful circumstances!

For Members not insured by BoatUS, visit our website for a Fast, Free Quote or call 1-800-283-2883 for personal service. To reach the BoatUS Claims department, call 1-800-937-1937 -- open 24/7!  

* All BoatUS policies subject to limits and exclusions

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