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Insurance for recreational divers


As more and more divers travel to more and more exotic places to enjoy their activity it is clear that advice is needed on appropriate insurance cover.

Insurance can be regarded as an element of a diver’s risk management strategy and as such requires the diver to understand both its use and limitations.

Insurance works by a large group exposed to a particular risk paying into a fund that is then used to reimburse subscribers suffering an insured loss. The system works when the subscribers see the premium as reasonable, the cover meets claimants needs and the proposers are content with their profit. In general economic terms the larger the subscriber pool the lower the premium proposers can offer.

Diving is obviously regarded as an unusual activity and covering contingent risk varies throughout the European Union. Cover provided by national health and accident schemes varies widely and consequently, the insurance habits and needs of EU divers diving within their own country, other EU countries and outside the EU also vary.

The diver can now choose insurance packages specifically designed to meet all or some of these needs, either as a bolt-on to other insurance or a stand alone product. A third option is to have a general personal or family policy (life, accident, medical, household, etc.) that includes suitable diving and dive travel cover.

This paper is designed to provide background information to assist in making that choice and a benchmark against which to assess such products.

This paper restricts its information to the classes of insurance detailed below, which within the insurance industry are known as non-life.


Most travel and holiday insurance is designed for a broad market, often focussed on package tours. This rarely takes into account the needs of a recreational diver and often is either insufficient or even excludes such activities.

Whilst uncommon, diving injuries may well require specific treatment and aftercare that can necessitate expert support and scarce, expensive facilities. For divers without appropriate cover this can create severe and even dangerous problems should the necessary care not be immediately available.

Divers should consider their insurance needs in respect of search, rescue, recovery, treatment and repatriation. Whilst it might be possible that personal equipment may be covered by domestic insurance, responsibility for locally hired equipment may also need insuring.

Ensure that the kind of diving you wish to undertake is not excluded – often depth limits, ppO2 values and particular equipment are mentioned. Age limits, appropriate certification and pre-existing medical conditions may also apply.

Consider also the difference between indemnity cover where the claimant pays costs up front and policies that meet costs as they arise, including guarantees to medical and other services.

The information provided in this paper is principally aimed at Europeans travelling outside of Europe, where European Directives, custom and practice may not apply but should also be useful for diving in other European states or home countries.


Market research indicates there are more than 3 million Europeans enjoying diving annually, many of whom make diving trips outside of Europe. Surveys show that some 50% of western European divers make at least one trip abroad each year and probably more than 60% of Europeans start their diver training abroad.

The European diving population is of a very widespread national and social background, hence a variety of cover needs. In turn this is reflected in the variety of policies on offer and prices of these policies.

Travel element

Cancellation/curtailment: usually part of a travel insurance, check that dive packages purchased locally and not through a holiday package are covered (independent traveller arrangements). It can be difficult to find this cover element for group dive trips organised through local centres or clubs.

Personal liability/legal costs: costs and awards increase going west in the EU, current out of court settlements in UK and Ireland are many hundreds of thousands of Euro. A badly broken leg can result in two to three hundred thousand Euro plus legal costs. In the UK and Ireland only 1% of the civil liability has to be proved to recover 100% of the legal costs.

Insurance purchase habits also vary across Europe, in some states it is normal for all households to buy annual personal liability that may also cover diving activities, even overseas.

Current personal civil liability awards have exceeded five million Euro on occasion.

Baggage and equipment: this may be included in household insurance of sports equipment but if so check overseas travel is covered. It may also form part of an accident insurance but often this is partial and dependent on the accident circumstances/ more commonly it forms part of a travel insurance.

Personal money/passport loss: sometimes this can be part of a household insurance but if so check overseas travel is covered. Usually it is part of a travel insurance.

Delay: extra costs due to transport or other delays to a trip.

Cancellation: certified cancellation of a trip on medical other reasons.

Territorial limits: ideally worldwide, if not should include all areas in your travel schedule.

Medical/emergency element

Search, rescue and recovery: Not all countries operate free search, rescue or recovery and in many cases casualties will have to meet significant associated expenses. In extreme cases prolonged searches could be prejudiced without evidence of suitable insurance and/or up-front payment guarantees demanded.

Accident definition: ensure policies do not exclude bites, stings, hypothermia, hyperthermia, suffocation (breathing gas problems) or drowning.

Hospital/re-compression treatment: In some areas either advance payment or evidence of suitable insurance is demanded before hospital treatment or hyperbaric treatment is commenced. Policies should also cover both in- and out-patient treatment and prescription costs.

Repatriation: Should the casualty’s best interests indicate either repatriation or treatment in another country be appropriate suitable insurance is prudent.

Additional expenses: expenses needed to cover trip prolongation and travel of a partner to accompany a hospitalised casualty.

Emergency assistance: Bearing in mind language issues and time zones it is important to have an insurance system offering a 24/7 worldwide contact and activation mechanism.

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