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What Does a Marine Underwriter Do?

By Benjamin Arie
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A marine underwriter is a professional who provides insurance coverage for boats and ships. Workers in this job help owners to choose the correct type and amount of marine insurance coverage, in order to protect assets from loss. Often, marine underwriters must provide proper coverage not only for a vessel, but also for cargo that is transported by sea.

Marine coverage, or “underwriting,” is the oldest form of insurance in history. The job of a ship underwriter dates back to at least the 1300s, when shipping operations in Europe developed insurance policies to protect valuable goods. Today, the marine underwriting process is regulated and standardized by law in most major countries. Modern marine underwriting is frequently bundled with air and ground insurance, and is often offered as a combined “Marine, Aviation, and Transit” (MAT) coverage package.

Before a vessel can be insured, a marine underwriter must assess the probability of risk. Underwriters use a combination of statistics and investigation to determine the odds that a particular ship will be damaged or lost. A marine expert may inspect a cargo vessel, for instance, to check for proper seaworthiness and safety equipment. Underwriters also consider statistics such as the financial health of a shipping company and the history of past events.

Insurance professionals must be knowledgeable about maritime laws and conditions in many different countries, which can directly affect insurance costs. Some sea routes take cargo ships into dangerous areas that are open to modern piracy, or may have harsh weather conditions. Marine underwriters must take many diverse factors into account when assessing a proposed insurance plan.

Once a marine underwriter has estimated the potential risk to a ship, an insurance policy is created. Generally, a policy for a low-risk shipping company is less expensive than comparable insurance that covers a high-risk operation. An underwriter can choose to raise the insurance rate for a risky venture, or deny coverage completely if the hazards are too great.

A marine underwriter’s job does not stop once insurance has been issued. Insurance workers must continue to monitor the performance record of a transport company, in order to adjust the insurance rate according to actual events. Just as a bad driving record will often cause individual insurance rates to skyrocket, a marine cargo company that repeatedly loses or damages goods may be forced to pay an adjusted premium.

When an insurance loss, such as a vessel fire or cargo theft occurs, insurance underwriters work with investigators to determine who is at fault. If an accidental loss is covered by the policy, the insurance company will provide a payout. A marine underwriter must closely analyze each incident, in order to ensure that fraud does not occur and the correct insurance payment is made.

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