Buying boat insurance can be challenging for any boater. That's because unlike auto or home insurance, boat insurance policies aren't standardized - coverage can vary widely for the same boat depending on who sold the policy and how well informed a buyer you are. But the smart boater can make the right insurance choice with these "Top Five Tips for Buying Boat Insurance" from BoatU.S., the nation's largest recreational boat owners association:

#5 Know thy insurer: Boat insurance can be "added on" to a homeowner's policy, purchased from an independent insurance agent or directly from a marine insurance specialist. Buying a policy through a reputable agent or directly from a marine insurer specialist is the best way to go. "Adding on" to your homeowner's policy may seem to work just fine, but when there's a claim you will appreciate a company that knows more about boats than homes. Homeowner's policies often limit or don't provide some of the marine related coverages like salvage recovery.

Ask experienced boating friends for their insurance recommendations and check on the insurance "carrier," - the actual company that's providing you coverage - at AM Best ratings are the industry's benchmark for assessing an insurer's financial strength - look for an "A" rating (excellent) or better. State insurance regulatory agencies are also a good bet and can be found online.

#4 Agreed Value vs. Actual Cash Value: These are the two main choices for boat insurance and depreciation is what sets them apart.

An "Agreed Value" policy costs more but it pays more - it will cover the stated value of the policy in the event of a total loss. For example, a total loss on a $50,000 agreed value policy would pay you $50,000. More importantly, a partial loss an Agreed Value policy replaces most items on a "new for old" basis - with little or no depreciation, depending on the carrier. Hence, a claim for a stolen four-year-old GPS would get you a new, comparable replacement GPS.

"Actual Cash Value" policies cost less but only pay up to the actual cash value at the time the boat or property were lost - depreciation is factored in on all losses. Actual Cash Value policies are better suited to less expensive boats or when you aren't so concerned about a total loss.

#3 Know the salvage truth: If you have chosen an "Agreed Value" policy, stay away from those that limit salvage coverage - that's the amount that may be paid to a salvor to reward him for saving your boat from peril and bringing it safely to a repair yard. You want a policy that provides salvage coverage up to the same amount as the boat's Agreed Value, and does not subtract these dollars, or the policy's deductible, from the total amount available to fix the damage. For example, a $50,000 agreed value policy should have $50,000 available to salvage the boat from the bottom of the ocean and then pay up to $50,000 for repairs. Otherwise, you could end up short when replacing or repairing the boat because you may have to use some of your repair funds to pay off salvage costs first. Boats added to a homeowner's policy most often run this risk.

Some policies also have "hurricane deductibles" - a significantly higher deductible for salvage and/or repairs related to named storms or hurricanes. Be sure that this dollar amount is acceptable to you, otherwise you could end up short again.

#2 Speak to me in a language I understand: Don't treat boat insurance like other insurance. Make sure you understand exactly the coverage you are getting as well as what's not covered. Always ask for an explanation in laymen's terms.

#1 One size doesn't fit all: Have an old, trusty, paid-off sailboat? Spanking new (and highly leveraged) 36' express cruiser? Slick and fast bass boat? Personal water craft? Each has its own insurance requirements.

Do you need hurricane haul-out assistance? Fuel spill coverage? Planning a trip a long way from home? A good insurer will walk you through a list questions so you won't have to guess the answers when something unexpected happens.

BoatU.S. - the nation's leading advocate for recreational boaters - provides a wide array of consumer services including a fleet of more than 400 towing assistance vessels; discounts on fuel and slips at nearly 700 marinas; a subscription to Boat U.S. Magazine, and a group-rate marine insurance program. For membership information visit or call 800-395-2628.