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Pantaenius, the personal insurer

by Mark Jardine 6 Nov 2023 07:14 GMT
The famous Pantaenius BBQ on the Dock at Sail Port Stephens © Salty Dingo

Pantaenius is one of the world's leading providers of boat and yacht insurance solutions. Founded 1899 in Hamburg, Germany, the company made a name for itself in marine and transport insurance and has grown internationally since to become the global success story that it is now.

I spoke to Michaela Claes, Operations Manager at Pantaenius Australia, to find out about the growth in Oceania.

Mark Jardine: Michaela, you have built the Pantaenius Australia brand from scratch to where you are now, a company with 20 employees. Can you describe this journey?

Michaela Claes: Well, it has been a long journey. What we had to do is be there for our clients and go the extra mile, meaning we did a lot of legwork. We supported grassroots events, such as the Sail Port Stephens Regatta and Game Fishing competitions. We started with events, and then we went to the boat shows, but always in a very modest way. We did not want to be extravagant; we just wanted to communicate and connect with our potential clients.

Early on we asked John Curnow to write a number of articles for us, describing what's covered and what's not covered, so that we could be as transparent as possible. At the end of the day, people have bought themselves a boat, and it's expensive, and it's an asset, and they want to have it protected. So, they need to know what's not covered, because you can easily tell them all the things that are covered, but it's more important to be clear about what's not covered and what we as an insurer expect from our insured, in terms of looking after the vessel, negligence and so forth. So, we wrote a lot of things and had a lot of coverage from the beginning mainly on Sail World. This approach worked as many people applauded us for being so honest and transparent.

We also made sure that everyone in the office understood the policies and knew what's covered and what's not, so that we don't provide any misinformation to our clients. Growing the business has been about being there for our clients. The team knows it is important to take all the time necessary with a client. We don't have any KPIs (key performance indicators) in this office. We want to make sure everyone knows what's covered and what's not, and our clients appreciate this. They then talk to their friends and say, 'You should talk to us about your insurance needs,' and on it went.

Mark: You just described, I think rather modestly, that you just got involved with events across all of the areas that you insure. That's not as easy as you've just brushed over, and I know this takes a huge time and effort, especially in the early years of a business.

Michaela: We still do it. I still do it. I'm still on the ground with these events as much as I was ten years ago. At the Sail Port Stephens Regatta we're there for the whole week. Every briefing, every presentation, and the many barbecues we had for our clients in ten years. You have no idea how many sausages I have barbecued in ten years, and how much tomato sauce and mustard I have splurged on hotdog rolls! Putting smiles on faces and giving back to the community is a big thing: if we support them, they support us, and most importantly, I think this makes us approachable. We take the time and we don't judge people by how big the vessel or the potential client might be; everyone gets the same service from Pantaenius. Yes, doing events is a lot of work, that's true, but it's still a lot of fun.

Mark: The economy inevitably, over the last five years in particular, has had incredible ups and downs, with all that we've had to endure. This boom that we've seen of people going out on the water post-pandemic must take quite a bit of temperance to moderate when you have new people coming into boating. How can you manage their expectations and help make sure that they're not going out unprepared?

Michaela: It's all about education. We have an email system in place where we send articles out, talking about training and always taking a safety-first approach. Very few people buy themselves a boat, go out, put the throttle down and go full speed. The majority of people go out with their children, as a family on board, and most are more apprehensive than you may think. It all looks nice and organised on the trailer or in the marina berth, but then you go out and there's a current and their boat doesn't go the way they're expecting as it gets pushed by the wind or against something. It's a matter of making information available to our clients, teaching them a few things, and being transparent with our claims.

Helping clients understand what can go wrong is so important, as people learn from seeing negative things. We have not had many claims where it comes down to inexperience. Our customers are very open to learning and they're very careful.

Mark: Again, this highlights the personal, one-to-one relationship that you seem to have with your clients. You've talked about the relationship that you built with events, but inevitably, as an insurer, you need to build relationships with the boatyards, the people who can do repairs when necessary. These relationships must be of huge benefit to your clients.

Michaela: We definitely have relationships within the industry because we support the industry, through for instance the Australian International Marine Export (AIMEX) group and the Boating Industry Association (BIA). We support lots of groups and events, so yes, we can probably get a quote quicker than the boat owner. At the end of the day, the boat owner decides where he wants his boat to get repaired, and they provide us with two quotes, like in any other insurance business, and they go where they want to go. But we sometimes recommend a local service or surveyor, because we have 35,000 industry partners on file worldwide.

We want the client to find services themselves, and we don't recommend too much, but when it comes to claims handling then it's very important. For example, if you have a claim in Panama, we know we have a couple of surveyors there who we can rely upon. In the Pacific, we know how hard it is to do claims handling as it's such a huge area, and that's where recommendations really help. We get so many lovely comments from claimants who cannot believe what a breeze it was to have a claim with us and how we handled it, so that's nice, and that's what you have insurance for.

Mark: This brings me on to the fact that Pantaenius is a global business. This must give you exceptional insights as to where things are heading, the trends in the yachting and power boating industry. When people are looking at travelling globally, this must give you a huge advantage and mean that you can give advice to those clients.

Michaela: Absolutely. We share information with the other Pantaenius offices at regular meetings; where it's dangerous, where are the good and safe areas, and clients come to us and ask, 'Where should we go? What do you think of this sailing plan?'. They do their own research and then very often they'll confirm what they're thinking, where they would like to go, and what's the safest way to go get there and so forth. The experience and knowledge in the Australian office, and Pantaenius globally, is just unheard of. We have specialists for a reason, and not one of our competitors can provide this level of service, knowledge and product support!

Mark: Globally, with bluewater cruising, you have cruising sailors who travel the world, and quite often European sailors who will come and sail in the Pacific through the islands, but you've found that some people then avoid Australia. Do you know the reasons for this?

Michaela: The perceived reason is that we have our named Tropical Storm times, a cyclone season which starts here in the southern hemisphere on 1st November and finishes on 1st May. During the season, people are under the impression that they can't go north of 26.5 degrees South, which is actually incorrect. They can go north, but they don't get named Tropical Storm cover from us automatically north of 26 degrees south. Everything south of 26.5 degrees, most of the east coast is certainly OK to cruise around between 1st November and 1st May, and be fully covered for any storm event.

You can get work done at shipyards in Brisbane such as Rivergate, or you go south to the Gold Coast and Gold Coast City Marina, or The Boat Works, where we also have an office. You can put your boat on a hard-stand and go back to Europe for a few months over Christmas, because Christmas in Australia is still a little bit different to Christmas in Europe, and vessels are safe here and they're absolutely covered for storm. However, north of 26.5 degrees, they're not covered for any damage caused by a named tropical storm. Many people don't know this, and when they find out it gives them options, they often prefer to leave their vessel in Australia for a few months on a hardstand, rather than in Asia.

Mark: When you've got facilities like The Boat Works, which has expanded massively with incredible facilities, this awareness, and the areas that they can then cruise, opens up a whole new world to them.

Michaela: I totally love this industry in Australia on the east coast. It's just phenomenal and there's so much going on. Great workmanship, great craftsmanship. If you want to get things done to your boat, any work done, you plan it in, and you can leave the vessel in their capable hands.

But don't underestimate the West Coast of Australia, especially, Fremantle, Henderson etc just south of Perth; there's a lot of stuff happening there as well, very good boatbuilders and very good shipyards, who are known to cater for the repair and refit of larger vessels.

So there's no reason to avoid Australia when you come out of the Pacific. Ultimately you have to leave the Pacific during storm season. In the past most vessels either relocated to New Zealand, but the weather is not always enticing! The floods and inclement weather experienced in NZ in the last year has certainly seen many cruisers choose Australia over NZ!

Mark: The way you found out these problems, again is due to your one-to-one relationships with clients. You have met bluewater cruisers in the Pacific, talked to them, and found out what the perceived issues were and went from there. It all comes back to this personal relationship you have with clients.

Michaela: Yes, absolutely. The majority of our clients know where they can go as they have researched everything, but while bluewater cruising, they hear other people's perception and other people's opinions and sometimes it's a little bit ill informed.

We ran into a German lady in Tahiti who didn't think she could go to Australia with a Lagoon 450, she thought she had to go into Asia to avoid storm season and maintain cover. She has now changed all her plans and is coming to Australia. She's planning on locating her vessel right under the Harbour Bridge for the New Year's Eve festivities. We found her a marina berth for a few days, and she's excited to come to Australia and she is excited that her vessel is covered with Pantaenius, through the German office, and here she's being looked after by the Australian Pantaenius team, so that's perfect.

And then there's a British couple with a beautiful family. They're thinking of coming to Australia now as well, after previously thinking they'd have to go straight into Asia coming out of the Pacific. But they're now looking at Brisbane, the Gold Coast, hanging around there for a little bit, then going to Sydney over summer. It's beautiful.

Mark: This is opening up a whole new world for their cruising.

Michaela: Most Europeans dream about seeing the fireworks at Sydney Harbour on New Year's Eve, and it is spectacular. You know, I grew up in Germany, and we always saw the Sydney fireworks on TV at 8pm. If you imagine you can actually have your boat which you've sailed all the way from Europe - you experience the Pacific, and then you go down the east coast of Australia, then you see the fireworks in Sydney - I don't think that anything can top that.

Mark: We have seen a few problems in the last couple of years with the growth of toys on board, such as e-foil boards and also with power systems, the requirements on board for power, including lithium cells. A lot of the time these can be very safe, but at times they can cause problems and when they cause problems, they cause real problems. What have you experienced, and what is being done on that front?

Michaela: We have not seen any incidents as such. Many customers you hear about retrofit their battery systems, and for bluewater cruisers the benefits of lithium batteries are phenomenal. They're less weight and more capacity, however, we recommend if you retrofit this, you need a battery management system. You need to retrofit as per the electrical standards of your country. In Australia, we accept lithium batteries, but please be aware, we want them to be installed in line with the Australian electrical standards. That's all we're asking for.

Mark: This, again, comes down to education. Lithium batteries have great advantages when used correctly.

Michaela: Absolutely. It's the same if you make any modifications to your vehicle, if it's your car, you need to get all the certificates, and same applies to vessels to make sure it's safe.

Mark: Is part of the problem again perception. When you look at a lithium battery, it has a similar look to a lead acid battery, but the management systems are far more complicated. Is that part of the problem?

Michaela: That is very often the problem, I would say. We have seen a few people who have tried to get insurance, and we asked if they have lithium batteries on board and whether they have been installed properly. Then, in our survey reports, we have seen a few cases where things haven't been right, and we tell our clients that they should address this with their electricians, and then we are good to go. It's essential to make sure your battery management system is in line with the standards.

Mark: This again comes back to your one-to-one relationship with clients. The last thing a client wants is a problem with their yacht, and if their insurer is the one who asking the questions about having the proper battery management in place, then they can enjoy their cruising with more peace of mind.

Michaela: It's creating awareness, getting the knowledge out there. We remind them to be aware as there are hundreds of different lithium products out there and you have to make sure that they meet all the standards and that proper systems are in place.

Mark: The learning curve when you have a new member of staff on the Pantaenius team must be steep, especially for them to understand that this is how you work with your clients. So training new members of the team must be hard.

Michaela: Training is hard. It's also the mindset, the perception of employees, staff members and colleagues. Our staff worldwide, particularly at the head office in Hamburg, Germany, stay with us for twenty or thirty years. One lady who serves at tea break has been there for 39 years! These are amazing people with a wealth of knowledge and in Australia the attitude of Australians is more 'move on to the next thing', where you feel you need to add things to your CV, but we have people in this office who have now been with us quite a long time. The Australian office has existed for eleven years now, and we have a lady here serving nine years. I've been right from the beginning.

Convincing young people that here you have an opportunity to grow within an industry which is exciting, because although insurance might sound boring, our insurance is definitely not boring. It is exciting, but it takes a while, so it's just a matter of managing the young people, and telling them that it takes a while, but that you learn things every day, as do I.

During the interview process we really try to find out what they like about a job and would they fit the team. We usually place them in a customer service role to start with, because that's really vibrant with lots going on and then you can tell after a while that this could be someone who would be really interested in claims, because there's a technical desire to learn more about the technical side of claims handling for example.

We support Marine Jobs, a collaboration between the Boating Industry Association, Marina Industries Association and Superyacht Australia, with career day on the 21st of October in Coomera, including Gold Coast City Marina, The Boat Works, Riviera, Maritimo, Pantaenius and a couple of other big businesses. We are bringing young people in to have a look at how they build boats at Riviera and Maritimo, we look at a shipyard at Gold Coast City Marina and at The Boat Works, and look at an office job with Pantaenius. We get between one and two thousand young people attend. The day is designed to inform and open their horizons, so they can see opportunities in an industry which they may not have considered before. The marine industry needs, Boiler makers, cabinet makers, engineers, electrical technicians etc, There are so many jobs and opportunities. Australia has so many boats out there, so many boats to build, and they all need to be serviced and maintained. So we invest and support in programs like Marine Jobs which helps build a better industry for the future.

Mark: Michaela, many thanks indeed for your time and insights into Pantaenius, and the wider marine industry itself. It's been a fascinating conversation!

Find out more about Pantaenius at and contact the team on +61 (02) 9936 1670 or email for a personal approach to yacht insurance.