Ships have played a pivotal role in developing travel, transportation and commerce in the United States. In 1620, one of the most important and well-known historic vessels, the Mayflower, transported 102 Pilgrims from England to Plymouth, Mass.—a voyage that led to the founding of America.

More than 300 years later, a full-scale reproduction of the ship—the Mayflower II—was built in 1957 in Devon, England, and gifted to America as a symbol of post-World War II unity. Today, the craft is docked at Plymouth Harbor as part of Plimoth Plantation, a living history museum in southeastern Massachusetts.

Providing insurance for such a historic vessel is no simple task, but through a range of marine and inland marine products, International Marine Underwriters (IMU), through one of the insurance companies in the OneBeacon Insurance Group, has provided coverage for the Mayflower II for more than 20 years.

The significant effort to safeguard the 56-year-old ship and its historic roots while adhering to present-day nautical standards is facilitated by a unique partnership of industry professionals, including experienced underwriters, skilled shipwrights and a talented tugboat operator.  

Crafting Coverage for a Classic

Designed to mirror the craftsmanship of an early 16th-century English merchant ship, the Mayflower II is unique in age, structure and size (106 feet long, 25 feet wide, displacing 280 tons of water). Over the years, the ship has even received special permission from Congress to carry American passengers despite it being a foreign-built vessel. 

The high-profile account is high risk, requiring unique and extremely detailed underwriting. IMU provides hull (physical damage) and protection and indemnity (P&I) insurance for the Mayflower II and its ancillary vessels in partnership with Rogers & Gray, the insurance agency that has represented Plimoth Plantation for more than 20 years.

Bob Bizak, executive vice president at Rogers & Gray, explained the varying risk factors associated with protecting the Mayflower II both on and off land. 

“The difficulties in insuring facets of a rare, 17th-century living history museum include its older structures, coastline and weather exposure, heavy foot traffic and exposure to valuable artifacts,” says Bizak. “When the ship is on land for repairs, our primary focus becomes the timeliness of the project, extent of the work and policy amendment.” 

Additionally, in an effort to replicate the original vessel as closely as possible, the Mayflower II was built using historically accurate methods and materials. Damage to such a vessel, in comparison with a modern-day ship, is significantly more challenging to repair and is an important underwriting consideration.

When docked at Plymouth Harbor, the 16th century replica is a tourist attraction that hosts visitors from early spring through fall.  The ship has been featured in documentaries, requiring IMU to address navigation of the vessel during filming. These and other unique aspects of the vessel are important when pricing the risk to ensure premium is adequate to cover losses.  

Crucial to the ship’s condition, often affected by the New England weather, is the annual maintenance it undergoes at Fairhaven Shipyard in Fairhaven, Mass., which has the facilities and skilled labor capable of repairing the vessel. Additionally, in preparation for 2020—the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s voyage to the new world—a special seven-year, $2 million restoration project began on the ship in late 2012 at Fairhaven.

In partnership with Smithwick & Mariners, a New England-based marine insurance agency, IMU also provides insurance for the tugboat used to transport the Mayflower II, as well as the shipyard where maintenance and restoration work are carried out.

Shipping Out 

For more than 30 years, Captain Charlie Mitchell has been at the helm of his custom-built tugboat, Jaguar, for the Mayflower II tow—a 50-mile, seven-hour voyage along the Massachusetts coastline. Peter Arenstam, the licensed captain of the Mayflower II and professional boat builder, says Mitchell’s fine-tuned skills, history with the boat, awareness of surroundings and attention to detail make him the best man for the job.

To ensure both vessels are seaworthy, IMU often requires a trip-in-tow survey be conducted prior to getting under way. Working closely with Captains Mitchell and Arenstam, we set forth strict safety and weather parameters for the trip, requiring a specific wind speed and ocean height for the voyage. 

According to Mitchell, who has been in the tugboat industry for more than 35 years, the tow is dictated by many technicalities and can be complicated by distractions from the media. But in spite of the “hoopla,” he adds, “it’s an honor to be associated with the project.” 

Once Mitchell successfully lands the Mayflower II at its dry dock in Fairhaven Shipyard, a four-person maritime artisan crew, managed by Captain Arenstam, begins the repair work.  

IMU’s coverage of the shipyard includes general liability (premises and third parties), property, mobile equipment and ship repairer’s liability. Along with the location of New Bedford Harbor— one of New England’s flushest fishing ports — the types of vessels and their values factor into the risk management process. 

Home to boats worth up to $40 million, Fairhaven Shipyard hosts some of the most sophisticated yachts in the world, along with classic fishing boats and wooden schooners. Kevin Rocha, vice president at Smithwick & Mariners Insurance, said the shipyard is particularly suited to host the Mayflower II because its railway has a unique, large platform that slides the ship safely in and out of the water. Also unique, said Rocha, is the skill set and talent of the shipyard’s workers and boat carpenters led by shipwright Tony Macedo.

But no matter how prepared the shipyard is for the Mayflower II’s restoration, there is nothing standard about repairing the old ship, a process that’s prone to surprises. Sarah Macdonald, a Plimoth Plantation spokesperson, recalls some specific difficulties encountered during last year’s prolonged restoration. “As the team began to look underneath its surface, we found unanticipated repairs needed to the hull and framework of the ship,” she says. “Additionally, sourcing the inimitable materials—especially white oak lumber—was a difficult and lengthy process.” 

Settling In – For the Long Run

When docked at Plymouth Harbor, visitors explore the Mayflower II’s upper and lower decks as Colonial first-person interpreters (portraying sailors and officers of the ship circa the 1620s) offer insight into the Pilgrims’ treacherous 66-day journey. 

“I was intrigued to hear the questions asked by some of the 600 students [per day] touring the Mayflower II,” says Joe Jordan, a 76-year old Duxbury resident and certified volunteer who worked on the ship’s maintenance crew this October. “To be able to work on the ship that is as close to what the Mayflower looked like and sailed like—well, it’s a wonderful hobby and a great privilege.” 

The ship will soon return to Fairhaven Shipyard to undergo the next phase of its restoration, a project we look forward to helping complete. From yachts to ferries, marinas to shipyards and even international cargo, we provide coverage for major marine exposures across the world. But there is one vessel that remains a special piece of history, a unique underwriting challenge that is worth preserving and protecting.   

Carol Martineau, CPCU, AMIM, AU, is a Senior Underwriter at International Marine Underwriters (IMU) with more than 20 years of industry experience. IMU, a member of OneBeacon Insurance Group, Ltd., traces its roots to the early 1900s, and offers a full range of ocean and inland marine insurance solutions. For more information, please visit