How Safe Was Christopher Columbus on His Journey?

They say Insurance people have a one-track mind. “It’s all about insurance for them,” They say… “It’s all they think about, it’s all they talk about, it’s all they ever argue about… at work, on the weekends, on holidays…”

We politely disagree. Although Hawaii, Alaska Oregon and South Dakota do not recognize Columbus Day is an official holiday, most of the country did celebrate yesterday as the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the Americas in 1492.

We celebrated the day as well… wondering about Christopher Columbus’s journey. Specifically, we wondered whether he had insurance. Here is what we came up with:

By the mid 1400s, the idea of a flat Earth was pretty much dismissed by the intellectual elite. With that were dismissed the fears of falling off the planet deck at the edge, and being eaten by monstrous creatures dwelling below. Earth being round also meant that regardless of which way you were headed towards a destination, you would eventually arrive there. Armed with this rather thin theory, Christopher Columbus laid out an ambitious plan to discover a new trade route with India and the Orient via sailing west instead of east and circumnavigating the globe to arrive in the “Far East.”

It is possible that Christopher Columbus set sail with some type of a maritime insurance policy, but it is not likely. The first example of insurance practices by its modern definition could be traced back to Genoa, Italy, around the mid 14th Century. However, the first insurance rule book was not printed until 1552, more than 50 years after Columbus’s arrival in the Americas. Even if maritime insurance practices existed in Spain at that time, they covered goods destroyed during transport for merchant purposes. Columbus’s journey was strictly exploration-based — it was highly unlikely that a policy could have been written for Columbus’s journey considering there would have been no way to assess the risk of such a journey.

It was not until more than a century after Columbus’s first journey to the Americas that maritime insurance really took off with the formation of Lloyd’s Coffee House in London, which later became the Lloyds of London insurance market. Lloyd’s Coffee House was a place frequented by ship owners and shipping magnates who eventually paved the way for widespread underwriting practices for shipping.

It is not likely that that Columbus had maritime insurance. It is even less likely that he had life insurance — the first policy was not written until the 18th century, around the same time that business, and liability insurances also became available.

To put it mildly, Christopher Columbus had little margin for error. Without insurance, he had no choice but to come back with results. He did. Happy Columbus Day!


CPH & Associates

CPH & Associates

Over the last decade, more than 500,000 people chose CPH & Associates for liability insurance. Because our business is specialized, we are able to focus on your liability needs in a way that bigger companies are not. Our team of associates represent over 50 years of collective experience in this field, and we are able to serve a large client base while maintaining a small-office approach.

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