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A safety net for the adventurous

Black-water rafting? Bungee jumping? You'll need cover
NOW THAT snowboarding has been in the Winter Olympics, it has almost become mainstream. This summer, the latest craze is expected to be desert surfing, with travellers heading off to the deserts, armed only with a surf board to ride the sand dunes. And if you don't fancy that there is always "zorbing", where participants roll down hills in giant plastic balls, cave diving or black-water rafting. Like the more familiar white-water rafting, participants have to negotiate rapids, ravines and waterfalls but black-water routes run through underground caves.

Many people would consider such extreme sports as bordering on the suicidal, but insurance companies are not necessarily so unforgiving. With more people jetting off for adventure holidays and spicing up the nine-to-five routine with a spot of weekend hang-gliding, insurers are increasingly willing to offer cover.

Standard insurance policies sold by travel agents are unlikely to cover these sports. But many other insurers now offer medical cover for adventure sports as standard; others will for an additional premium. However, policies vary enormously and it is worth checking the small print to see exactly which activities are covered.

Insurers have done little research on how risky many of these new "sports" are, so underwriters make subjective judgements about what activities are dangerous. For example, Bupa will cover white-water rafting, but this sport is automatically excluded from Home & Overseas' dangerous sports policy.

Mike McDonald, of General Accident, says: "There seem to be few serious injuries resulting from bungee jumping, especially compared with the number of skiing and rugby injuries we see. But unless we have research to prove otherwise, it seems prudent underwriting to consider a sport where you jump headfirst off a 50m platform with only a piece of elastic round your waist to be hazardous."

Citybond Travel Consultants, an insurance broker, covers a range of activities on its Young Traveller policy. Chris Mansell, marketing director, says: "As long as policyholders inform us of any additional sports they might be doing, we can get in touch with the insurers and arrange this cover, often at no extra cost." These include hot-air ballooning, bungee jumping, high diving, abseiling and white-water rafting.

Bupa TravelCover has also launched an "all-action" holiday plan. This covers activities such as paragliding and jet skiing. But the policy specifies that activities such as hill-trekking and white-water rafting have to be booked and paid for in the UK before departure. Michele da Silva, senior marketing manager, says: "This is to ensure policyholders only participate in sports with qualified instructors and guides."

As well as cover for medical expenses from accidents, it is worth checking that you have public liability cover, particularly if you are jet skiing or water skiing. Most policies, such as Bupa's, do not offer liability for policyholders "when they are behind the wheel of a motorised or moving vehicle". If you crash and injure someone, then you could be sued for their loss of earnings and damages. This omission was highlighted when a British girl was killed in a jet-ski accident in Greece.

As a result, some insurers are now offering this cover. Sue Winston, a spokeswoman for Norwich Union, says liability cover is available on its annual travel policy for water-skiing, but it does require an additional premium levy of around 30 per cent. She adds: "We could negotiate similar liability cover for jet skis." WorldCover Direct also offers full liability cover on travel policies.

But you do not have to go abroad to enjoy dangerous sports. Annual travel policies will often cover hang-gliding or scuba diving in the UK. However, most exclude sports such as bungee jumping and parachuting, which many people take part in for charity or even for fun.

It is not necessary to get insurance if you are bungee jumping in the UK, so long as you go to a club affiliated to the British Elastic Rope Sports Association. David Boston, chairman of the association, says: "We can provide a list of affiliated clubs by post or on the internet." Most accredited parachuting schools will operate a similar policy.