Young woman rock climbing

Life insurance and extreme sports

Imagine one friend of yours is about to go bungee jumping, and another is set to take a leisurely walk on the beach. Both friends ask you to support their family financially if they don’t come back. Let’s suppose you like them equally and have to say yes to one of their requests.

Who would you “insure”? Probably not the bungee jumper, right?

At its core, insurance is based on the concept of pooled risk. In other words, insurance companies write policies for a large number of people, not knowing who will make a claim at any given moment. The assumption is that a certain number of claims will be made, but this will be offset by the insured people who didn’t make one. Insurers must judge each person’s risk factors, because as the pool of insured people becomes riskier, premiums have to rise to offset possible claims.

And that’s why extreme sports can affect your insurance.

Compared to everyday activities such as tennis, golf and yoga, extreme sports involve a much higher chance of death. Thus, for an insurer, there is a greater probability that someone active in these pursuits, or their beneficiaries, will end up making a claim.

Extreme athletes applying for life insurance may encounter two responses:

  • Insurers will refuse to grant a policy; or
  • Premiums will be much higher than individuals not engaged in these activities.

Examples of extreme sports that can impact an insurance application

While by no means exhaustive, here are some examples of extreme sports that can affect an insurance application:

  • Paragliding
  • Skydiving
  • Mountain or Rock Climbing
  • Flying
  • Parachuting
  • Bungee Jumping
  • Auto Racing
  • Scuba Diving

How to mitigate the risk of being declined coverage

There are some things that people can do to mitigate the risk that they will be denied insurance coverage due to their involvement in extreme sports:

  1. Participate less: the more frequently you participate in an extreme sport, the greater the likelihood that something catastrophic could occur. The reverse is also true. For instance, someone who scuba dives once a year is less likely to have an accident than a person who does it monthly. From an insurer’s point of view, a person who only does extreme sports very occasionally is a lower risk than a full-time extreme sports enthusiast.
  2. Better equipment is your friend: if you’re doing something like flying your own plane or scuba diving, it’s a no-brainer to have up to date, reliable equipment. This lessens the chance that you’re be injured or even killed. From an insurance perspective, better equipment is also your friend, because it tells a prospective insurer that you take safety seriously. This could make the difference between having your application approved or rejected. Aviation and scuba questionnaires will usually ask you about the type of equipment you use.
  3. Experience counts: this may seem somewhat contradictory with #1, but the fact remains that an insurer might be more comfortable writing a policy if they know you are experienced at a particular extreme sport. With novices, the risk is that they don’t quite know what they are doing yet and are more likely to have a bad accident. Insurers may ask applicants for the number of dives and max depth (scuba diving), number of hours flown (aviation), number of jumps (ski diving), number of races & max speed (racing) etc. Keep in mind that experience is only one factor in the equation. One implication of this is that taking on a new extreme sport may significantly impact your eligibility or premiums for insurance.

Read policies and tell the truth

Beyond being safe in whatever sports you participate in, there are two actions you should do when it comes to extreme sports and insurance. First, always tell the truth. That means letting an insurer know if you are involved in an extreme sport and being honest about it. Most insurers are interested in what your avocation is, how often you participate, how long you’ve participated and how much you plan on participating going forward. Second, read any insurance policy to see if it specifically excludes certain extreme sports. You don’t want to pay premiums and end up finding out that you never were covered in the first place.




The information in this article is intended for informational purposes only. Please contact your insurance agent to discuss your personal circumstances and find out more about the conditions and exclusions that apply to you. There may be exclusions for extreme sports on life insurance applications.

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Andrew Hepburn is a freelance writer based in Toronto who specializes in financial issues. He's written for Maclean's, Canadian Business, MoneySense, Morningstar and T.E. Wealth, among others.