Richard Schwartz, Who Sold Boating Group to Buffett, Dies at 85

Richard Schwartz, the lawyer who founded a boat insurance and towing operation and then sold it to Warren Buffett, has died. He was 85.

Schwartz died on Feb. 11 after a short illness, according to Scott Croft, a spokesman for the Alexandria, Virginia-based Boat Owners Association of the United States.

The organization traces its roots to the 1960s when a friend of Schwartz was given a ticket for improper engine compartment ventilation while on the Chesapeake Bay, which is bordered by Maryland and Virginia. Schwartz thought it was unfair. Lamenting the absence of an advocacy group for boaters, he decided to form one.

“We’ve become the largest boat owners’ organization in the U.S. and fought major boating battles along the way,” Schwartz said in a statement at the time of his retirement in 2013. “Boating should be a pleasure – not a hassle.”

The group, known as BoatUS, moved into retail, insurance and lending and grew to have more than 500,000 members. It pushed for improved safety on waterways and opposed taxes on diesel fuel and luxury watercraft.

The insurance program was created in 1967 to provide understandable policies, rather than “unintelligible, centuries-old, commercial ship language from Lloyd’s of London,” BoatUS said in a statement Friday announcing his death.

BoatUS was purchased in 2007 by Berkshire Hathaway Inc., according to an annual report from Buffett, the Omaha, Nebraska-based company’s chairman and chief executive officer. The billionaire counts on insurance units like Geico to generate premiums that he can invest before paying claims. Buffett didn’t immediately return a message left with an assistant seeking comment.

Schwartz grew up in the New York borough of the Bronx, and his father owned a chain of tire stores, Croft said. Schwartz was a graduate of Princeton University and Yale Law School, according to the statement.

Floating Flashlights

He worked as an antitrust attorney in Washington before forming the group, and that role helped him as advocate for boaters, Croft said. Though he didn’t intend to follow his father into retail, Schwartz wound up selling items like floating flashlights, Croft said. BoatUS exited that business before the Berkshire deal, the spokesman said.

“He used to rent a rowboat in Central Park, that was the extent of his boating,” in his early years, Croft said. Schwartz, who was founder and chairman of the group, eventually assembled a fleet of his own that included a 42-foot (13-meter) boat, which would transport his family to the local crab shack, the spokesman said.

A related nonprofit, BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water, provides instruction for marinas on how to prevent spills and online courses on safety for water enthusiasts.

Schwartz is survived by his wife, Beth Newburger Schwartz, seven children and 16 grandchildren, according to the statement.

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