Ron Ames and partner Emily Rantala of Matinicus say they’ve solved the problem of high-priced homeowner’s insurance. They don’t carry any.

“If the house burns down, we’ll just move into another one,” said Ron, a fisherman. He said soaring premiums for insurance policies led him to just hope he’ll be lucky. “I’ve been fortunate, that’s all there is. They [insurance companies] are just trying to screw us.”

These days, insurance brokers are “skittish around waterfront,” said Skip Edgerly of the J. Edward Knight agency on Vinalhaven. Sometimes insurance can only be bought at a premium through a special process called “surplus lines,” and sometimes properties are flatly rejected. An island resident could easily pay $2,500 per year for a homeowner’s policy on a $250,000 house. If you own a $1.5 million house on Monhegan, with only a seasonal water system and limited roads, you could pay a $7,000 annual premium.

While sympathetic to customer complaints, Edgerly said insurance companies must assess risk and protect their financial reserves. Matinicus has no fire hydrants, although it has firefighting trucks. Some houses are built on islands with no fire protection at all. “A real fire out at one of those places and it’s a goner,” he said.

Besides risk to waterfront property from fire and storms – wind in particular – there is the reality of rising property values. “You’ve got enormous values out there on the islands,” Edgerly said. And in many cases enormous homes, with a lot of glass facing the sea. If these houses are seasonal, the risk factor goes up.

Edgerly said national market forces drive the insurance business, and these days homeowner policies are not big moneymakers. The major insurance companies were left reeling by the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center in New York, and by repeated hurricanes in Florida. This has made insurers extra cautious and conservative. Some companies object to swimming pools with diving boards, decks without rails, even dogs. “They all have pretty much the same criteria,” he said.

Ed Hoadley, proprietor of Tuckanuck Lodge Bed-and-Breakfast on Matinicus, said that for two years he paid an $800 yearly premium until his underwriting company, Metropolitan, found out the island had no hydrants. Now he pays $2,500 per year to W.C. Ladd & Sons of Rockland. He has never filed a claim.

Edgerly believes underwriters of insurance policies are mostly reasonable, a little tighter than they used to be. He points out that insurance is a government-regulated industry, and rate schedules must win state approval. “Unfortunately, in the world of insurance, if you lose billions of dollars in a Florida hurricane, that takes billions out of the insurance market and Maine reacts.”

Diane Thompson of the Allen Agency in Camden said insurance companies are wary of waterfront properties in general, but are much more comfortable with a Camden harbor home than a house on Islesboro. Her agency writes a lot of island and coastal policies. “It’s not that they don’t want your business. They want good business,” she said. They want low risk. A homeowner with a record of carrying insurance is more likely to maintain that property, she said.

Like Edgerly, Thompson tries to help customers as best she can, but there are isolated island homes that don’t qualify for insurance, and there are vacant, rundown houses that won’t qualify until they are fixed up. She said Maine is considering a law similar to one in Massachusetts that insures nonconforming properties through an “assigned risk” system.

Meanwhile, the insurance market has been hard, she said, meaning policies are costly and sometimes hard to get. She sees that market relaxing a bit, but it may stop short of becoming a soft market where companies are eager to sell insurance to just about anyone.

Ames still insures his lobster boat, paying $1,400 per year. Emily said she was shocked last year when she was notified the policy on her Spruce Head Island house was canceled. “I have never put a claim in, but out of the clear blue sky an inspector showed, unbeknownst to me, and took pictures of the property. In 30 days they sent me a cancellation notice.” She said the letter cited her wharf for a couple of rotten boards, and lack of a railing. “This is absolutely ludicrous,” she said, adding that she had planned to fix the boards anyway.

She was able to reinstate her policy through W.C. Ladd, and doesn’t blame the local agency for the hassle. But she wonders where it will all end. On Islesboro, she said, an insurance inspector demanded a rail be put on a porch that had served its purpose for a century, without incident. “You wouldn’t believe the Cain they’re raising on islands.”

Rates are steep, requirements tight. You can choose to go without insurance, but if you have a mortgage, the lender requires that you insure your property, at least to the value of what’s owed. “What the answer is, I don’t know,” Edgerly said.

“It’s a numbers game,” Thompson said.