Master Of All They Survey
your name to a 30-year mortgage on a house without a home inspection?
Not on your life! Buy a used car without a mechanic’s
once-over? No way! Thinking about buying a used boat without
a survey? Big, big mistake!
it comes to buying a used boat, random hull-thumping is about
as kicking the tires of a used car. A
good survey will tell you if a boat’s beauty is more
than just skin deep.
surveys don’t come cheap — expect to
pay in the range of $300 to $600 to have the typical 25- to
35-footer examined — this is a reasonable price to pay
for the peace of mind that comes from knowing in advance what
shape your dreamboat is in.
many boat buyers look at the surveyor’s fees
as just another cost associated with buying a boat,” says
Jack Hornor, a naval architect and surveyor in Davidsonville,
MD (see Hornor’s boat reviews, http://www.boatus.com/jackhornor). “In
fact, a good survey will usually save a buyer many times the
surveyor’s fees in cost of repairs or adjustments to
the purchase price for noted deficiencies.”
a pre-purchase inspection, the marine surveyor will evaluate
the boat’s systems and its structure, looking
for problems that require expensive repairs or that make the
boat unseaworthy. The surveyor’s written report will
help you decide whether to go ahead with the deal or look for
a boat in better condition.
So, who is this marine surveyor, this person upon whom you
are placing your trust? What makes him or her qualified to
evaluate a recreational vessel?
put, a marine surveyor is a technical consultant competent
to inspect and
evaluate recreational boats. The key word is “competent,” since
surveyors aren’t licensed or regulated by any government
agency. Anyone can call himself a surveyor — and many
do. Here are some tips on hiring a good one.
a good indicator of competence is “certified
marine surveyor” status with the National Association
of Marine Surveyors (NAMS) or “accredited marine surveyor” status
with the Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors (SAMS), two
professional groups for surveyors.
surveyor referral list (http://www.boatus.com/insurance/survey.htm)
is another good way to locate qualified surveyors. To be listed,
surveyors must have proven knowledge of marine manufacturing
and safety standards, an apprenticeship with an established
surveyor, affiliation with professional groups like the American
Boat & Yacht Council, NAMS and SAMS, as well as complete
autonomy from other marine businesses.
Second, the surveyor should have absolutely no affiliations
with boat brokers, dealers, boat repair shops or others whose
living depends on the sale or repair of boats, especially the
one you are about to buy. To rely on a surveyor recommended
by the seller is to run the risk of having defects glossed
over during the inspection. For this same reason, do not rely
upon a survey report, even a recent one, paid for by the seller.
ask the surveyor by what criteria he will evaluate your boat.
Look for detailed
references to the boat manufacturing
and safety requirements developed by the U.S. Coast Guard,
the American Boat & Yacht Council, the National Fire Prevention
Association and other standards-writing groups.
“There is no shortage of regulations designed to enhance
safety at sea,” says surveyor Larry Montgomery, who works
in Seattle and Port Townsend, WA. “Most of the regulations
reinforce what surveyors have been saying for years.” A
good surveyor will cite these regs, chapter and verse, and
explain them in detail in his written report of the boat’s
for boating sometimes inspires people to dip their oars into
surveying, of much more relevance is the
surveyor’s track record in boat design, construction
and repair. “Select a professional practitioner, not
someone who surveys boats as a hobby,” recommends Montgomery,
who worked for 30 years in the marine industry before turning
to marine survey full-time in 1986.
“Remember, you are protecting not only your investment
but also the souls on board,” he adds.
surveyor Henry Mustin of Delray Beach, FL, agrees. “We
survey boats to determine their condition, especially based
on the buyer’s intended use,” says Mustin, the
author of Surveying Fiberglass Sailboats: A Step-By-Step Guide
for Buyers and Owners.
found a surveyor, discuss exactly what will be covered in
the inspection. Do not balk when the surveyor
recommends an inspection out of the water, even if it means
the additional expense of a haul-out.
a haul-out, the surveyor “can’t determine
below-waterline deficiencies,” Montgomery comments. “I
wouldn’t even dignify it by calling it a survey.”
“The prospective buyer sees the boat in the best possible
light when it’s in the water,” says Mustin. “But
you can’t see anything below the waterline that way.
You don’t know whether it’s been grounded or if
there’s keel damage.”
Some surveyors do in-depth engine exams, but most do not.
Ask the surveyor to refer you to a marine mechanic capable
of evaluating the engine. If you are thinking about buying
a sailboat, ask the surveyor if the rigging will be inspected
aloft or from the deck. This is especially important with older
boats, where fittings and cables may be worn or frayed.
to have the surveyor on board when the boat is sea trialed
systems can be checked underway. A sea trial
is also when you will notice performance and handling problems
that can’t be detected at the dock.
of whether you’re a novice or a lifetime
boater, plan on being present at the survey inspection. It’s
a great chance to learn about your boat from an expert. Depending
upon the boat’s size and complexity, the inspection could
take a full day to complete.
With the boat hauled, the survey begins with an inspection
of the hull for signs of impact damage, voids, delamination
and blisters in the fiberglass. The condition of the keel is
noted. Underwater hardware, like struts, propellers, shafts
and through-hull fittings are examined for damages from corrosion,
impact or misalignment.
On-deck hardware and fittings are checked. The deck itself
is examined for soft spots or other signs of deterioration.
The lion’s share of the survey is spent below-decks,
inspecting the boat’s engine, seacocks, fuel lines, electrical
wiring and plumbing systems. The hull interior, where accessible,
is examined for structural defects.
“To the disappointment of some and the surprise of others,
professional surveyors don’t pass or fail boats on completion
of their inspection,” says Hornor. “Professional
surveyors provide clients with sufficient information to enable
them to make a decision as to whether they wish to buy.”
as valuable as a survey is, it is important to remember that
is a snapshot, in essence, a description of
the boat’s condition on the day of the inspection. The
surveyor may not be able to detect problems hidden by the boat’s
permanent structures, like bulkheads or liners. For example,
a common problem like transom core rot may be impossible to
detect. Surveys normally do not include destructive tests,
like core samples.
on-site inspection is completed, the surveyor will prepare
report of his findings, including a complete
description of the boat’s physical condition, the equipment
on board and a fair market value. The report will also include
a boiler plate disclaimer freeing the surveyor from any liability
for unforeseen problems.
recommendations for needed repairs and their estimated cost
conclude the report. This final section
may more than pay for the entire cost of the survey as it could
provide a basis for re-negotiating the sale price or bargaining
with the seller to make repairs at his expense.
to-do list is extensive, however, you may decide to cancel
This shouldn’t be a problem, if you’ve
taken a few precautionary steps in writing the sales agreement.
It is advisable to make any boat purchase agreement contingent
on a satisfactory survey and sea trial. Without these precautions,
the seller has the right to keep all or a portion of your deposit
money. This deposit should be held in an escrow account held
by the broker until after the survey is completed. If no broker
is involved, have the seller agree in writing to hold your
deposit, pending the survey.
all survey expenses, including haul-out fees, are the responsibility
of the buyer. Be sure to obtain permission
from the seller or broker before having a boat inspected or
sea-trialed. It goes without saying that you will need the
owner’s okay to perform any destructive tests.
tips, call 703-461-2856, e-mail ConsumerProtection@BoatUS.com,
here (http://www.boatus.com/guidenew) for the BoatUS
Consumer Protection Bureau’s free “Guide to Buying
and Selling a Boat.” The 30-page booklet is designed
to help buyers navigate the channels to boat ownership.
(c) Copyright BoatUS
Magazine, May 2002